“Skribi leteron” means “to write a letter”. In the interests of exploring Esperanto’s word building mechanisms, what happens if we do: “Leterskribi”? Is this allowed? What does this mean?
We sort of have something similar to this in English, “to letter-write”, meaning to perform a writing action where the writing is formatted like a letter. It is in fact allowed in Esperanto, and does have a slightly different meaning than keeping the words separated.
“Skribi leteron” implies the definite writing of a letter. Whereas “leterskribi” simply defines the type of writing one would perform if one were to perform that action. Whether that means you write one or several, or never finish the letter is not clear without an object.
So, with the delights of Esperanto word building, one might be tempted to shove meaning together without a care for who gets hurt. I’m thinking of a specific type of example today.
Is it ever appropriate to shove a quality or attribute type word onto a noun with that quality?
E.g. “blua” (blue) is a quality or attribute (just like angry,sexy,powerful). “Floro” (flower) is a noun we might be interested in. Should we use, “blufloro” or “blua floro” when talking about a blue flower? Should we always separate out the adjective?
From what I can tell, there is a distinct usage of both approaches. If we simply want to talk about an arbitrary blue flower, we should just describe it with the adjective “blua floro”. However, if there is a particular type of flower, a singular idea of a flower, a flower characterised by being blue, then we can speak of it as a “blufloro”.
In the same way that we have “blackberry” in English to specifically refer to a species of berry, but if we happen to find any old berry, and that berry is mostly coloured black, but may not be a blackberry, we may describe it as a “black berry”.
We can tell a verb infinitive apart with the ending ‘i’:
helpi = to help
kuri = to run
marŝi = to walk
As with the other endings, you can make a word a verb by exchanging its current ending for the verbal ending “i” (Similar to what I did with blua in a previous post):
diro = statement, remark
diri = to say, to tell
What’s great is that the created verb takes on the most useful sense of verb from the type of word it is given.
Here’s some examples:
1. If the root is an action, like “kur-” (kuro = a run), then its verbal form will mean “to do the action”, in this case “kuri” = “to run”.
2. If the root is a description, or quality, like “blu-” (blua = blue), then its verbal form will mean “to be in the state”, in this case “blui” = “to be blue”.
3. If the root is some kind of tool, or apparatus, like “bros-” (broso = brush), then its verbal form will mean “to use the tool (in usual manner)”, in this case “brosi” = “to brush”
4. If the root is a substance, like “akv-” (akvo = water), then its verbal form will mean “to provide with the substance”, in this case “akvi” = “to water, to provide water”.
5. If the root is a person, or type of person, like “tajlor-” (tajloro = tailor), then its verbal form will mean “to act in the manner of the person”, in this case “tajlori” = “to tailor”.
“He killed his father!”
Did he kill his own father? Or did he kill another man’s father? You just don’t know! In Esperanto, there is a way of resolving this and similar kinds of ambiguity. The word for “he” is “li”. The word for “his” is “lia”. However, if we want to simply refer back to the subject of the verb, we use the pronoun “si” or in this case, “sia” for possession (his/her/its). Therefore, if we don’t use some form of “si” we must be talking about someone other than the subject of the verb!
1. Li mortigis lian patron.
2. Li mortigis sian patron.
(Remember the ‘n’ is just the accusative ending)
Sentence 1 means “He killed his (someone else’s) father”. Sentence 2 means “He killed his (own) father”.
Simple yet useful!
One of the things that I always find myself doing in English, is the blatant overuse of the suffixes “-esque” and “-ly”. I use them often without care as to whether they make a proper word or not! For some reason I just find it useful to be able to make an adjective or adverb from other parts of speech.
“-esque” often makes a noun into an adjective (we often achieve the same thing by using “-like”):
European –> European-esque
Neanderthal –> Neanderthal-like
“-ly” often makes an adverb, in order to describe the manner in which an action occurs:
Happy –> Happily
There are so many exceptions to the rule if you want to do it properly in English. But it’s so simple in Esperanto! There are only a small amount of Esperanto words that do not have a suffix marking something like their part of speech (“o” = noun, “i” = verb).
All you have to do to make a word into an adverb is change it’s part of speech letter to “e”, or for an adjective “a”.
Amiko = friend
Amika = friendly
Amike = friendily
I ran out of my favourite tea a little while ago. THE HORROR. Then suddenly inspiration for a new Esperanto word accosted me:
“The terrible feeling of being without tea”
“Sento” is a feeling or sentiment.
One can make a word have a feeling of awfulness or contempt by inserting the suffix “-aĉ”.
“Sentaĉo” = “Awful/terrible feeling”
The word “teo” means “tea”, and the word “sen” means “without”. Often when you combine it with a word, it adds something like the English “-less” suffix.
“helpa” = helpful
“senhelpa” = helpless, without help
Therefore “senteo” = “tea-less, without tea”
So “senteo” + “sentaĉo” = an awful feeling characterised by being without tea!
So here’s another interesting simplification Esperanto makes over English. The word “kaj” (pronounced like the “ki” in “kite”) means “and”.
So you can say:
“La fiŝoj kaj katoj” = “The fishes and cats”.
Sometimes, depending on where this comes in a sentence, we might want to introduce it with “both”.
“I like both fishes and cats.”
But this essentially just introduces the conjunction, so why should it be anything but the word used for this conjunction? So “kaj” also means “both”.
“Mi ŝatas kaj la fiŝojn kaj la katojn.” = “I like both the fishes and the cats.”
Same works for “aŭ” (pronounced like “ow” in “how”), which means “or”, but can also mean “Either…or”
“Mi ŝatas aŭ la fiŝojn aŭ la katojn.” = “I like either the fishes or the cats.”
Having studied language (especially English) with the intention of finding all of the little aspects of natural language that break the poor computer programs that try to understand it, in order to better said programs, I’m particularly delighted when I find Esperanto features that help to eliminate these problems.
Here’s one such feature. Pretend I said to you:
“I like fishes more than cats.”
There are two fairly obvious, starkly different interpretations of this sentence:
1. I like fishes more than (I like) cats.
2. I like fishes more than cats (like fishes).
With such English sentences, one interpretation may sometimes be more likely than the other, but it’s still ambiguous.
Not with Esperanto though! Here are the corresponding sentences in Esperanto:
1. Mi ŝatas fiŝojn pli multe ol katojn.
2. Mi ŝatas fiŝojn pli multe ol katoj.
Notice that the only difference is the “n” on the end of “katoj” (“cats”). This “n” is used to point out the objects of verbs (as opposed to subjects).
We know that in both these sentences, “I” is the subject of the verb, because I am doing the liking. “Fishes” is an object (marked with “n”) because it is receiving the liking. However, it’s up to us to choose whether the cat also receiving the liking like an object (sentence 1), or whether it is doing the liking like a subject (sentence 2)
For the most part, it seems that Esperanto tries to ensure that there is only one word for one particular sense, instead of having endless synonyms for words.
A friend, having discovered this trend declared that Esperanto must be the most dull language, with only one way to express things. They said it’s too simple.
But this is not the case! Yes, while there may only be one listed canonical form, there are many ways the same or similar idea can be expressed, through word building. It can also often introduce subtleties of meanings or emphasis to further enhance the text.
I’ll give you a simple example. The word for “pen” is “plumo”, plain and simple. However, I also know that the verb “skribi” means “to write”. And that the suffix “-il” added to a root word means “tool for <root>ing”. So “skribilo” as tool for writing, also means “pen”!
Esperanto is a wonderful language for building words. So many neat little ways of making words, words that can represent concepts that often require a much longer explanation in another language.
I’ve decided to start recording interesting words that sprout from my thoughts. They are all obviously going to be of utmost importance when communicating with other Esperantists!
I thought I’d share with you the first one I’ve come up with. Hmm… Perhaps I will keep record of them on here from time to time! Yes… They shall have their own category “Constructed Esperanto Words” so that they can be filtered out.
Without further delay… Mortigodoro! It means “A smell that causes one to die” or simply: a killing odour.
Here’s your explanation:
The verb “morti” means “to die”. There is a special suffix “-ig” that one can apply, which loosely translates to “cause <root>”. “Mortigi” means “to cause to die” (i.e. “to kill”). The adjective (mortiga) of which would loosely mean “killer” as in “killer ants”
The word “odoro” means “odour/smell”, slap them together and you get mortigodoro! I would appreciate any feedback if I have got the construction process of any words incorrect.
Something tickled me today. I always wondered, how necessary are all the distinctions between various types of word? Or sub-categories of word? Some just don’t seem necessary. What if instead of having to introduce your state of being with the verb “to be” (is/are/am), you could just say with a word that you are in that state?
Consider the phrase:
“The camel is blue”
This ‘is’ (are/am) crops up everywhere. One of its major functions simply being to relate nouns (like “camel”) to adjectives describing their state of being (like “blue”). Would it not be nice to just have a verb form of “blue” that means “to be blue”?
YES IT WOULD. Don’t worry, Esperanto will save us.
The Esperanto word for blue is “blua”. And we could just translate this sentence like this:
“La kamelo estas blua”
Which is literally “The camel is blue”.
However, we don’t have to settle for that! If like me, you think the verb “to be” is unjustly popular, like a celebrity that has risen to fame through sexual deviance alone, then you can change “blua” into a verb meaning “to be blue” by simply changing the “a” to an “i”: “blui”.
Now, we whack this into the present tense “bluas” (“is blue”). And voila:
“La kamelo bluas”
I found a nifty little thing today. Ever noticed how in English the word “between” is used when you’re referring to two persons or objects, but you up and switch to “among” when the number hits three or more?
Well, this is not always the case. More strictly,”between” is used when describing the relationship between X and Y, if X is a thing surrounded by Y, which is a group of things taken individually/distinctly. E.g. fixed options:
- The choice was between Maths, Chemistry and Science.
Whereas “among” is used when Y is taken collectively, in a vaguer sense:
- Swimming among fishes is pleasant
“Fishes” here is just the type of the surrounding things (vague collective). Quite like the kind of word that appears after “da” in Esperanto (see here if you’re interested in knowing about “da” from a post of mine!)
Even this does not describe all the nuances some like to place on the differences between “between” and “among”, but the point is, the difference is almost always obvious in our description of Y, so why must the preposition (“between” or “among”) express this difference also?
Esperanto’s approach therefore is to use a single word “inter” for both!
So if you had these sentences:
- She works between a tall man and a short man.
- She works among many men.
The word “inter” would be used for both “between” and “among”.
In those few situations, if they exist, where the same sentence in English with one of “between” or “among” substituted for the other produces another useful, logical sentence with a distinct meaning, Esperanto would simply use an additional helper word to clarify the difference. This seems like a much more sensible approach!
No unnecessary complications. Complexity should be the result of complex expression, not arbitrary forced complexity. I love the idea of a language being a simple set of tools, but that can be combined in infinitely different simple and complex ways.
Esperanto is just that. With a base vocabulary far smaller than any language I can think of, it provides tools in the form of a few suffixes and prefixes (and the ability to stick word roots together) in order to build words in a sensible regular way.
For example, “-il” is a suffix that adds the meaning of a tool to perform the root word. So given the word “razi” which means “to shave”, without knowing beforehand, I can determine that “razilo” means “razor” i.e. a tool for which one can shave.
The prefix “mal-” when applied to a word, reverses it’s meaning! So if I know the word “bela” (meaning “beautiful”) I also know the word “malbela”, which means the opposite: ugly!
So if you can master the prefixes and suffixes, then every new word you learn isn’t just one new word, its a new word for every suffix and prefix you know! Efficient huh?
I do like a pretty language. I just can’t help it. And I’ve always had a thing for the letter ‘J’, a simple and cute letter. But a variety of sounds across languages, it has a different sound in each of English, French, Spanish and German for example.
In Esperanto, the ‘J’ is similar to the English ‘Y’. I don’t think I’ve seen it immediately after a consonant, so I doubt you’ll see it in contexts such as ‘Shy’, where it becomes a vowel in its own right.
When it occurs after a vowel, it lengthens the sound to something else. Like this:
‘a’ sounds like the one in ‘father’
‘aj’ sounds like the ‘ai’ in ‘aisle’
‘e’ sounds like the one in ‘echo’
‘ej’ sounds like ‘ay’ in ‘lay’
And so on…
Such letter combinations (aj, ej, oj, uj) seem so quirky and odd. Interesting!
And thankfully they aren’t a rarity. In Esperanto, one makes a word plural by adding a ‘J’!
I think it makes for very beautiful sentences!
“Ili estas grandaj ruĝaj pomoj.”
“They are big red apples.”
I admit, I have a weird attraction to Esperanto. We met properly a couple of months back, but we’ve flirted for years. And now I’m addicted. So instead of estranging my friends and family by subjecting them to more tales of the wonderful language, I’ve decided to pollute the interwebs with my rantings.So for the unfortunate uninitiated, Esperanto is a constructed language. It is a gorgeous and strange but familiar language. It has a vocabulary with its roots in european languages, and a mostly familiar grammar but with some significant (and interesting) quirks. It is entirely regular, rules have no exceptions. It is an easy language to learn, but yet so expressive, due to some nifty features of the language. However, the aim of this blog, at least to start with, is not going to be a introduction to Esperanto, nor a tutorial. I just want to discuss those aspects of the language that tickle me, and make me want to learn more. So here’s a last note about learning Esperanto before I continue:
The best guide I’ve found for actually sitting down and learning the language is:”A complete grammar of Esperanto” by Ivy Kellerman. You can read for free here, or buy on Amazon or something. It’s not a set of grammar rules. It teaches you vocabulary and provides exercises, as a part of a way of introducing the grammatical concepts in a digestible way.The best website for discussions of aspects of Esperanto, a dictionary, exercises, and courses is lernu.net
Lastly, if I get any fact, linguistic or otherwise, about Esperanto wrong, if there’s someone who knows the right answer, let me know!