Humphrey Tonkin, ESF Co-Founder

E. James Lieberman, ESF Co-Founder

Jonathan Pool, ESF Co-Founder

Bill and Cathy Schulze

Bill and Cathy Schulze

ESF: A Brief History


The Esperantic Studies Foundation (ESF) was formally established in 1968 by Dr. Humphrey Tonkin (a humanities scholar at the University of Pennsylvania with strong interests in international education), Dr. Jonathan Pool (a political scientist at the University of Washington interested in language issues) and Dr. E. James Lieberman (a psychiatrist at George Washington University with a strong interest in linguistic communication). The Foundation was conceived as a vehicle for promoting scholarly research and dialogue on issues concerned with world language problems and policies, including the planned international language Esperanto. The idea of establishing such a foundation dated from the time when all three of the founders were at Harvard University in various capacities.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, ESF focused primarily on Esperanto education and research initiatives in North America. In 1972, it published—in collaboration with the School for International Training (SIT) in Vermont—a Basic Esperanto Course. It also produced a series of research bibliographies entitled Esperanto and International Language Problems, edited by Humphrey Tonkin. In 1986 it sponsored the participation in the World Esperanto Congress in Beijing of a leading U.S. journalist, James Fallows, and a noted specialist in creole linguistics, Albert Valdman.

In the early 1990s, ESF began to expand its activities. Anthropologist Dr. David Jordan (UCSD) joined the board, and in 1991 the Foundation published the first issue of its newsletter, Esperantic Studies. The following year saw the release of Esperanto and Education: Toward a Research Agenda. This report, prepared by Drs. Alvino Fantini (School for International Training) and Timothy Reagan (Central Connecticut State University), sought to identify areas of concern relevant to Esperanto education and opportunities for future research. In 1995, ESF established an Advisory Board comprised of experts in such fields as linguistics, language policy and planning, and Esperanto. This year also marked the launch of the Foundation’s first website.

In 1996, the first Nitobe Symposium was held in Prague, with the topic Towards Linguistic Democracy. The Nitobe Symposia, named after the noted internationalist and deputy secretary-general of the League of Nations Nitobe Inazo, are held every few years and bring together scholars and practitioners from around the world to discuss issues of language. Subsequent symposia took place in Berlin (1999, Globalization and Linguistic Diversity), Beijing (2004, Language Problems in International Relations), Vilnius, Lithuania (2005, Language Policy and European Union Expansion), Tokyo (2007, European Languages and Asian Nations – History, Politics, Possibilities), and Reykjavik, Iceland (2013, Implications of English as Language of University Instruction). ESF has been a major supporter of the Nitobe symposia. In 2008 it also convened and supported a conference on the teaching of Esperanto and interlinguistics in universities, held at the University of Amsterdam.

In 1999, ESF received a bequest of approximately $3 million from two prominent US Esperantists, Catherine and William Schulze, whose activities had included the long-running Esperanto program at San Francisco State University (later renamed NASK – Nord-Amerika Somera Kursaro). With this generous gift, ESF was able to lay the groundwork for an ambitious research and education agenda (program). NASK continued to prosper, moving to various North American universities from year to year, most recently Peace University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Later that year, Dr. Mark Fettes (Simon Fraser University, Vancouver) became ESF’s first Executive Director, a position later occupied by Dr. Timothy Reagan and currently by Joel Amis (see below). The Foundation established its Interlingual Research Grant Program. Under this program, scholars can apply for grants to pursue research on topics that fall within the field of interlinguistics. Also this year, ESF funded the completion of the 12 lesson Esperanto course Pasporto al la Tuta Mondo.

In 2001, Dr. Grant Goodall (a linguistics scholar at University of California San Diego) joined the board and, later that year, ESF funded the Phase I development of the innovative Esperanto teaching resource website This unique resource has continued to be developed and managed by Dr. Katalin Kovats.

Education continued as a major priority. Ongoing support was provided, and continues to be provided, for scholarships in the interlinguistics certificate program at the Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland – the only such program in operation at a major university.

In 2003, one of ESF’s original founders, Dr. James Lieberman, retired after 34 years of dedicated service to the ESF board. Dr. Jonathan Pool also left the board at about this same time. Both, however, remain in close contact with the Foundation. In 2002, Dr. Ian Richmond, a French-language scholar with strong interests in international communication, joined the board, and, as the years passed, additional members joined or left the board, in most cases moving to the advisory board and staying in contact with the Foundation. They included Dr. Bonnie Fonseca-Greber, a French language and international communication scholar from the University of Louisville, businessman and former school principal Wallace Du Temple, specialist in computer-assisted language learning Derek Roff, professor of classics and Byzantine studies Dr. Geoffrey Greatrex, financial specialist Anna Bennett, and engineer Chuck Mays.

The year 2003 saw ESF fund another of its core educational programs: the website and online community. is a leading-edge language learning technology platform. Visitors to the website are able to learn Esperanto at their own pace in a rich multimedia environment and at no cost. The site has undergone continuous enhancements under the direction of Sonja Petrović and an expert team of technologists. At its annual retreat in 2011, the ESF Board announced a bold new phase of investment in the redesign and expansion of, with a view to integrate new services into the Lernu online community which has developed since the website's creation. In 2012 Erin Piateski was named director of this new initiative.

A notable research project launched in 2003 was the Esperanto Text Corpus. ESF commissioned noted Esperanto grammarian Bertil Wennergren to create the corpus. It is available to researchers online (

Dr. Timothy Reagan, long-time ESF collaborator and at the time Professor of Educational Leadership at Central Connecticut State University, joined the board in 2004 and is now a member of ESF’s advisory board. In 2005, the Foundation established a Post-Doctoral Research Support Program with the Center for Comparative Literature at Columbia University. This program ran for a number of years. ESF has since provided several research grants to Columbia post-doctoral researchers who have pursued interlinguistics-related projects.

In 2006, the Foundation provided the Center for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems (CED – based in Rotterdam) with money to establish the Interlinguistics Support Fund, a program of small grants for scholars working in the field of Esperanto and interlinguistics. A CED-appointed committee reviews the proposals and generally makes four or five awards each year to support the publication of books, articles and research projects, and to assist scholars in travel to libraries and conferences. This program continues to operate under a three-person review and selection committee and has made dozens of grants over the years, many of them resulting in new books or research tools available to scholars.

The year 2006 also saw ESF’s first grant for a documentary film, awarded to director Sam Green. The film appeared in two versions. Utopia in Four Movements, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and the second, The Universal Language, was shown at the World Esperanto Congress in 2011 and has been well received.

Over the years, the Foundation has made numbers of grants to libraries, particularly the Hector Hodler Library at the Universal Esperanto Association office in Rotterdam, and it has assisted in the distribution of books to research libraries, including Ito Kanzi’s multiple-volume edition of the works of Zamenhof, the founder of Esperanto, and, more recently, the history of Esperanto literature by Carlo Minnaja and Giorgio Silfer. The Foundation also provides an award presented at the annual CALICO Conference to the best language learning online resources (Computer-Assisted Language Instruction Consortium).

As of 2009, ESF has supported a new series of symposia at the United Nations in New York. There have been seven such symposia so far, most recently in April 2016, on Language and the Sustainable Development Goals.

In 2010 ESF's administrative operations moved from Vancouver to Montreal, with Joel Amis taking over as Administrative Director.

In 2013 the Foundation was given a great boost through the bequest of over a half a million dollars from the estate of Brian Kaneen, a Vancouver Esperantist who shared with ESF a great interest in issues of language policy. This bequest will allow ESF to further expand research and initiatives in the area of language policy and language rights.

The Esperantic Studies Foundation remains committed to supporting a broad range of interlingual research and educational initiatives throughout the world.

Researchers and educators who are seeking support for interlingual projects are encouraged to browse through this website to learn more about whether ESF can offer guidance and/or funding support.

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