When you have a doctor’s appointment in the morning and go to work late, you see a whole different crowd riding the subway. In the summer after rush hour, there are a lot of families on outings. A woman and a boy of about 11 got on and sat near me. The boy began to tell his mother that he had been reading about a made-up language called Esperanto. She said she had heard of it and thought it had been popular a long time ago but hadn’t worked out. An older kid they didn’t know chimed in to confirm the woman’s view. Esperanto was intended to be used as an international language, but nobody spoke it anymore.
That was too much for me. “Well,” I said, “hundreds of thousands of people speak it. I speak it.” If I may say so, the boy and his mother were delighted. Could I speak a few words, they asked?
“Mi parolas Esperanto,” I said. The boy repeated the “I Speak Esperanto” phrase several times. He then wanted to know “hello.” “Saluton,” I said. I told him and his mother why Ludwig Zamenhoff had felt a need for such a language more than 100 years ago in a war-torn part of Eastern Europe.
When the woman and the boy were leaving the train, they asked how to say “good-bye” and told me good-bye in Esperanto.
Now get this. Here is William Shatner, long before “Star Trek,” in a spooky black and white movie called “Incubus” — filmed in Esperanto!
That is so bizarre, I thought at first it must be a hoax. Maybe some Esperantists dubbed it for a joke on YouTube, I thought. But Wikipedia is very careful about such things, and it confirms that William Shatner performed in a movie in Esperanto that was thought to be lost. The recently rediscovered print had subtitles in French, which have now been converted to English. Read Wikipedia here. (Read my previous post on invented languages here.)
And just in case you are now inspired to learn the language, this little clip offers a pretty good lesson.
I hope the boy on the subway finds it. A terrifically curious and open-minded young man.