Eliezer Zamenhof and Esperanto

Ludvic Lazarus (Ludwik Lejzer, Ludwik Łazarz) Zamenhof (December 15, 1859April 14, 1917) was an eye doctor, philologist, and the initiator of Esperanto, the most widely spoken and successful constructed language in the world. According to biographers A. Zakrzewski and E. Wiesenfeld, his native languages were Polish, from the neighborhood where he was raised, and his parents' languages Russian and Yiddish, but his father was a German teacher, and he also spoke that fluently. Later he learned French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew and English, and he also had an interest in Italian, Spanish and Lithuanian.

] Life

Zamenhof was born on December 15, 1859 in the town of Białystok (in Poland, then under Russian rule) to parents of Lithuanian Jewish descent. The town's population was made up of three major ethnic groups: Poles, Belarusians, and a large group of Yiddish-speaking Jews. 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.

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 an ophthalmologist. While healing people he continued to work on his project of the international language.

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" (Life and Science, Vilna, 1909; see Esperanto translation as «Pri jida gramatiko kaj reformo en la jida» in «Hebreo el la geto: de cionismo al hilelismo», Eldonejo Ludovikito, vol. 5, 1976). 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 the 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 the Yiddish poetics (see p. 50 in the above-cited book).

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" (Doctor Hopeful), from which the name of the language derives. For Zamenhof this language wasn't merely a communication tool, but a means of spreading his ideas on the peaceful coexistence of different peoples and cultures. Among the many works he translated into Esperanto is the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament.

Zamenhof and his wife Klara raised three children: a son, Adam, and two daughters, Sofia and Lidia. All three perished in the Holocaust.

Lidia Zamenhof in particular took a keen interest in Esperanto, and as an adult became a teacher of the language, traveling through Europe and to America to teach classes in it. Through her friendship with Martha Root, Lidia accepted Bahá’u’lláh and became a member of the Bahá’í faith. As one of its social principles, the Bahá’í faith teaches that an auxiliary world language must be selected by the representatives of all the world's nations.

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.[1] The Prize was awarded to the International Peace Bureau.

Zamenhof died in Warsaw on April 14, 1917, and is buried in the Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery in that city. He is considered a god by the Oomoto religion.

[edit] Homaranismo

Main article: Homaranismo

Zamenhof also published a religious philosophy he called Homaranismo (loosely translated as humanitarianism), based on the principles and teachings of Hillel the Elder.

A stamp celebrating the 120th year of Esperanto, the portrait of Zamenhof was created using the text from the biography as appeared in the Esperanto Wikipedia. Israel 2007

A stamp celebrating the 120th year of Esperanto, the portrait of Zamenhof was created using the text from the biography as appeared in the Esperanto Wikipedia. Israel 2007

[edit] Name discrepancy

Zamenhof's parents gave him the Hebrew name Eliezer, which appeared on his birth certificate in its Yiddish form Leyzer. In his adolescence he used both Leyzer and the Russian equivalent Lazar (the form Lazarus is often used in English texts). In some Russian documents Lazar was followed by the patronymic Markovich.

While at university, Zamenhof began using the gentile Russian name Lyudovik (often transcribed Ludovic; Polish Ludwik; in English the form Ludwig is also used) in place of Lazar. When his brother Leon became a doctor and started signing his name "Dr L. Zamenhof", Lyudovik reclaimed his birth name Lazar and from 1901 signed his name "Dr L. L. Zamenhof". The two L's do not seem to have specifically represented either name, and the order Ludovic Lazarus is a modern convention.

Zamenhof may have chosen the name Lyudovik in honor of Francis Lodwick (or Lodowyck), who in 1652 had published an early conlang proposal.[2]

His family name was written Samenhof in German orthography; Zamenhof is an Esperantized spelling.

[edit] Namesakes

L. L. Zamenhof Statue in Prilep, Republic of Macedonia

L. L. Zamenhof Statue in Prilep, Republic of Macedonia

The minor planet (1462) Zamenhof is named in his honor. It was discovered on February 6, 1938 by Yrjö Väisälä.

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, Poland, Czech Republic, Spain (mostly in Catalonia), Israel, and Brazil. There are Zamenhof Hills in Hungary and Brazil, and a Zamenhof Island in the Danube River. [[1]]

Eliezer Zamenhof street in Tel Aviv

Eliezer Zamenhof street in Tel Aviv

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 (the origin of Lazarus).