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ESPERANTO GOES NATURAL, JUS SERMONIS AND DIASPORA

Alessio Giordano obtained a BA degree in Philosophy at the University of Macerata. They are currently an undergraduate student in Linguistics at the University of Pavia (MA), honor student of Ghislieri College, and master’s candidate in Humanities and Life Sciences at the University School for Advanced Studies IUSS Pavia. Among their contributions are the Italian translation and critical edition of Kosta Chetagurov’s

Ossetian Harp [Ирон фæндыр]. They are an editor of Treccani, Institute of the Italian Encyclopædia.


"Not my nation is my language, but my language is my nation", slogan of PEN International in 1993, Santiago de Campostela.


It is undoubtedly known that Esperanto is one of the main auxiliary planned languages, i.e. those languages created to facilitate international communication. It was published by Ludwig Lejzer Zamenhof in 1887, and it was soon considered to fall into the category of artificial languages, in line with other previously spoken languages, to name but a few: Sanskrit, Old Church Slavonic, etc. In the past, some linguists thought that an artificial language, labelled as unnatural, was an abomination, unable to

authentically express human feelings and to create an original literary tradition. This is untrue. Esperanto

succeeded in achieving its artistic prestige, thanks to the official acknowledgement of PEN International in

1993, and also in creating its own original identity, witnessed by Esperanto native speakers.


Indeed, language is an undeniable aspect of people’s identity; it has defined social and group identity over the centuries. Esperanto represents the language of a minority group since it is used nowhere as an official language (despite a couple of attempts at the Republic of Rose Island and Neutral Moresnet). Given what I just said, each Nation-State must have its language. There is no Nation-State without a national language; fair enough, but not every language has its status recognised as a national language, e.g. Basque, Catalan, Occitan, Breton, Gypsy (or Romani), Yiddish, Neapolitan, Friulan, and so on. Esperanto is part of this last group. Especially in Europe, and later also outside the continent, for about 130 years there has been a community of people who spoke this language.


Why did these people decide to learn it?


Zamenhof, the pioneer of the Internacia Lingvo (first name of this linguistic project), proposed a new

perception of the world, called Homaranismo (“Humanitarism”), introducing the concept of “Esperanto people” as a neutral people. Thus he wrote in a letter to Abraham Kofman, on May 1901, the

28th:


"The International Language will be established only in such an event: if there will be any group of people

who accept it as their family hereditary language. A hundred of such people are more important for the

idea of a neutral language than millions of other people. The hereditary language of the smallest and

most meaningless group has a life far more guaranteed and inextinguishable than a language without a community".


There are, in fact, families in which Esperanto is the spoken language. The first fluent native speaker was

Emilia Gastón Burillo, from Spain, born 2nd June 1904; currently, they are more or less two thousand.

When the first Universal Congress started in Boulogne-sur-Mer, in France, on 5th August 1905, Zamenhof expressed his idea of what constitutes the Esperanto identity[2]:


"We all feel ourselves as members of one nation, as members of one family, and for the first time in human history we, members of the most different peoples, stand one beside the other not as strangers, not as competitors, but as siblings, who, not forcing anyone to use their language, understand each other, do not suspect one another because of darkness they share, love each other and hold each other by the hand not hypocritically, stranger to stranger, but frankly, man to man. Let us properly consider the absolute

importance of this day, because today among the kindly walls of Boulogne-sur-Mer French have not met

with English, nor Russians with Polish, but people with people".


The main reason that encouraged people to learn Esperanto is the desire to speak a neutral language, that respects other languages and brings peaceful ideals. Linguists consider language to be a tool for communication, identification and expression of art. Esperanto, like every natural language, plays these

roles too. Starting from this, one needs to consider the meaning of the belonging to the Esperanto community, a global linguistic group, not limited by borders or boundaries. This school of thought

produced a manifesto written in Rauma, Finland, for the 36th International Youth Congress in 1980; the

signatories conceived “Esperanticity” as the belonging to a self-elected diasporic linguistic minority. Not

every esperantist agrees with this statement, but those who do can find a reference point in the Esperanta Civito, a democratic, stateless, federal institution.


Is it a diaspora?


Generally speaking, the notion of diaspora, if applied to Esperanto people, provokes disappointment. When speaking about a diaspora, the first idea goes to the diaspora of the Jews, which were cast out of any specific place to others, often without certain destinations. And yet, this is incorrect. The meaning of

diaspora is not limited to a violent dispersion of people; this word can also refer to the spread of

linguistically, culturally or socially connected individuals. The Esperanto identity does not arise due

to ius sanguinis, nor to ius fidei or ius soli; it is a matter of ius sermonis, you can select this identity (or accept it, if born in an Esperanto family), and in doing so you choose to be part of a transnational community beyond national and international identity. Esperanta Civito acts as a group of people who share the same ideas about belonging to a linguistic diaspora; not being a state, the Civito does not crave political and economic power but aims for tolerance and cultural evolution.

These remarks are certainly not exhaustive and rather serve to consisely summarise the cultural importance of Esperanto in Europe and abroad. To be a subject of international law, Esperanta Civito has its Constitutional Charter, and it is an official observer at the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO). It is an institution not sufficiently explored, whose ideological roots problematize notions such as “people”, “nation”, and “identity”, leading to new conceptualizations of the traditional definitions that sociology and politology were able to offer up to the present days. Other similar – but not identical – realities to which one can compare this stateless group are the Holy See, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the International Romani Union, or the Exile Tibetan People’s Organisation.

In conclusion, we can assert that those who identify with Esperanta Civito represent neither a national people (according to the Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen, 1789, art. III) nor an international people (according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, art. 28), but a “transnational people” - not ethnically identifiable, whose identity is freely chosen. In 1882, Ernest Renan

recognised the importance of the so-called “daily plebiscite”; being a people is, ultimately, a voluntaristic principle. The significance of this may lie in the original meaning of what is called “Esperantism”, which deserves more detailed analyses.



Susi Radman, Heavy Lettering I, Photograph, 2021.



[1] L.L. Zamenhof, Originala Verkaro. Antaŭparoloj – gazetartikoloj – traktaĵoj – paroladoj – leteroj – poemoj. Kolektitaj kaj ordigitaj de d-ro Joh. Dietterle (Leipzig: Ferdinand Hirt & Sohn,

1929), 323.

[2] Zamenhof, Originala Verkaro, 362.