Unua Libro

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Unua Libro
An attempt towards an international language.pdf
An Attempt towards an International Language
(1889 Phillips translation)
Author L. L. Zamenhof
Audio read by Nicholas James Bridgewater (LibriVox, Geoghegan translation)
Original title Международный язык
Translator Julian Steinhaus (1888)
Richard Geoghegan (1889)
Henry Phillips, Jr. (1889)
Language Russian, Esperanto
Subject Esperanto, international auxiliary language
Published Warsaw, Russia
Publisher Chaim Kelter
Publication date
July 26, 1887
Original text
Международный язык at Russian Wikisource
Translation Unua Libro at Wikisource

Unua Libro (English: First Book), originally titled International Language (Russian: Международный язык) and translated into English under various different titles,[n 1] is an 1887 book by L. L. Zamenhof.[1] First published on July 26 [O.S. July 14] 1887, Unua Libro is the first book in which Zamenhof introduces and describes the constructed language Esperanto, and its publication marks the formal beginning of the Esperanto movement.[1]

Zamenhof reproduced a significant portion of the content of Unua Libro in Fundamento de Esperanto (1905), which was established as the only obligatory authority over Esperanto by the Declaration of Boulogne at the first World Esperanto Congress in 1905.[2]


The original Russian publication of Unua Libro and the 1887 Polish, French, and German translations

After many years of developing the language, Zamenhof completed Unua Libro by the spring of 1885, and he spent the next two years looking for a publisher.[3] In 1887, shortly after he married his wife Klara, his new father-in law Aleksandr Silbernik advised him to use money from Klara's dowry to find a publisher. Following his advice, Zamenhof found a publisher in Warsaw, Chaim Kelter. On July 26 [O.S. July 14] 1887, the 42-page book was published in Russian as International Language (Russian: Международный язык).[4] Before the end of the year, Kelter published the Polish, French, and German editions of the book, as well.[5]

In 1888, Zamenhof had Julian Steinhaus translate the book into English, and the translation was published under the title Dr. Esperanto's International Tongue.[6] However, when Richard Geoghegan pointed out that Steinhaus's translation was very poor, Zamenhof destroyed his remaining copies and requested that Geoghegan produce a fresh translation.[2] Geoghegan's translation of the book, titled Dr. Esperanto's International Language, was published on January 17 [O.S. January 5] 1889 and has become the standard English translation.[7] Henry Phillips, Jr., a secretary of the American Philosophical Society and early supporter of Esperanto, produced a similar translation in 1889 titled An Attempt towards an International Language, but Geoghegan's translation remains the preferred standard.[8]

Unua Libro was translated into Hebrew, Yiddish, Swedish, and Lithuanian in 1889, and then into Danish, Bulgarian, Italian, Spanish, and Czech in 1890.[9]

Zamenhof reproduced much of the content of Unua Libro later in Fundamento de Esperanto (1905), which the Declaration of Boulogne established as the only obligatory authority over the language at the first World Esperanto Congress in 1905. However, the language underwent a minor change in the Aldono al la Dua Libro in 1888, rendering the Esperanto of Unua Libro slightly outdated.

The name Unua Libro was applied retroactively to the book due to the title of Zamenhof's second book about Esperanto, Dua Libro (Second Book).


The book consists of an introduction, three parts (parts I, II, and III), a grammar section, and a dictionary.

Zamenhof begins by renouncing all rights to the language, putting it in the public domain.

In the introduction, Zamenhof lays out his case for the need for an international auxiliary language (IAL). He states that previous attempts, such as Volapük, have failed because they have not overcome the three main difficulties an IAL must overcome in order to succeed. Those difficulties are:

In the next three parts, he addresses each difficulty specifically and explains why he believes Esperanto is fit to overcome them.

Slip for the universal vote campaign

In part I, he explains the simplicity and flexibility of Esperanto grammar, particularly due to its regularity and use of affixes.

In part II, he demonstrates the ease of using Esperanto for international communication due to a simple and clear vocabulary. To demonstrate this, he translates the Our Father and Genesis 1:1-10 and presents a fictional letter and a few poems in Esperanto—"El Heine'", a translation, and "Mia penso" and "Ho, mia kor'", both original.[10]

In part III, he presents an idea called the "universal vote", which is a campaign to allot 10 million signatures of people making the following pledge: "I, the undersigned, promise to learn the international language, proposed by Dr. Esperanto, if it shall be shown that ten million similar promises have been publicly given." He argues that this will prevent anyone from wasting time on learning the language since, once 10 million signatures have been gathered, there will be a significant population obliged to learn the language, rendering the language useful. He also welcomes critical feedback for the next year and promises to consider criticism before publishing a special booklet that will give definitive form to the language the following year (which was to be the Aldono al la Dua Libro). Additionally, he lays out guidelines for a language academy to guide the evolution of the language in the future (which was to be the Akademio de Esperanto).[11]

In the grammar section, he explains the Esperanto alphabet and sixteen grammar rules.

In the dictionary section, he presents a dictionary with 917 roots of vocabulary.[8]


Zamenhof received a wide range of reactions to Unua Libro, from avid interest to mocking criticism.[12] In the hundreds of letters he received, he saw enough support to prompt him to publish Dua Libro (Second Book) in January 1888 and an Esperanto periodical, La Esperantisto, in 1889, in order to provide more Esperanto reading material to those who were interested.[13] In 1889, he also published Russian-Esperanto and German-Esperanto dictionaries to increase Esperanto vocabulary, as well as Aldono al la Dua Libro, a supplement to Dua Libro to establish the definitive form of the language, a document he promised in part III of Unua Libro.[14]

By all measures, Zamenhof's "universal vote" campaign failed. By 1889, he had only reached 1000 signatures, a mere 0.01% of his goal of 10 million. Nevertheless, he continued forward with the project. Among the early supporters were educated Russian and Polish Jews, Leo Tolstoy and his followers, Eastern European freemasons, and speakers of Volapük who had lost hope in their language.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dr. Esperanto's International Tongue (Steinhaus),
    Dr. Esperanto's International Language (Geoghegan),
    An Attempt towards an International Language (Phillips)


  1. ^ a b "1887: Unua Libro en Esperanto (First Book in Esperanto)". NationalGeographic.org. Retrieved October 19, 2017. 
  2. ^ a b Kerziouk, Olga. "La Unua Libro". Blogs.BL.UK. Retrieved November 16, 2017. 
  3. ^ Korzhenkov, p. 16
  4. ^ Korzhenkov, p. 16
  5. ^ Korzhenkov, p. 16
  6. ^ "On This Day In History: Unua Libro 'First Book' Describing Esperanto Published – On July 26, 1887". AncientPages.com. Retrieved October 19, 2017. 
  7. ^ Korzhenkov, p. 16
  8. ^ a b "Dr. Esperanto's International Language". GeneKeyes.com. Retrieved November 16, 2017. 
  9. ^ Korzhenkov, p. 16
  10. ^ Schor, p. 71
  11. ^ Schor, p. 72
  12. ^ Korzhenkov, p. 19
  13. ^ Korzhenkov, p. 21
  14. ^ Korzhenkov, p. 20
  15. ^ Korzhenkov, p. 20

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]