4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Esperanto is alive and well in San Diego

“The syntax is systematic. You just get it.”

John Drehner declaims, which he can, in Esperanto.
John Drehner declaims, which he can, in Esperanto.

Saluton! Kiel vi fartas?

This is my friend John Drehner. A regular in this column and a regular sage.

“Come again?” I say.

“I said ‘Greetings! How are you?’”

“In what language?”

“In the language that is going to help the whole world live in peace,” he says. “The only problem is, no one’s heard of it.”

He’s talking about Esperanto, a language which belongs to everybody because it belongs to no nationality. It started with an idealistic Polish eye doctor, Ludwig Lejzer Zamenhov, who created it — mostly while he was a still a kid — and published it in 1887.

And the world still needs it, says John. “At the moment, English is an international language. And yet it’s about the most difficult, hard to pronounce, inconsistent language on the planet.”

And, he points out, it’s by no means a universal language. Fewer than 10 percent of Chinese people speak it. Only 39 percent of French people can even stutter in it. More people speak Spanish.

Drehner believes people need an easy second language that everybody in the world can use, and one for which no one claims special ownership. “Wars come through lack of understanding. And who’s surprised? There are 3500 to 5000 languages in the world. And yet, people can’t even speak to each other! Can’t share a joke.”

But Esperanto is alive and well in San Diego, and especially Santee. (The Grupo Esperanto meets monthly at The Living Room coffee house, 5900 El Cajon Boulevard, College Area.) Their website says it takes only 100 hours to get Esperanto down, compared with 600 hours for “easy” Spanish.

One of USD’s longest-living alums, Alberta Casey, sang in Esperanto for many of her 102 years. She even recorded an LP of Esperanto songs called San Diego Voka (“San Diego Calls.”) To hear her singing familiar songs like “Kredis Mi” (“Yesterday”) or “Ponto Trans Akvo Storma” (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”) is to hear the difference and yet the connection between English and Esperanto.

“The point is, Esperanto is supposed to be a bridge language everyone can share on equal terms. It is kept deliberately simple and logical and easy to pronounce, whether you’re American or Chinese,” says John. “The syntax is systematic. You just get it. So the lower threshold means more people can talk together in a language neither owns but both share imperfectly.”

Esperanto is the survivor of a bunch of idealistically created languages that burst forth around the 1880s with the idea of ending war and creating community across borders and language barriers.

Two world wars failed to kill it, even though speakers were persecuted (all three of Zamenhof’s children died in concentration camps) but today’s supporters fear two things might just finish the job. First, the notion that Esperanto is too Eurocentric for today’s world, and second, that the internet will kill it. “With instant translation on Google,” says Drehner, “you can stay in your silo and let the machines do the reaching out.”

So 134 years after this Polish kid invented the language of hope (“Esperanto” doesn’t need translating) how’s it doing? Honestly, it doesn’t feel as if it’s reaching critical mass. But extinction? No way. “It’s popular in schools, because it teaches kids to learn a foreign language with this easy, open, architecture,” says Drehner. “That encourages them to go on to learn ‘real’ languages.”

How will you know when you’re ready to move on?

“When you can play Scrabble in Esperanto.”

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Cathedral City, an artsy desert town you shouldn’t ignore

The Pelton Cottage has an upcoming open house on Feb. 27th.
Next Article

Three of San Diego's most accessible waterfalls

Green Valley Falls, Borrego Palm Canyon, Peñasquitos Canyon
John Drehner declaims, which he can, in Esperanto.
John Drehner declaims, which he can, in Esperanto.

Saluton! Kiel vi fartas?

This is my friend John Drehner. A regular in this column and a regular sage.

“Come again?” I say.

“I said ‘Greetings! How are you?’”

“In what language?”

“In the language that is going to help the whole world live in peace,” he says. “The only problem is, no one’s heard of it.”

He’s talking about Esperanto, a language which belongs to everybody because it belongs to no nationality. It started with an idealistic Polish eye doctor, Ludwig Lejzer Zamenhov, who created it — mostly while he was a still a kid — and published it in 1887.

And the world still needs it, says John. “At the moment, English is an international language. And yet it’s about the most difficult, hard to pronounce, inconsistent language on the planet.”

And, he points out, it’s by no means a universal language. Fewer than 10 percent of Chinese people speak it. Only 39 percent of French people can even stutter in it. More people speak Spanish.

Drehner believes people need an easy second language that everybody in the world can use, and one for which no one claims special ownership. “Wars come through lack of understanding. And who’s surprised? There are 3500 to 5000 languages in the world. And yet, people can’t even speak to each other! Can’t share a joke.”

But Esperanto is alive and well in San Diego, and especially Santee. (The Grupo Esperanto meets monthly at The Living Room coffee house, 5900 El Cajon Boulevard, College Area.) Their website says it takes only 100 hours to get Esperanto down, compared with 600 hours for “easy” Spanish.

One of USD’s longest-living alums, Alberta Casey, sang in Esperanto for many of her 102 years. She even recorded an LP of Esperanto songs called San Diego Voka (“San Diego Calls.”) To hear her singing familiar songs like “Kredis Mi” (“Yesterday”) or “Ponto Trans Akvo Storma” (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”) is to hear the difference and yet the connection between English and Esperanto.

“The point is, Esperanto is supposed to be a bridge language everyone can share on equal terms. It is kept deliberately simple and logical and easy to pronounce, whether you’re American or Chinese,” says John. “The syntax is systematic. You just get it. So the lower threshold means more people can talk together in a language neither owns but both share imperfectly.”

Esperanto is the survivor of a bunch of idealistically created languages that burst forth around the 1880s with the idea of ending war and creating community across borders and language barriers.

Two world wars failed to kill it, even though speakers were persecuted (all three of Zamenhof’s children died in concentration camps) but today’s supporters fear two things might just finish the job. First, the notion that Esperanto is too Eurocentric for today’s world, and second, that the internet will kill it. “With instant translation on Google,” says Drehner, “you can stay in your silo and let the machines do the reaching out.”

So 134 years after this Polish kid invented the language of hope (“Esperanto” doesn’t need translating) how’s it doing? Honestly, it doesn’t feel as if it’s reaching critical mass. But extinction? No way. “It’s popular in schools, because it teaches kids to learn a foreign language with this easy, open, architecture,” says Drehner. “That encourages them to go on to learn ‘real’ languages.”

How will you know when you’re ready to move on?

“When you can play Scrabble in Esperanto.”

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

San Diego County sheriff's radio goes silent

Local scanners fight encryption
Next Article

Amtrak is flying blind on crumbling Del Mar bluffs, auditor finds

Pacific Surfliner operator hit for failing to engage in California talks
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories Fishing Report — What’s getting hooked from ship and shore From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Theater — On stage in San Diego this week Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close