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Esperanto Speakers To Gather On Whidbey Island, Celebrate Language's Arts Scene

In the 1800s, a Polish doctor wished there was an easy way for his polyglot neighbors — and everyone, really — to communicate. So, he invented a language: Esperanto. About 130 years later, it’s still around, including in the Pacific Northwest.

Jennifer Bondelid started learning the language when she was 11 years old. This week, she’s hosting workshops on Whidbey Island to promote theater and film in the language. Saturday night, she and 10 cast members will perform a play called “Connected” for those attending the 34th regional conference. I had to ask: Why?

"I have to respond: 'Why not?'" says Bondelid. "For someone from America, it doesn't seem very practical or useful, because it seems that everyone in the world speaks English.

"But number one, not everyone in the world speaks English. And number two, many of those who do speak very bad English, not through any fault, but the fact that English is a monstrously complicated language."

For Bondelid and her fellow Esperantists, it’s a matter of practicality. They say this language is accessible, and, unlike our clunky mother tongue, it’s easy to learn. That's largely thanks to the Internet.

"When the Internet came along, it was a perfect vehicle for a grassroots movement," said Bill Harris, director of Esperanto USA. "You can encourage people all over the world to learn Esperanto and use it." 

Harris says speakers worldwide tried for decades to get Esperanto recognized as an official — even national — language. Those efforts failed and petered out, but the language has survived anyway., a site dedicated to teaching the language, has 21,000 members in the U.S. alone. And lately, the Esperanto entertainment scene has grown, too. 

A YouTube search for “Esperanto music” yields about 57,000 results, including reggae songs. It’s that performing arts scene that Bondelid and her fellow Esperantists will be adding to on Whidbey Island.