The National Museum of Language has been expanding its relationships both nationally and internally over the past two years. On the national level, we now have liaisons from 37 states, Washington, DC, and five foreign countries (UK, Poland, France, Spain, and Turkey). International relationships have been further expanding through membership in the recently revived International Network of Language Museums, which includes members from more than 20 countries.
At the last meeting of the International Network of Language Museums, held on February 7, 2023, Bernhard Tuider, a representative from Austria, presented a fascinating overview of the history and current operations of the unique Esperanto Museum, located in Vienna. This museum is formally known in English as The Esperanto Museum and Collection of Planned Languages, in German as Esperantomuseum und Sammlung für Plansprachen, and in Esperanto as the Esperantomuzeo kaj kolekto por planlingvoj.
In English we would usually describe Esperanto as a constructed language or conlang, which has been developed for specific purposes. However, in Europe the term for this type of language is “planned language,” as we see in the German title for the museum.
Esperanto was developed in 1887 by a Polish scholar, L. L. Zamenhof for use as an international language. It is relatively easy for Europeans to use, since it relies on word roots from Romance languages and has obvious connections to Germanic languages as well. Orthography is phonetic with all words spelled as they are pronounced, and the grammar is simple and regular.
The Esperanto Museum in Vienna, Austria was founded in 1927 and attached to the Austrian National Library in 1928. It immediately began collecting documents and artifacts related to Esperanto and hosted numerous international conferences.
However, with the rise of National Socialism (Nazi) forces in Germany in the 1930’s, Austria fell under Nazi control. Hitler declared Esperanto a language of Jewish origin, and Esperanto was banned in Germany in 1936. Austria was ordered to close the Esperanto Museum, and to destroy all the materials that the museum had collected. However, some officials of the Esperanto Museum bravely disobeyed the order to destroy the collections and hid them safely through WW2.
The presentation showed photographs of these early Museum leaders, all of whom were documented to have died in the early 1940’s, indicating that they were probably executed by the Nazis.
After the war, in 1947, the Esperanto Museum reopened, still with the sponsorship of the Austrian National Library, and launched a revival in the 1980’s. In 2005 the museum relocated to the beautiful Palais Mollard-Clary.
Today, it is a museum, library, documentation center, and archive. It accommodates the largest collection of constructed languages in the world and a linguistic research library for language planning. Digitalization has been underway since 2006 by the Austrian National Library. The catalog for these digital materials is available in English, German, and Esperanto. Its catalogue is available online through Austrian Books Online.
The museum holds around 35,000 library volumes, 3700 periodical titles, 3500 cultural artifacts, 10,000 autographs and manuscripts, 22,000 photographs and photographic negatives, 1500 posters, and 40,000 pamphlets. Overall, approximately 500 various planned languages are documented, of which the most important is Esperanto.
Reported by Laura Murray