Esperanto - history and vision of an artificial language. Language - Literature - Community

Dissertation by Viola Beckmann

When the planned language Esperanto was published in 1887, the public enthusiastically embraced it as a new language of communication. What seemed largely hidden from contemporaries was the fact that the inventor of this new language, Ludwig Lejzer Zamenhof (1859-1917), always understood Esperanto to be part of a larger cosmopolitan project as well. It was not until 1972 - 55 years after the death of its author - that this broader framework was realized with the publication of his Hillelism. Project for the Solution of the Jewish Question (1901) in full public view.

This thesis understands Esperanto as a cultural-historical phenomenon that historically responds to an emerging globalization and fulfills political-emancipatory as well as ethical- religious purposes. The first aspect concerns the significance of a ‚neutral‘ language for the formation of (trans-)cultural identities: Esperanto, according to the hypothesis, is to be understood as an attempt to create a neutral artificial language that responds to the complex interrelationships of language, culture, people, nation and religion in a historical-political context and addresses new transcultural identity concepts under the sign of cosmopolitanism. Far from a linear historical narrative, the dissertation highlights the ambivalences and incongruities that existed and partly still exist today between Zamenhof's political-ethical framing and the reductionist external perception of Esperanto as a practical language. The second aspect concerns the special meaning of literature in the context of language and community building. In contrast to the purely pragmatic understanding of an International Language, the study starts from the premise that for Zamenhof and the early Esperantists, the development and active promotion of literature was to be the central way to establish Esperanto as a special community language. By opening up a broader cultural-theoretical and cultural-historical perspective on the powerful impact of literature and language in constituting (trans)national identities, the work provides new approaches to an Esperantist literary history. By addressing analogies and differences to national literatures and their significance for processes of nation building, new insights are gained into the cultural construction contexts of inter/national language, trans/national literature and trans/national community concepts.