Eager for Esperanto: Edmonton man challenges all to learn ‘universal language’

David Yaki wants everyone in the world on the same page.

And that page, he says, should be written in Esperanto.

Yaki, 60, is on a mission to get 100 million people to pledge they will learn the constructed language at the same time, beginning in May 2024.

“If we get a 100 million people learning Esperanto at the same time, no one is wasting their time and it will become an important world language,” Yaki said in an interview Thursday with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM.

“It’s a catch-22,” Yaki said. “It’s never going to become useful if everybody waits for it to become useful.”

The real numbers of speakers worldwide are hard to pin down. Some estimates suggest there are two million people using it as their second language.

Esperanto was created by Jewish-Polish doctor L. L. Zamenhof in 1887 to facilitate communication and foster tolerance between all cultures. 

Global conflicts

Zamenhof believed that language barriers were at the root of global conflicts, Yaki said.

“The world Esperanto means hoping, so he was the hoping doctor,” said Yaki, founder of the Edmontona Esperanto-Societo, a group dedicated to promoting the language in Alberta.

“He was trying to make the language as easy as possible to learn.” 

Yaki’s campaign, called Promise Project, is inspired by Zamenhof, he said.  

Zamenhof’s books introducing the language contained a page with promise forms asking for the name, address and signature of people willing to learn the proposed international language.

“It was a good idea but it was too soon,” Yaki said. “Back then the world world was a very different place and the need for an international language was a lot less than it is today.” 

Yaki has collected 2,000 pledges and will be pitching his idea next week at the World Esperanto Congress in Finland.

Cultural divide

He learned to speak Esperanto during a course in Toronto more than 40 years ago. He began studying it again while living in Europe in the late 1990s

Dealing with language barriers while living abroad taught him to value the language in a new way. 

An easy-to-learn, universal second tongue could help cross the cultural divide, said Yaki, who teaches Esperanto in north Edmonton. 

“I think it would make the world a better place,” Yaki said. “It would solve a lot of problems.” 

If people could talk to each other, wouldn’t that make things better?– David Yaki

Esperanto is largely a blend of the Indo-European and Latin lexicon with a simplified 28-letter alphabet. 

All spellings are phonetic and words are easily modified for meaning. Each letter can only be pronounced one way, and each sound can only be spelled one way.

There are few grammatical rules. All verbs are strictly regular. By learning just 500 root works, speakers can build a vocabulary of more than 5,000.  

Some examples of the language: 

  • Bonan matenon: Good morning 
  • Domo: House
  • Historio: history
  • Virino: Woman 
  • Viro: Man
  • Urbo: city 
  • Nombro: number
  • Agrabla: nice, pleasant
  • Fromaĵo: cheese

Compared to other languages, which can be gruelling to learn, Esperanto is a breeze, Yaki said. 

He spent years studying French and German but still struggled to follow native speakers in casual conversation. Within 10 weeks of studying Esperanto, he felt like a pro. 

“That really sold me on the idea,” he said.

“If people could talk to each other, wouldn’t that make things better?” 

Listen below and get an introductory lesson on Esperanto: 

If you’ve every thought of picking up a second language, you likely wouldn’t pick Esperanto because – well, who would you talk to? We’ll meet a local man who has a plan to change that. 6:43