In the village of Barlaston, just outside Stoke-on-Trent, a strange language can be heard. It’s not the friendly Potteries dialect, but something that sounds a little like the lovechild of French and German. A Tudor house here is home to the Esperanto Association of Britain (EAB), which encourages people to learn the constructed language.
Esperanto summer schools were first established in Stoke in 1960, and were funded by the council for more than 50 years. The concept of an easy-to-learn, universal second tongue was energetically promoted, drawing prominent speakers to the area. And the city still bears traces of its Esperanto history. In Smallthorne, in the north-east of the city, drinkers can stop off on Esperanto Way to get a pint at the Green Star – the symbol of the Esperantist movement. A row of terraced houses a short walk away are located on Zamenhof Grove, named after the inventor of Esperanto, LL Zamenhof.
The language isn’t a relic; in fact, while exact figures are difficult to pin down, there has been a resurgence in people taking it up. The Esperanto Association has increased the number of beginners’ courses it offers four-fold to keep up with demand, says Viv O’Dunne, the charity’s operations and events director.
The “inner idea” of Esperanto, Zamenhof once said, was to promote world peace. A Jewish-Polish doctor born in 1859 in Białystok, now in Poland, Zamenhof grew up under Russian occupation. Violence between different groups was common – Białystok which was a melting pot of Protestant Germans, Catholic Poles, Orthodox Russians and Jews. While still a child, Zamenhof hit upon the idea that a constructed second language that was easy to learn and understand would allow people to talk as peers, rather than fight. In 1887, after tinkering away for more than 10 years, Zamenhof published his ideas in a pamphlet. By 1905, the fundamental rules of Esperanto had been established by a conference of speakers in France, and Esperantist groups began popping up across the world.
Tim Owen, education director for the EAB, gives me a crash course in what makes it straight-forward. “Probably the main factor is that you can acquire a huge vocabulary without knowing so many words,” he says.
Read more: The Guardian