Bwogger Eliza Staples visited the Esperanto Society to learn more about the international language that might save us all. 

Every Tuesday at 7 pm in 302 Fayerweather, a dedicated (and growing!) group convenes to speak and study Esperanto.

Some background, because it’s super interesting: Esperanto is a planned language created about 130 years ago. The goal was to have a global language to facilitate communication between speakers of diverse languages: Esperantists always use the example of a Japanese speaker and a Finnish speaker both learning Esperanto to talk with one another. It does not belong to any nation or ethnic group) and the grammar and vocabulary are easy to master, unlike many other languages. A brief side note: most of the attendees of this meeting had been personally victimized by nonsensical French grammar. We bonded over this misfortune and applauded Esperanto’s clarity. Today, Esperanto is having a Renaissance of sorts, with language-learning apps like Duolingo. There are Esperanto societies around the world (including in our own city) and through these societies, you can travel and find homestays with fellow Esperantists the world over.

The Esperanto Society at Columbia University was started this year by Jonathan Reeve, a Ph.D. candidate for English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. It was a labor of love to even get this club off the ground. Reeve had been trying to assemble such a group for several semesters, going to various Columbia departments to find a home for it. Esperanto’s neutrality is its fatal flaw in this sense: it’s not a Romance language, nor is it Slavic, or East Asian, so there isn’t an existing language department it should fall into. Members of the club say this institutional wariness is a common issue for Esperanto, but they press on and form the groups that this language relies upon.

At their meetings, the group members consume all types of Esperanto media: from haiku to opera to creative fiction by some of the members themselves. They review verb and noun endings collectively. People are at varying levels of proficiency, but there is no strict student-teacher power dynamic, and the club welcomes beginners. The group collaborated to help one another through the finer points of pronunciation and declensions. It was a very egalitarian way to learn a language.

I was most struck by the diversity of the members. They came from all different language backgrounds: native English speakers, native Spanish speakers, lifelong language-learning addicts. There are Columbia students of all levels, as well as members from the outside community, which I really appreciated. Sometimes, it’s easy to get stuck in a Columbia undergraduate world. You forget the outside world exists and re-uniting with it to learn a global language felt oddly fitting. 

The Esperanto Society at Columbia University meets every Tuesday at 7 pm in 302 Fayerweather. Check out their Facebook page, or email for more information. 

Esperanto via Pixabay