Esperanto (/ˌɛspəˈrɑːntoʊ/ or /ˌɛspəˈræntoʊ/) is the most widely spoken constructed international auxiliary language. It was created by Polish ophthalmologist L. L. Zamenhof in 1887. Zamenhof first described the language in The International Language, which he published in five languages under the pseudonym "Doktoro Esperanto". (This book is often nicknamed in Esperanto as la Unua Libro i.e. The First Book.) The word esperanto translates into English as "one who hopes".
Zamenhof's goal was to create an easy and flexible language that would serve as a universal second language to foster world peace and international understanding, and to build a "community of speakers", as he believed that one could not have a language without such a community.
His original title for the language was simply "the international language" (la lingvo internacia), but early speakers grew fond of the name Esperanto and began to use it as the name for the language just two years after its creation. The name quickly gained prominence and has been used as an official name ever since.
In 1905, Zamenhof published Fundamento de Esperanto ("Foundation[Note 1] of Esperanto") as a definitive guide to the language. Later that year, French Esperantists organized with his participation the first World Esperanto Congress, an ongoing annual conference, in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. The first congress ratified the Declaration of Boulogne, which established several foundational premises for the Esperanto movement; one of its pronouncements is that Fundamento de Esperanto is the only obligatory authority over the language; another is that the Esperanto movement is exclusively a linguistic movement and that no further meaning can ever be ascribed to it. Zamenhof also proposed to the first congress that an independent body of linguistic scholars should steward the future evolution of Esperanto, foreshadowing the founding of the Akademio de Esperanto (in part modelled after the Académie française), which was established soon thereafter. Since 1905, the congress has been held in a different country every year, with the exceptions of the years during the World Wars and restricted to online-only during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. In 1908, a group of young Esperanto speakers led by the Swiss Hector Hodler established the Universal Esperanto Association in order to provide a central organization for the global Esperanto community.
Esperanto grew throughout the 20th century, both as a language and as a linguistic community. Despite speakers facing persecution in regimes such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under Stalin, Esperanto speakers continued to establish organizations and publish periodicals tailored to specific regions and interests. In 1954, the United Nations granted official support to Esperanto as an international auxiliary language in the Montevideo Resolution. Several writers have contributed to the growing body of Esperanto literature, including William Auld, who received the first nomination for the Nobel Prize in Literature for a literary work in Esperanto in 1999, followed by two more in 2004 and 2006. Those writing in Esperanto are also officially represented in PEN International, the worldwide writers association, through Esperanto PEN Centro.
Kevin Grieves investigated how Esperanto periodicals from over a century ago, carrying messages of world peace and greater understanding among cultures to all parts of the world. In his study he illuminates an actively engaged international community articulating a sentiment of transnational common identity that can be seen as a precursor to today’s notions of participatory journalism, such as Global Voices (also in Esperanto).
The development of Esperanto has continued unabated into the 21st century. The advent of the Internet has had a significant impact on the language, as learning it has become increasingly accessible on platforms such as Duolingo, and as speakers have increasingly networked on platforms such as Amikumu. With up to two million speakers, a small portion of whom are native speakers, it is the most widely spoken constructed language in the world. Although no country has adopted Esperanto officially,[Note 2] Esperantujo ("Esperanto-land") is the name given to the collection of places where it is spoken, and the language is widely employed in world travel, correspondence, cultural exchange, conventions, literature, language instruction, television, and radio. Some people have chosen to learn Esperanto for its purported help in third language acquisition, like Latin.
While many of its advocates continue to hope for the day that Esperanto becomes officially recognized as the international auxiliary language, some (including raŭmistoj) have stopped focusing on this goal and instead view the Esperanto community as a "stateless diasporic linguistic group" ("senŝtata diaspora lingva kolektivo") based on freedom of association, with a culture worthy of preservation, based solely on its own merit.