Ĉu vi parolas Cockney?
As any schoolchild could tell you - in between sending their 187th text message of the day and hacking into the CIA database - Esperanto was created in the 1880s by LL Zamenhof.
What is perhaps more obscure is the influence this idealistic "second language for the world" has had on London, and in particular its remarkable relationship with Cockney rhyming slang.
One of the earliest problems afflicting Esperanto during its early years was the absence of slang. Most languages had slang, and although Esperantists was convinced that in time slang would develop, they were concerned that "regional dialects" would develop along with it, undermining the original purity of the concept of a designed language. For instance, French speakers of Esperanto might develop a version of slang that differed from the German version.
Therefore it was decided in 1902 that a pre-emptive effort be made to systematise Esperanto slang, just as Esperanto had systematised language. A problem with this idea was that it might mean inventing new words, something Esperantists were reluctant to do as their language was meant to be more pure and elegant than that.
Then, they alighted upon Cockney rhyming slang. For the uninitiated, Cockney rhyming slang replaces everyday words and phrases with rhyming equivalents, so one would say "apples and pears" rather than "stairs", "rat and mouse" rather than "house" and "Warren Beatty" instead of "Comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty". This creates a kind of colourful code language.
Immediately, the Esperantists started translating Cockney rhyming slang into Esperanto and establishing equivalents to the most commonly used phrases (which mean "lovely", "oi", and "shouting").
Crack teams of Esperanto linguists and ethnologists descended on the East End to thoroughly catalogue and translate the language therein. However, once installed in the area - taking jobs as taxi drivers, market vendors and pub landlords - the experts ran into problems. For a start, the scale of the Cockney rhyming vocabulary dwarfed their expectations. Also, the rate that neologisms were added to it was incredible. In the five years of the operation - 1931 to 1936 - 135,000 expressions were captured, including 12,000 that had been invented during that time (including "seven shiny pence" for "Sonoluminescence", and "kitchen entry" for "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century").
With the crisis in Europe deepening, the decision was made to recall the teams and abandon the attempt. However, the Esperanto community was horrified to learn that many of its top experts had "gone native", having taken a liking to jellied eels.
Then, the Second World War intervened, and the entire episode looked like disappearing into history. But the spirit of Esperanto lived on. Absorbing the atmosphering of East London, the vestiges of the team were discovered in the 1950s to be perfecting a new "scientific language" that would remove the hard constanants from English and replace them with glottal stops. The so-called ESperanto TWO vocabulARY - ES-TWO-ARY English, later Estuary English - can still be heard today in East London and Essex.