Replace, or replace?

I was momentarily confused by something today, but after looking into it, things looked a lot clearer, and then very useful. It involves the word “anstataŭ”, which means “instead of”:

  • Mi trinkis teon anstataŭ kafon = I drank tea instead of coffee.
Specifically, my confusion was over two words related  to “anstataŭ”: “anstataŭi” versus “anstataŭigi”. Two verbs derived from the original preposition. Adequate translations of both could be “to replace” (because it is the action of being instead of something). But there is a very important difference between them.

Look at the following sentences:
  1. The badger replaced the rabbit (The badger itself is now there instead of the rabbit).
  2. The badger replaced the rabbit with a cat (The badger exchanged the rabbit for a cat).
Here the badger is the subject of the verb “to replace”, and there is either one or two objects (rabbit and cat). In the first sentence the badger (the subject) replaces the rabbit (the object) with itself. However, in the second sentence the badger doesn’t replace anything itself, it replaces one object with the other. Clearly there are two different functions of the word “replace”.

This may not be confusing for English people that are used to it, but imagine a student of English learns the meaning of “replace” as in the first sentence. Then sees the second sentence and may think:

“Okay… So the badger replaces the rabbit (exchanges it for itself like in the first sentence)… with a cat? Does that mean “by means of a cat”? So the badger replaces the rabbit using the cat in some way? (Maybe the badger throws the cat at the rabbit, so that it can replace it?).” – Incorrect! And confusing.

This shows that having only a single word for both of these cases is ambiguous. But Esperanto has you covered.
  1. La melo anstataŭis la kuniklon per la kato
  2. La melo anstataŭigis la kuniklon per la kato
The first sentence is like the silly meaning described above: “The badger replaced the rabbit (with itself) by means of the cat”. The second sentence says that the badger replaced the rabbit with the cat (exchanged the rabbit for the cat). Furthermore:
  1. La melo anstataŭis la kuniklon
  2. La melo anstataŭigis la kuniklon
The first sentence means that the badger replaced the rabbit with itself. The second sentence means that the badger replaced the rabbit with something else (unspecified), a much more useful distinction than the previous examples.

How are we to remember this? Why is this the case? The answer is fairly simple.

When making “anstataŭ” into a simple verb “anstataŭi” we are calling on the simple act or state of being “instead of” something: replacing something. Therefore, the subject replaces the object. Adding the ending “ig” is like saying “to cause <root>” (I will eventually get round to blogging about “ig” in more detail!), so “anstataŭigi” could be thought of  as causing a replacement (instead of participating in it); the subject is causing one object to be replaced by (means of) the other.

With… With… and… With?

I once went to the park with a friend in order to eat badgers with spoons, but the people there got very angry with us because of it.

… Notice that I used the word “with” three times in the above sentence. But each time I did so, its meaning was distinctly different. This may not be very difficult for a fluent English speaker, but it does seem a bit much. Plus, it’s needless ambiguity! If you’re English, the last “with” will probably seem most likely to mean that the people were angry at my friend and I. But why doesn’t the “with” mean the same as it does in the first instance? In other words, why doesn’t it mean that the people got angry at the same time (or at the same thing) as my friend and I? Because they got angry with us!

Same with the second example, why aren’t we eating badgers that are together with spoons? Instead we are using the spoons to eat the badgers.

So what does Esperanto do about this? Three different words!

  • Kun = “with” in the sense of being together with something.
  • Per = “with” or “by means of”, eat badgers by means of spoons.
  • Kontraŭ = “with” or “against”. Think of it as being angry against someone, rather than together with them.

He killed his father!

“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!

Resolving Ambiguity

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)

Neat huh?