Infobox Language
name = Proto-Esperanto
nativename = Pra-Esperanto
pronunciation =
speakers = extinct
iso1 = none
iso2 = none
iso2b = none
iso2t = none
iso3 = none
familycolor = Constructed language
fam2 = international auxiliary language
script = Latin
extinct = 1887
creator = L. L. Zamenhof
date = 1878-1881
setting = international auxiliary language
posteriori =
caption =

Proto-Esperanto (or "pra-Esperanto" in the language itself) is the modern term for any of the stages in the evolution of L. L. Zamenhof's language project, prior to the publication of his Unua Libro in 1887.

The "Lingwe uniwersala" of 1878

As a child, Zamenhof had the idea to introduce an international auxiliary language for communication between different nationalities. He originally wanted to revive some form of simplified Latin or Greek, but as he grew older he came to believe that it would be better to create a new language for his purpose. During his teenage years he worked on a language project until he thought it ready for public demonstration. On December 17, 1878 (about one year before the first publication of Volapük), Zamenhof celebrated his birthday and the birth of the language with some friends, who liked the project. Zamenhof himself called his language "Lingwe Uniwersala" ("world language").

Only four lines of the "Lingwe uniwersala" stage of the language from 1878 remain, from an early song that Zamenhof composed:

In modern Esperanto, this would be,:"Malamikeco de la nacioj,:"Falu, falu, jam temp' estas;:"La tuta homaro en familion:"Kununuigi sin devas.

The "Lingvo universala" of 1881

While at university, Zamenhof handed his work over to his father, Mordechai, for safe-keeping until he had completed his medical studies. His father, not understanding the ideas of his son and perhaps anticipating problems from the Tsarist police, burned the work. Zamenhof didn't discover this until he returned from university in 1881, at which point he restarted his project. A sample from this second phase of the language is this extract of a letter from 1881:

:"Ma plej kara miko, kvan ma plekulpa plumo faktidźas tiranno pu to. Mo poté de cen taj brivoj kluri ke sciigoj de fu-ći specco debé blessi tal fradal kordol ..."Modern: "Mia plej kara amiko, kiel mia plej kulpa " [?] " plumo fariĝas tirano por vi. Mi povas de cent da viaj leteroj konkludi ke sciigoj de tiu-ĉi speco devas vundi vian fratan koron ..." :(My dearest friend, how my most guilty pen has become a tyrant for you. From a hundred of your letters I can conclude that announcements of this kind must wound your brotherly heart ...)

By this time the letter "v" had replaced "w" for the [v] sound; verbal inflection for person and number had been dropped; the nominal plural was "-oj" in place of "-es"; and the noun cases were down to the current two (though a genitive "-es" survives today in the correlatives). Beside the stronger Slavic flavor of the orthography ("ć, dź, ħ, ś, ź" for "ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ŝ, ĵ") compared to the modern language, and an accusative case suffix "-l", some verb forms still had final stress.

The verbal conjugation was present tense "-é", past "-u", future "-uj", conditional "-á", jussive "-ó", and infinitive "-e" or "-i".

The pronouns ended in a nominal "o" (or instead an adjectival "a" for possessives: "mo" "I", "ma" "my"), but there were other differences as well, including gender in the third-person plural:

Transition to the modern Esperanto of 1887

Zamenhof refined his ideas for the language for the next several years. Most of his refinements came through translation of literature and poetry in other languages. The final stress in the verb conjugations was rejected in favour of always stressing the second-last vowel, and the old plural "-s" on nouns became a marker of finite tenses on verbs. The Slavic-style acute diacritics became circumflexes to avoid overt appearances of nationalism, and the new bases of the letters "ĵ, ĝ" (for former "ź, dź)" helped preserve the appearance of Romance and Germanic vocabulary.

In 1887 Zamenhof finalized his tinkering with the publication of the "Unua Libro" ("First Book"), which contained the Esperanto language as we know it today. In a letter to Nikolai Borovko he later wrote,:I've worked for six years perfecting and testing the language, when in the year 1878 it had already seemed completely ready to me.

Additional reading

Gaston Waringhien, in his book "Lingvo kaj Vivo" ("Language and Life"), analyzed the evolution of the language through manuscripts from 1881, 1882, and 1885.

ee also

*Arcaicam Esperantom - a constructed fictitious 'archaic' version of Esperanto.

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