The year was 1879. Stalin was born. The Austro-German Alliance was signed to dissuade Russia from attacking either nation. During the chilling lead-up to the Armenian genocide, Turkey banned Armenian performances in Constantinople (now Istanbul). And amidst this growing sectarianism, a Polish Jew named Lazarus Ludwig Zamenhof set about to create a universal language that would trump nationalism and unite humanity in peace. Thus was born Esperanto.
Born in 1859 in Bialystok, Zamenhof shone linguistically from a young age. He spoke Russian and Yiddish from birth, as well as Polish and his regional Belorussian dialect. He learned French and German from his father, and also mastered Hebrew. He studied Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic in school, and picked up some English and Italian as well.
Zamenhof came to believe that the communal discord of his hometown, and the world, was exacerbated by language barriers, and he set out to create a neutral universal language—free of any one group’s national identity—which he released to the world anonymously in 1887, under the pseudonym Doktoro Esperanto (Dr. Hopeful).
Today there are thought to be 2 million speakers of Esperanto. Vi povus esti proksima!