Rising above the Babel

Tuesday, 9th January, 2018

YOU'LL NEVER TALK ALONE - Eckhard Roehrich and Joanne Cho are members of the Central Coast NSW Esperanto Club.

BONVENON al la mondo de Esperanto! (Welcome to the world of Esperanto!)

What, never heard of Esperanto? You should: it's the world's most popular constructed language, with a special gift of making friends out of strangers.

Not only that, it's good for you too, says 73-year-old Eckard Roehrich, who only began learning Esperanto in recent years.

"It's an exercise that keeps you active and alert and your mind fit and well," the Central Coast senior said of the language developed by LL Zamenhof in the 1870s.

The retired doctor says that no matter who you are, Esperanto is easy to pick up; he was well on his way in just a day.

Esperanto words2

Some words of Esperanto

Whereas languages like English and his native German are full of exceptions, Esperanto is "logical and consistent in every respect", he said.

For example, it has a simple, regular structure, the grammar is clear and straightforward, and there are no sound-alike words with different meanings!

But more than that, Esperanto is a community, Eckard said.

"There's always the argument that it is not a living language, that it doesn't have a population, that it doesn't have a country. But it is still a community and it's open to everyone.

"We can travel the world without ever paying a hotel bill. We go from invitation to Esperanto invitation.

"In more than 100 countries you will find Esperantists and you can visit them and invite them back. That's what makes the community and keeps the language alive."

With the rise of social media, these are good times for the language. There are many free sites to learn and practise online.

"Probably three-quarters of my Facebook friends are in Esperanto," said Joanne Cho, founder of the Central Coast club, which meets in Wyong.

"There are speakers all around the world, so I get to hear about what's happening in places like in Italy directly, without having to rely on mainstream media. I use it every day - but not Twitter so much."

Esperanto is the perfect vehicle for learning, Eckhard said.

"Computer language, the sciences, astrophysics - you can teach anything in Esperanto. "

There is even a virtual university, based in the tiny sovereign state of San Marino, inside Italy, where Esperanto is the main language used.

But it is hardly a dry, highbrow language. There is beauty in it, too.

"So many artists, so many musicians speak and perform in Esperanto," he said. 

"Poetry, too, There's a creativity to it. You can change words slightly, cut off part of the word, play with the order, as in any poetry."

Treasure Island

Treasure Island in Esperanto

Nor is Esperanto a stranger to literature, with Australian author Trevor Steele having won acclaim for his novels and short stories in the language.

And it can be fun. The worldwide Esperanto community gets together for conferences at every opportunity.

From March 29-April 2, for example, the Australian Esperanto Association will hold its Second Tri-Nation congress in Bekasi, Indonesia, promising a feast of theatre and music, excursions, classes, conversations and laughter.

Special guests will include Congolese-born, French-based jazz-reggae musician Zhou Mack Mafuila.

Central Coast Esperanto club, contact Joanne Cho, 0413 087 340,

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