L L Zamenhof


L L Zamenhof:

Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof (pronounced /ˈzɑːmɨnhɒf/ in English; born Eliezer Levi Samenhof, December 15, 1859 – April 14, 1917) was an ophthalmologist, philologist, and the inventor of Esperanto, a constructed language designed for international communication.

Zamenhof was born on December 15, 1859 in the town of Białystok in Poland (then part of the Russian Empire). He considered his native language to be his father's Russian (or perhaps Belarusian, which was not considered distinct from Russian at the time and which appears to have had a strong influence on Esperanto phonology), but also spoke his mother's Yiddish natively; as he grew older, he spoke more Polish, and that became the native language of his children. His father was a teacher of German, and he also spoke that language fluently, though not as comfortably as Yiddish. Later he learned French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and English, and had an interest in Italian, Spanish and Lithuanian.

In addition to the Yiddish-speaking Jewish majority, the population of Białystok was made up of three other ethnic groups: Poles, Germans, and Belarusians. Zamenhof was saddened and frustrated by the many quarrels between these groups.

He supposed that the main reason for the hate and prejudice lay in mutual misunderstanding, caused by the lack of one common language that would play the role of a neutral communication tool between people of different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds.

As a student at secondary school in Warsaw, Zamenhof made attempts to create some kind of international language with a grammar that was very rich, but also very complex. When he later studied English, he decided that the international language must have a simpler grammar. Apart from his parents' native languages Russian and Yiddish and his adopted language Polish, his lingustics attempts were also aided by his mastering of German, a good passive understanding of Latin, Hebrew and French, and a basic knowledge of Greek, English and Italian.

By 1878, his project Lingwe uniwersala was almost finished. However, Zamenhof was too young then to publish his work. Soon after graduation from school he began to study medicine, first in Moscow, and later in Warsaw. In 1885, Zamenhof graduated from a university and began his practice as a doctor in Veisiejai and since 1886 as an ophthalmologist in Płock and Vienna. While healing people there he continued to work on his project of the international language.

For two years he tried to raise funds to publish a booklet describing the language until he received the financial help from his future wife's father. In 1887, the book titled as "Lingvo internacia. Antaŭparolo kaj plena lernolibro" (International Language. Foreword And Complete Textbook) was published under the pseudonym "Doktoro Esperanto," or "Doctor Hopeful," from which the name of the language derives. For Zamenhof this language, far from being merely a communication tool, was a way of promoting the peaceful coexistence of different people and cultures.

In 1879, Zamenhof wrote the first grammar of the Yiddish language, which he published in part years later in the Yiddish magazine "Lebn un visnshaft". The complete original Russian text of this manuscript with parallel Esperanto translation was only published in 1982 (translated by Adolf Holzhaus in L. Zamennhof, provo de gramatiko de novjuda lingvo, Helsinki, p. 9-36). In this work, not only does he provide a review of Yiddish grammar, but also proposes its transition to the Latin script and other orthographic innovations. In the same period, Zamenhof wrote some other works in Yiddish, including perhaps the first survey of Yiddish poetics (see p. 50 in the above-cited book).

In 1882, a wave of pogroms in the Russian empire motivated Zamenhof to take part in the early Zionist movement, the Hibbat Zion. He left the movement in 1887, and in 1901 published a statement in Russian with the title Hillelism, in which he argued that the Zionist project could not solve the problems of the Jewish people.

In 1914, he politely declined an invitation to join a new organization of Jewish Esperantists, the TEHA. In his letter to the organizers, he said: "I am profoundly convinced that every nationalism offers humanity only the greatest unhappiness... It is true that the nationalism of oppressed peoples -- as a natural self-defensive reaction -- is much more excusable than the nationalism of peoples who oppress; but, if the nationalism of the strong is ignoble, the nationalism of the weak is imprudent; both give birth to and support each other..."

Among the many works Zamenhof translated into Esperanto is the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament.

Zamenhof died in Warsaw on April 14, 1917, and is buried in the Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery in that city
In 1910, Zamenhof was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, by four British Members of Parliament (including James O'Grady, Philip Snowden) and Professor Stanley Lane Poole.(The Prize was instead awarded to the International Peace Bureau.)

The minor planet (1462) Zamenhof is named in his honor. It was discovered on February 6, 1938 by Yrjö Väisälä. Also, hundreds of city streets, parks, and bridges worldwide have been named after Zamenhof. In Lithuania, the best-known Zamenhof Street is in Kaunas, where he lived and owned a house for some time. There are others in France, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Spain (mostly in Catalonia), Italy, Israel, and Brazil. There are Zamenhof Hills in Hungary and Brazil, and a Zamenhof Island in the Danube River.

In some Israeli cities, street signs identify Esperanto's creator and give his birth and death dates, but refer to him solely by his Jewish name Eliezer (a variant of which, El'azar, is the origin of Lazarus). Zamenhof is honored as a deity by the Japanese religion Oomoto, which encourages the use of Esperanto among its followers. Also, a genus of lichen has been named Zamenhofia rosei in his honour.

His birthday, December 15, is celebrated annually as Zamenhof Day by users of Esperanto.

House of the Zamenhof family, monument dedicated to Ludwik Zamenhof and Bialystok Esperanto Centre are sites of Jewish Heritage Trail in Bialystok which was opened in June 2008 by volunteers at The University of Bialystok Foundation. Those sites are also marked on Bialystok Trail of esperanto and many cultures which was opened in June 2009 by Landbrand company.

In the mystery novel "The Yiddish Policemen's Union," by Michael Chabon, the hotel where Detective Landsman lives is called the Zamenhof.

Comment (1)

Bill Chapman

December 15, 2009 at 5:44 PM

It’s good to see all the attention being paid to Esperanto these days.

Whilst this Google custom doodle celebrates 150 years since Esperanto’s creator was born, the language should not be seen as something historical.

Esperanto has a lively young speaker population. A good place to learn is http://www.lernu.net

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