AT an afternoon lawn party I found myself sitting next to a bearded fellow who was mumbling. Thinking he was saying something to me, I leaned in his direction and said, ``I beg your pardon?'' He leaned in my direction and said something like, ``Lernas la lingvo Esperanto?'' I gave him a blank look.
``Have you learned how to speak Esperanto?'' he snapped. ``It's the internacia lingvo! Por la tuto mondo!''
``I have a hard enough time learning to speak good English,'' I said in an effort to lighten the conversation. He bit his sandwich as if it were my neck. ``I never find anyone who speaks it.'' He chewed scornfully. ``Everyone speaks some kind of English. It's revolting!''
I tried to think of something helpful. ``You speak a lot of languages?'' I asked.
``A few,'' he actually smiled. ``Besides English and Esperanto, I speak Ngulu, Edo, and Urdu.''
This effectively stopped the conversation. I not only didn't speak any of the languages he mentioned, I wasn't sure who did. ``Ngulu?'' I finally whispered.
``Yes!'' he exploded. ``I had to learn Ngulu because no one in Mozambique spoke Esperanto. Stupidly they speak English, which is five times harder to learn.''
I eventually learned that Esperanto was invented in 1887 by Dr. L.L. Zamenhof. Its use is gradually increasing, my friend thought, but not nearly as fast as English.
Perhaps the problem with Esperanto is that it will always be a second language. No one speaks only that. Yet the number of people who speak English as a second language is immense. I haven't seen my bearded friend since, but I presume he is still hoping Esperanto will be the ``Lingvo por la tuto mondo.''