Cut the red and blue wires!

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Which wires did you cut?

Maybe this would’ve been clearer if I’d chosen one of these for the title:

  1. Tranĉu la ruĝan kaj bluan dratojn!
  2. Tranĉu la ruĝajn kaj bluajn dratojn!

I noticed an interesting post (link) on the lernu.net forums concerning a similar ambiguity concerning beach flags. So of course I ambled on over to the PMEG (link) for some advice.

I had never thought of using the “a(n)” and “aj(n)” (singular and plural adjective endings) as tools to reduce ambiguity in this way; I thought it was pretty damn cool! In particular, I hadn’t considered using singular adjectives to refer to plural nouns like that.

As I understand it, the singular endings in example 1 imply that we are talking about a blue wire and a red wire. But the plural endings in example 2 imply that we’re probably talking about several red ‘n’ blue wires (because each of the red and blue adjectives apply to all wires)!

Though I do wonder whether 2 could potentially refer to all of them technically…

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To Word-thingy

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As you know, the PMEG is a pretty awesome resource. And a great model for clear and concise language. Whilst having a read the other day, it used a word that particularly tickled me. Check out this sentence:

  • En la komencaj tempoj la principoj por fari A-vortojn el ne-ecaj radikoj ne estis klare vortumitaj = In the early days [of Esperanto], the principles for making A-words from non-quality roots were not clearly vortumitaj.

Now, I may be reading into this a bit much, but this struck me as a particularly inticing use of the suffix “-um”.

The suffix “-um” has an indefinite meaning. It really has to be used sparingly for when nothing else will do, otherwise we’d be awash with ambiguity. It’s often used on a root when there’s a common thing done with the root, that the normal form of the root does not really cover, but that everyone will guess when you’re talking about it.

I once read someone describe its use on an action root as “to do the X thing” where X is the root. So “brakumi” is “to do the arm thing”, and context or common usage would tell us this is “to hug”. In fact, I think I saw this on the “Amikumu” website, which describes the meaning of “amikumu” as “do the friend thing” (pass time with friends).

Vortaro.net equates “vortumi” with “vortigi” (to express with words / to phrase). By itself this is quite a neat word. But why might PMEG have chosen “vortumi” instead of “vortigi”?

The PMEG sentence is not trying to say that no one ever tried to talk about the word building principles, but that no one set them out like the PMEG is doing in a more clear, official-like manner for others to follow. So I think “vortumi” is actually quite like the English idiom “to put into words”, which also implies “put into speech or writing”!

Let’s be Sensible

In a very old post of mine (https://adventuresinesperanto.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/adjective-antics/), I started talking about what comes out when we start sticking “a” on the end of word roots. And at the time of writing, it was very much in line with the PMEG’s recommendation. But the world moves on, guys. One day, you wake up and decide, hey, we need a spring clean. There’s a dusty old corner of Esperanto, and in it lies a filthy web of unclarity (one day un- will have the power in English of Esperanto’s mal- even if it kills me).

I’m looking at korekta. And its ilk.

Notice at the end of that post that I suggest that some words, and perhaps action-roots in general, can take on the –ata or -ita participle meanings when adding the “a”. The PMEG now advises against such vile practice, and for good reason.

For a little refresher, what normally happens when you add “a” to an action-root is something like this:

  • Helpi = to help
  • Helpa hundo = helpful dog / dog that is helping (like helpanta)

That is, the thing being described by the new a-word is characterised by the given action, or performing the action. So for a word like korekta, here’s the good and consistent usage:

  • Korekti = to correct
  • Korektaj okulvitroj = corrective glasses / (vision) correcting glasses (like korektanta)

But you, me, and a little of even Ole Zammy, have used it like this:

  • Korekta respondo = correct answer (like korektita)

And there are a few other words that this phenomenon regularly presents itself with (e.g. kompliki & konfuzi).

Aside from just being plain inconsistent (since this usage seems to be in a minority of examples that are influenced by native language happenstance (e.g. the existence of “correct” in English)), using “a” in this manner can give the impression that the originally action root is actually a quality root. This could lead people to erroneously employ “korektigi” for “make correct” instead of “korekti”, where such –ig words already have specialised meaning.

So let’s be sensible and clean up our act!

And here’s what happens when you launch into explaining this to an unsuspecting fiancée that hasn’t started learning Esperanto (YET :D):

Unsuspecting:

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Hmm, quite interesting, but I sense an Esperanto rant approaching:

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Oh yeah, here it comes:

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That’s a lot of details you’re going into… I don’t think you’re gonna stop, are you?

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The Ambiguous Lock

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A curiosity-led ambling through the pathways of the internet one night revealed something to me that I’d never previously noticed about the English word “unlockable”. A quirk whereby it may mean either of:

  1. impossible to lock
  2. capable of being unlocked

In first case, we have “un + lockable”, where the “un” acts like “not”, and says that we mean “not lockable”. And for the second meaning, we have “unlock + able”, which says that we mean “possible to unlock”.

Pretty wildly different meanings! And seemingly all because the “un” prefix is permitted to mean either negation (not lock) or reverse/opposite action (unlock). Despicable! And Zamenhof knew it; thankfully he blessed us with both “ne” and “mal”, so that we didn’t have to tolerate such flagrant ambiguity in Esperanto:

  • ŝlosi = to lock
  • malŝlosi = to unlock
  • ŝlosebla = lockable
  • neŝlosebla = impossible to lock
  • malŝlosebla = capable of being unlocked

Neat !