Esperanto in popular culture
References to Esperanto, a constructed language, have been made in a number of films and novels. Typically, this is done either to add the exoticness of a foreign language without representing any particular ethnicity, or to avoid going to the trouble of inventing a new language. In science fiction, Esperanto is often used to represent a future in which there is a more universally spoken language than exists today.
In English-language media
- The population of the unnamed Fascist nation - geographically located where Italy is - in 1939's Idiot's Delight, speaks Esperanto. The film includes conversation, signage, and songs in passably good Esperanto.
- In Charlie Chaplin's 1940 film The Great Dictator, the signs, posters, and so forth in the ghetto are in Esperanto.
- Similarly, the movie Blade: Trinity (2004) is set in a generic city which writer/director David S. Goyer nevertheless wanted to represent as bilingual (as many cities are worldwide), so the second language spoken in this nameless city, and visible on most of its signage, is Esperanto. In addition, a character in Blade is seen watching the Esperanto-language film Incubus, and the Esperanto flag doubles for the local city flag.
- In the 1994 Street Fighter movie, the signs and posters in Shadaloo are in Esperanto, although written in a faux-Thai Latin typeface.
- In the 1991 Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation, the following dialogue ensues:
- Buster Bunny: You see Babs, I told you music was the universal language!
- Babs Bunny: And here I thought it was Esperanto!
- In the 1997 movie Gattaca, announcements within the Gattaca building are given in Esperanto.
- In the 2010 direct-to-video animated film Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, the Kryptonian language spoken by Superman and Supergirl is depicted by simple phrases in Esperanto (Bonan nokton) mixed with gibberish.
- The earliest film to incorporate spoken Esperanto was the thriller State Secret (1950), with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who starred as an American surgeon contacted by the authorities of Vosnia, an Eastern European dictatorship, to perform a rare operation on their leader. The language spoken in "Vosnia" is Esperanto.
- Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón owns a production company called Esperanto Filmoj, which has produced films such as Pan's Labyrinth and Gravity.
- In Nickelodeon's cartoon Danny Phantom, the anthropomorphic ghost wolf Wulf is a character who speaks only Esperanto, however fractured and grammatically incorrect, in the episode. The character Tucker explains to the other main characters what Esperanto is and where it came from, but said that (presumably reflecting its reputation as obscure) nowadays it is mainly "a way for geeks to communicate with other geeks." Wulf appears in "Public Enemies" and "Claw of the Wild".
- In the 1960s cartoon The Jetsons, George Jetson's daughter, Judy, had to do homework for her modern Esperanto class.
- On the UK sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf, Esperanto is officially an international language, and all signs on the walls of the ship are written in both English and Esperanto (for example, "Level 147/Nivelo 147"). While this part of the show was prominent in the first two series, it was dropped from series 3 onwards.
- Another British comedy, The Last Salute, about the Automobile Association, or 'AA', in the 1960s showed the unit supervisor as dreaming of the new post-war Great Britain and Europe as being a Worker's Paradise of sorts, with Esperanto as the universal language. Despite there being no evidence of this outside of his own aspirations, he persisted in speaking the language to his long-suffering team at briefing sessions, and to the point of conducting lessons.
- On an episode of Saturday Night Live, during the Weekend Update segment, comedian Mike Myers once portrayed the Rolling Stones' singer Mick Jagger with Mick Jagger himself seated beside him portraying bandmate Keith Richards. Jagger answers all questions asked of him in the fake interview with unintelligible mumbling, to which Myers says, "You aren't speaking English, Keith! You're speaking Esperanto, or some sort of language that twins teach each other!"
- In an episode of Frasier, a sleazy lounge singer tells Frasier's producer Roz Doyle that she must be fluent in the "universal language" (meaning love), to which Frasier quips "Oh yes Roz, say something amusing in Esperanto!"
- In a 1969 guest appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Jay Silverheels of The Lone Ranger fame appeared in character as Tonto for a comedy sketch with Carson, and claimed Esperanto skills as he sought new employment. The sketch ended with a statement of his ideal situation: "Tonto, to Toronto, for Esperanto, and pronto!"
- In the West Wing episode "Game On", Governor Bob Ritchie made a derogatory reference to Esperanto in his answer to his first question in the Presidential debate. He claimed that President Bartlet wanted the "Federal Department of Education" to require that students learn supposedly useless, esoteric subjects like Esperanto and "Eskimo" poetry.
- During the Simpsons' 2014 episode "Diggs", principal Skinner reveals that the Springfield Elementary School once had an Esperanto club.
- Esperanto has also been cited as a possible inspiration for George Orwell's Newspeak. Orwell had been exposed to Esperanto in 1927 when living in Paris with his aunt Nellie Limouzin, who was then living with Eugène Lanti, a prominent Esperantist. Esperanto was the language of the house, and Orwell, who had come to Paris in part to improve his French, was obliged to find other lodging. Esperanto sought, especially at first, to reduce the number of root-words that had to be learned, so many words were formed from a single root and a variety of prefixes and suffixes. The opposite of bona ('good' in Esperanto) is malbona ('ungood'), and to intensify it one can say malbonega ('very ungood'). This was a likely inspiration for the vocabulary of Newspeak (which used words like ungood, plusungood and doubleplusungood), although in Orwell's novel, the structure of Newspeak was chosen to limit thought and the possibility of rebellious ideas.
- The Stainless Steel Rat novels by Harry Harrison (who was an Esperanto speaker and such a big fan of the language that he included contact details for the British Esperanto Society in the endpages of several of his books) also postulate a future where it is spoken, and a small fraction of the dialogue is in Esperanto.
- The language is also used in the setting of Philip José Farmer's Riverworld novels, as well as in stories by Poul Anderson, Mack Reynolds, John Brunner, John Barnes, and other science fiction writers (Harlow 1996).
- In the novel The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, Esperanto is believed by Clara the Clairvoyant to be the language of the spirit world along with Spanish.
- In Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, the lead character studies to become a priest at a seminary in Andalusia where he is first required to learn Esperanto.
- The Japanese manga by Chigusa Kawai, La Esperança, notes that its characters use Esperanto (although, for readers' benefit, it has been translated into English/Japanese/French, etc...). The words on Cecile's letter to Erwin (volume II) can be clearly seen as actual Esperanto.
- In 1970, Richard Corben wrote and illustrated a fantasy story entitled "Rowlf" (aka "The Story of Rowlf") that was published in Voice of Comicdom issues 16 & 17. The story is about a dog who, through a magic spell gone wrong, is rendered half human/half dog and must rescue his mistress from demonic invaders who all speak Esperanto. The work was reprinted in three parts in Heavy Metal Magazine, issues 32-34 in 1979 and 1980.
- In Philip Reeve's sci-fi novel, Mortal Engines, set thousands of years in the future, inhabitants of the flying town of Airhaven speak "Airsperanto", a clear reference to today's Esperanto.
- In Isaac Asimov's short story Homo Sol, Earth is implied to be a candidate to entry into a galactic federation. The psychologist who delivers the introduction to Earth's parliament does so "in their own language — a simple one which they call Esperanto."
- Esperanto appears in the alternate historical novels A Hand-book of Volapük by Andrew Drummond and The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon.
- The short play "The Universal Language" written by David Ives features and is mostly written in a fictional auxiliary language called Unamunda, which bears a strong resemblance to Esperanto.
- Esperanto is used to represent the native language of the Wreaths in Brian K. Vaughn's comic book Saga.
- A character in the short story "A Municipal Report" by O. Henry says, "...What did the noisiest project in the world--I mean the building of the tower of Babel-- result in finally? A page and a half of Esperanto in the North American Review."
- In the novel Flies from the amber by Will McCarty the original colonists of the planet Unua named everything on the planetary system in esperanto, and some of the dialogues have words in that language.
- American composer Lou Harrison, who incorporated styles and instruments from many world cultures in his music, used Esperanto titles and/or texts in several of his works.
- The musician credits for Blood and Chocolate, a 1986 album by Elvis Costello & the Attractions, were written in Esperanto.
- The Symphony No. 1 of composer David Gaines is subtitled "Esperanto", and features a mezzo-soprano soloist singing in Esperanto. It has been recorded by the Moravian Philharmonic.
- Words and phrases in Esperanto are used several times in the artwork for the Radiohead album OK Computer. It is also used several places on the current version of their website.
- The band They Might Be Giants mentions Esperanto briefly in their song "Alienation's for the Rich", from the album They Might Be Giants.
- Sonic Youth / Jim O'Rourke released an EP called SYR3: Invito Al Ĉielo ("Invitation to Heaven") on Sonic Youth Records (SYR) in 1998, with all titles and credits in Esperanto.
- The introductory video for Final Fantasy XI features Memoro de la Ŝtono ("A Memory of the Stone"), a choral music with lyrics in Esperanto. According to its composer, Nobuo Uematsu, the choice of language was meant to symbolize the developers' hope that their online game could contribute to cross-cultural communication and cooperation. Unlike many similar massively multiplayer games which dedicate individual "copies" of their virtual worlds to players of a specific area or primary language, FFXI is deliberately designed to force players in all regions to share worlds.
- Esperanto was used in Castle Infinity, an early MMORPG where the world is populated by creatures who speak "Dinosaur". Throughout the game, characters exclaim "Sin gardi! Estas cerbo suksoso!" which translates as "Look out! It's a Brainsucker!"
- In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, there is an in-game book titled "N'Gasta! Kvata! Kvakis!", meant to be an obscure arcane text on necromancy. The book is written in an altered form of Esperanto. The "arcane tome" is actually part of La Ranetoj, the newsletter of the Stockholm Esperanto Society. The book is also present in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
- In Sam & Max Save the World, there is an out of business Esperanto bookstore on Sam and Max's street.
In continental Europe
- In his book Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler claimed that Esperanto was part of a Jewish plot to unify the globe under one language, as part of a larger plot for world government.
- Beginning in 1929, the Swedish satirical magazine Grönköpings Veckoblad published a series of articles about Transpiranto, a parody of Esperanto, with comical translations of well-known Scandinavian songs and poems.
- The name of the Japanese beverage Yakult is derived from jahurto, an archaic form of the Esperanto for "yogurt" (the modern word is jogurto).
- The anime Aria the Origination features a song sung in Esperanto, "Lumis Eterne" ("Eternal Shining").
Films in Esperanto
- The earliest film (not of feature length, however) to use the language was titled "Antaŭen!" ("Onwards!"), a silent Esperanto publicity film before World War II.
- There are two instances of feature films being entirely performed in Esperanto. Angoroj (Esperanto for "Agonies"), 1964, was the first feature film to be produced entirely in Esperanto; Incubus (with English and French subtitles), a 1965 black and white horror film directed by Leslie Stevens and starring a pre-Star Trek William Shatner, followed.
- The Great Dictator (1940) - Trivia
- Blade: Trinity (movie) Flags of the World website
- Perkins, Dennis (9 March 2014). "The Simpsons: ‘Diggs’/‘The Man Who Grew Too Much’".
Skinner muses excitedly: ‘Can the Esperanto society be far behind!’. See also this YouTube video.
- "Esperanto and George Orwell". Archived from the original on 2005-01-14. Retrieved 2006-09-13.
- Paul Tomlinson, Harry Harrison: An Annotated Bibliography Wildside Press LLC, 2002. ISBN 1587154013 (p. 324-4).
- O. Henry (1941). "A Municipal Report". In M. Edmund Speare. A Pocket Book of Short Stories (8th Printing ed.). New York: Washington Square Press, Inc. p. 228.
- Pichismo website