Badger vs. Squirrel

Ello again!

Mostly due to the wormy accusative “n”, Esperanto has quite flexible word order. The following phrases mean pretty much the same thing, “a badger frightened a squirrel”:

  • melo timigis sciuron
  • melo sciuron timigis
  • sciuron timigis melo
  • sciuron melo timigis
  • timigis melo sciuron
  • timigis sciuron melo

Are there any differences at all between these alternatives? Subtle ones, yes. The difference is one of emphasis.

I’ve had a read of the topic in the PMEG, and have distilled a few rough rules that’ll get you making use of this subtle emphasis change.

Firstly some terms:

  • The “subject” is the thing doing the action. In our case, the subject is “melo” : the badger.
  • The “direct object” is the thing receiving the action. In our case, the direct object is “sciuro”: the squirrel.
  • Our action here is “timigi” = “to frighten”.

The usual word ordering is “subject – action – direct object”. So anything that departs from this ordering generates emphasis in some way.

Here’s the rules:

  1. If the subject is moved to the end (everything else remaining same), then the emphasis is on the subject:
    • timigis sciuron melo : a badger did the frightening, not anything else.
  2. If the action is moved to the front (everything else remaining same), then the emphasis is on the action:
    • timigis melo sciuron : a badger frightened a squirrel, it didn’t e.g. kiss it.
  3. If the direct object is moved to the front (everything else remaining same), then the emphasis is on the direct object:
    • sciuron melo timigis : a squirrel was frightened, not e.g. a vole.

Next, let’s look at a phrase that has a prepositional relationship (e.g. inside/on/under/with/against):

  • La melo loĝis en truo = The badger lived in a hole

Two rules here:

  1. Move the prepositional relationship to the front, and the prepositional relation is emphasised:
    • en truo la melo loĝis : the badger lived in a hole, not e.g. in a box.
  2. Move also the subject to the end and then the subject is emphasised:
    • en truo loĝis la melo : the badger lived in a hole, not e.g. the squirrel.

There are exceptions, and particular words that act in different ways. These are generally quite obvious when you come across them. One of the key exceptions is “ki-” correlatives (kiu, kie, kia, kiel, kiam, kiom, kio). These are usually at the front of their part of the phrase. You can read more in this PMEG section.

Ta-ta!

More emphasis!

A little useful word: mem

This is another emphasis word (friday’s emphasis word).

“Mem” goes after a word in order to stress that we’re talking about just that thing, not another.

It often translates as “itself/herself/himself/self”. But it must not be confused with reflexive pronouns.

  • Mi mem batalis! = I myself fought! (No one else did)
  • Mi batalis kontraŭ mi = I fought with myself (“mi” is acting as a reflexive pronoun in the second instance)

Notice how “mem” can only intensify the sentiment you’re conveying. Whereas a reflexive pronoun is another entity that can take part in an action. In order to further show that they perform a different function, look at it in the same sentence as a reflexive pronoun:

  • Oni pensas pri si mem = People think about themselves (but slightly more emphasised, like “themselves alone”).

I came across the above example when reading here.

Couple more examples:

Mi aŭdis la belan kanton mem = I heard the beautiful song itself (No other song but this particular one).
Ŝi mem kompletigis la laboron = She herself finished the work (she finished without help)

Short and sweet!

Yes indeedy!

The sneaky “ja”, it just crops up all over the place. I hadn’t paid much attention to it beforehand, because you can almost get away with not knowing about it. Without it, you’ll get the gist of the sentence, but not the nuances.

I don’t know why I left it so long to look it up. It’s quite prettiful.

(Little note, remember to pronounce it “ya”!)

It’s function is to emphasise. This is often achieved using English “do” or words like “certainly” or “indeed”:

  • Mi ja legas = I do read.
  • Vi ja kuraĝas = You certainly are courageous
  • Mia amiko ja ekzistas = My friend does exist (indeed exists)!

I think the sound of the word really nicely fits its function. Something about also stressing the sound gives it a real feeling of emphasising the phrase. Whereas “do” and “does” feels a bit empty to me now.

Notice how it emphasises the truth of the phrase. If you combine it with a negative word, it can (you guessed it) emphasise the negative!

  • Via amiko ja ne ekzistas! = Your friend certainly doesn’t exist!

Now a warning from the PMEG. Even though alone “ja” emphasises the truth or positiveness of a phrase, it is not a replacement for “yes”.

The Esperanto word for “yes” is “jes” (pronounced the same). You can even emphasise your yes: “Jes ja!” It’s like saying “Yes, it is indeed such!” (since the main verb here is implicit: “it is such” (“yes, it is such”. Which will hopefully help you remember not to say “Ja jes” which is not correct, because the “ja” is supposed to refer to this implicit “it is such” phrase after “jes”. It does not modify “jes”:

  • Jes, tiel estas. = Yes, it is such (yes, it is that way )
  • Jes, tiel ja estas = Yes, it is indeed such
See how it’s modifying “estas” rather than “jes”.

Overall, a handy little word.