2017 marks the 100 year anniversary of the death of the creator of the international language, Esperanto, and has been therefore declared by UNESCO to be the Year of Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof. The book Bridge of Words was recently published on the history of the Esperanto language, cosmopolitan culture and movement.
But there are many other stories related to the ideals of Esperanto: linguistic democracy is a concern of many linguists who warn that, by the end of this century, about half of the currently living 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will be extinct with little to no hope of being resurrected. This is a result of expansion and national identity projects, as well as migration patterns, and issues of prestige of imperial languages.
Each dying language takes with it recipes, ancestral stories, myths, and artforms, knowledge about medicinal uses of certain plants, information about ancient history and migrations, and other forms of folklore. Once dead, it is very difficult to revive languages, with Hebrew being the only known exception in history of fully functional language revival. Several projects are underway to preserve what we know of the dying languages as much as possible for the benefit of linguists of the future, using mainly digital technology.
Although many today enjoy Esperanto for its own sake and for its own culture, the original goal of Esperanto was to serve as an easy-to-learn auxiliary language, a second language for everyone that would allow the emergence of a global culture–and while that cosmopolitan culture does exist in Esperanto, it is not exactly mainstream or universal. The language is of interest mainly for linguists, world travelers, diplomats, idealists, Bahá’ís, leftists and communists (although also some conservatives), and a wide (and ever growing) assortment of geeks. It has even had its own currencies and been used by international scientific agencies. Here’s a song in the language: