MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Another Eastern European who had a way with words will be saluted here in the U.S. this weekend. His name was L.L. Zamenhof, and he invented the language Esperanto in the 1880s. About 150 people are expected to attend the U.S. Esperanto conference in Bethesda, Maryland, just outside Washington. They'll be celebrating the centennial of Zamenhof's address to the Esperanto conference of 1910.
Back then, as NPR's Art Silverman tells us, his Washington visit made headlines.
ART SILVERMAN: Zamenhof wanted to bridge languages, to promote world peace. He stitched together parts of a handful of European languages, simplifying grammar and syntax.
Mr. L.L. ZAMENHOF (Creator, Esperanto Language): (Esperanto spoken)
SILVERMAN: That's Zamenhof in 1910, the year he made his one and only visit to the U.S. Six decades later in Buffalo, New York, high school student Ralph Dumain(ph) taught himself Esperanto on a whim. Today, Dumain is an amateur historian of the language. He says that when Zamenhof came to Washington 100 years ago, it was big news.
Mr. RALPH DUMAIN: Advertisements for Shakespeare's play "As You Like It" in Esperanto on the theater page, there was an Esperanto baseball game, giving, I guess, the rules for baseball in Esperanto. One of the headlines was: Esperanto leader faints from overwork, and that was two days' worth of news columns.
SILVERMAN: Back then, Dumain says, the world was ready to accept an invented language as just another manmade miracle.
Mr. DUMAIN: The phonograph record, the movies, the automobile, the airplane; things were changing. And Esperanto, in a sense, could be seen by some as sort of some new harbinger of sort of the new world that was being entered.
SILVERMAN: The 1910 conference was Esperanto's high water mark, but it never went away. After World War I, radio shows broadcast the language and speakers at the League of Nations used it. By the 1920s, novelists and poets wrote in Esperanto and about a half century ago, Esperanto even made it to the silver screen.
(Soundbite of commercial ad)
Unidentified Man: "Incubus," starring William Shatner, is the only film shot entirely in the artificial language of Esperanto.
(Soundbite of movie, "Incubus")
Mr. WILLIAM SHATNER (Actor): (as Marc) (Esperanto spoken)
SILVERMAN: It's easy to mock Esperanto, but James Ryan, president of the Esperanto Society of Washington, says that to do so is to short-change Zamenhof's achievement.
Mr. JAMES RYAN (President, Esperanto Society of Washington): Zamenhof's original goal was herculean. It's kind of like saying I will build the biggest skyscraper in the world and coming up with a beautiful very tall skyscraper and people mocking you because it hasn't reached the moon yet.
SILVERMAN: This weekend, it will at least reach Bethesda, Maryland, where the National American Esperanto Conference will take place.
Art Silverman, NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Group: (Singing foreign language)
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