Happy Esperanto Literature Day!
The First Printing of the Book of Mormon in Esperanto
A historic milestone was reached in December 2012, with the creation of the first printing of the Book of Mormon in the International Language Esperanto. The book was custom printed by Transient Books, a small family-run bookbinding business, located in Cordoba Argentina. While the printing was only the “Selections from the Book of Mormon” in Esperanto, it is still an important step in helping the rest of the work to come forth. It seems that the Book of Mormon has been fully translated into Esperanto since before 1983, and whose transcripts have patiently been waiting at the Church History Library, in Salt Lake City Utah. This translation may need to be revised and updated, but the fact that a full translation already exists points to the realization that the time for the Book of Mormon to officially be published in Esperanto is long overdue. In the meantime the Esperanto Selections of the Book of Mormon have recently been made available online by the group Por-Esperanta Mormonaro. For those who have never heard of Esperanto before, they may be surprised to hear about the growing and thriving international community that uses it and the rich history that surrounds it.
What is Esperanto?
The Esperanto language was invented in the year 1887 by Dr. Ludwig L. Zamenhof, with the aim of being easy to learn as well as used internationally as a common second language for everyone. Esperanto was never meant to replace anyones mother tongue, or it’s culture, but instead to provide a second language that everyone could use on a neutral and equal footing. Zamenhof grew up in a time when there was great bickering and mistrust between people of differing cultures and languages. Zamenhof’s great hope was that Esperanto’s use might foster peace and international understanding between people of varying degrees of cultural, racial, and linguistic background. In fact the word Esperanto can be translated as “someone who hopes”. This idealism and claim to peace makes it uniquely suited to be used in a gospel setting.
Esperanto has an interesting history for it’s relatively short lifespan. In the early 20th century it was becoming quite popular. So much infact that the language might have soon been implemented in many schools worldwide, but that possibility was cut short because Esperanto became a target by those who felt threatened by it’s existence and who happened to also be in positions of power. Hitler and Stalin were among these, as were Franco of Spain, Mussolini of Italy, and Salazar of Portugal. Hitler and Stalin were the worst in regards of how they treated Esperantists, having been known to have sent thousands of them to perish in concentration camps. Among the casualties were Zamenhof’s own three children. Many of the Esperantists that were persecuted were Jewish, but not all of them.
Esperanto in the modern world
There are many critics who have tried to claim on numerous occasions that Esperanto failed and that it never caught on. The truth is that Esperanto is very much alive, and is thriving in many places around the globe. It is progressing quite well, even in areas that one might not entirely expect. While Esperanto is not spoken in any specific country as an official language, speakers are most numerous in Europe, East Asia, and South America. Esperanto is most popular throughout Europe, but there are thousands learning and speaking Esperanto in China, Japan, Vietnam, Brazil and Argentina.
Esperanto has often been described as being incredibly easy and reported to be many times easier to learn than other languages. One reason people probably find Esperanto so easy is because of it’s simplistic nature and extreme regularity. It uses only 16 grammar rules with no exceptions and pronunciation for each letter only has one sound. Esperanto shares many similarities with the Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian), and anyone who already speaks one of those languages could easily pick up Esperanto in no time with very little effort. But even those who don’t are often extremely surprised at how quickly they can become proficient in the language. Even English speakers will recognize quite a few words right away.
Esperanto and the Gospel
We are taught that we are to carry the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people (see Mosiah 3:13; D&C 133:37). It seems that this was meant to include Esperanto. People in many places of the world are learning Esperanto. In a General Conference talk given by President Gordon B. Hinckley in October 1995, titled Stay the Course—Keep the Faith, he states, “We have not as yet carried the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. But we have made great strides. We have gone wherever we are permitted to go. God is at the helm and doors will be opened by His power according to His divine will. Of that I am confident. Of that I am certain.”
Likewise in an excellent talk given by President Spencer W. Kimball in April 1974, titled When the World Will Be Converted, he states, “It seems to me that the Lord chose his words when he said “every nation,” “every land,” “uttermost bounds of the earth,” “every tongue,” “every people,” “every soul,” “all the world,” “many lands.” Surely there is significance in these words! Certainly his sheep were not limited to the thousands about him and with whom he rubbed shoulders each day. A universal family! A universal command!”
I believe it is likely that Esperanto will play a role in bringing the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to many people around the world in the many days to come.
An online copy of the Esperanto Book of Mormon can be viewed here in pdf format.
“I … should be pleased to hear, that [the Book of Mormon] was printed in all the different languages of the earth” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith , 176).