The Esperanto Museum in Vienna

Languages are a curious thing. They constantly evolve and change; new words, new rules, new dialects. Language is utterly fascinating. It’s particularly interesting to see new languages pop up, which they do from time to time, especially around Sci-Fi/Fantasy geeks. Everyone knows about Trekkies and Klingon, or Lord of the Rings fans and Elvish. More recently, Game of Thrones (or A Song of Ice and Fire if you’re a book fan) has given us not one, but two new languages; Dothraki and Valyrian.

Language is fun.

But, how can you go about recording languages in a museum? Books would be the obvious answer, but then what you have is a library at best and a dictionary/grammar guide at worst. Where’s the human element?

An oft-overlooked museum in Vienna is the Esperanto Museum, which, unsurprisingly is an off-shoot of the National Library. Esperanto is… a man made language? So are all the others. What makes Esperanto different? Technically, it’s something called a Planned Language. 

Invented by Dr Ludvik Zamerhof in 1887, Esperanto was conceived as a simple way for people of all nationalities to communicate. Yes, you could argue that Latin has been used for this but Latin is tricky. I’m a Classicist by training, so trust me on that. Compared to Latin, Esperanto is a doddle!

A poster in Esperanto
A poster in Esperanto

Although the language got off to a good start, what ultimately halted its progress was one major event; the second world war. The Nazis were hell-bent on stopping the progress of the language, with denouncement after denouncement and the Gestapo closing a version of the Esperanto Museum in 1938.

The new museum arrived in its current location in 2005, after being housed in the Hofburg since 1947. It’s an interesting little museum (only 2 rooms!) and if definitely worth tracking down.

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