Esperanto is a language without a home. You can choose to look at that statement in any number of ways, however, whatever it is you are thinking is probably somewhere along the scale of that means it isn’t a real language to it’s enough for this restless warrior.
Esperanto, however homeless a language it may be, is still spoken by around two million people the world over. In fact in our first look at Esperanto we learned that we could find speakers in countries as different from each other as the US, Hungary and China. To us that means that Esperanto is more nomadic traveller than vagrant vagabond. Join us as we look a little closer at the demographic split.
Before we start…
It should be made clear that there has never been a full census or survey taken to give a true picture of how many Esperanto speakers there are throughout the world. We have the approximation of two million from Sidney S Culbert, who sampled Esperanto speakers in different countries over a period of about twenty years, and this figure has stuck; perhaps the Universal Esperanto Association (UEA) will eventually be able to conduct further research but for now, two million is what we will assume.
According to Jouko Lindstedt, a linguistic expert on native-born Esperanto speakers, here is a further breakdown of some of those speakers:
- 1,000 people speak Esperanto as their native language.
- 10,000 are fluent speakers.
- 100,000 are active users.
- 1,000,000 understand a vast amount of the language but in a purely passive sense.
- 10,000,000 have studied Esperanto at some point in their lives.
But the truth is, there is not clear, accurate enough information available from each and every country. So with that in mind, let us use what information we do have to attempt to get a clearer demographic picture.
Hungary has already been identified as a country with a high number of Esperanto speakers, and one of the reasons for that is thought to be because Esperanto is a language that is offered in schools. Hungary is also one of the few countries that includes a language knowledge question on its census: the last census lists there being 8397 Esperanto speakers, which works out to about 850 speakers per million.
Russia also collates data on the languages its inhabitants speak, and according to the latest information there are 992 Esperanto speakers throughout the country. This equates to approximately seven per million people. This is such a small percentage that Esperanto doesn’t even register on language ranking lists for languages spoken in Russia,
Estonia has 209 Esperanto speakers listed on its latest census, which works out to around 158 speakers per million. Proportionally speaking, this is actually quite high!
There are thought to be around 604 Lithuanian Esperanto speakers, equating to 204 people per million.
New Zealand, the land with the highest per capita population of Jedis in the world, would naturally be expected to adopt a language that is seen as quirky by some, and pointless by others. There are 123 Esperanto speakers listed in New Zealand as of the last census, which means that there are 28 for every million.
And now for the countries with no census information available.
China we previously listed as a country with a large number of Esperanto speakers, but how many does that actually mean? Well, during the 80s, Esperanto was a somewhat popular foreign language for Chinese people to learn, with some 300,000 to 400,000 speakers. That figure has now dropped, or at least fluctuated, with current figures estimated at around 10,000 active speakers and 400,000 passive.
Korea was the first Asian country to host the World Esperanto Congress in 1994, and the Esperanto department at the Dankook University in South Korea is listed as one of the best. It is difficult to know precisely how many Korean speakers of Esperanto there are, but this traveller managed to cycle his way around Korea and stay in Esperanto-speaking homes, so we can imagine there are at least a few.
In 2007 the World Esperanto Congress was held in Yokohama, and of the 1900 attendees the majority were, perhaps unsurprisingly, Japanese. In fact, some consider Esperanto to be a good language to use as a stepping stone for learning Japanese itself: an interesting theory that we would be interesting in testing out!
In 1975 there were thought to be more than 3000 people learning Esperanto in the city of Tehran. The Iranian Esperanto Association was founded in 1996 so there is clearly still interest for the language alive in Iran today.
In 2009 the Senate of Brazil proposed that Esperanto be an optional part of the school curriculum. Whilst this bill is still being debated, Brazil is thought to be one of the contenders for the country having the highest number of Esperanto speakers.
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The UEA has 5501 individual members throughout 121 countries, and there are Esperanto associations in more than 180 countries. The World Esperanto Congress has been held since 1905; it seems that there is a huge interest for this language, so why isn’t more being done to document its users or spread its use? As language fans, we are bewildered!
Next time in our Esperanto adventures we will be looking at where Esperanto is in use today, and what resources are available for those of you wishing to learn this fascination language. Until then....