Speaking very Esperantily

Adverbs make me giggle in Esperanto. I find myself enjoying them immensely, then I feel weird about getting so excited about a feature of a language! But so what?

An adverb is a word that describes verbs (action words like “speak”), adjectives (describing word like “blue” or other adverbs. In English you can make a lot of words into adverbs by adding “-ly”:

  • I ran quickly
Notice how “quickly” modifies the “run” action, telling you that it was particularly fast.
The thing about Esperanto, is that you can make any word into an adverb, by just changing the ending to an “e”!
  • Mi ŝatas paroli Esperante = I like to speak in Esperanto.
“Esperante” is an adverb, so it modifies the “paroli” verb meaning “to speak”, telling you that the speaking is done in an Esperanto way! I like to think of it as speaking “Esperantily”!
In English, when we can’t make a legal adverb with “-ly” or use some irregular form (the adverb of “good” is “well”), we have to resort to prepositions like “in” as in the sentence above, or “by” in the sentence below:
  • Ni iras aŭte = We go by car
The word for “car” is “aŭto”, the “o” was simply changed to “e” to get the adverb. So we are travelling “car-ily”!
Awesome.

Skipping what’s unnecessary

The “pleonastic it” is when in English we use the word “it” simply to satisfy grammar, but where it adds no meaning:

  • “It’s raining” – What’s raining? “it” shouldn’t be needed.

So Esperanto does away with it! The verb “to rain” is “pluvi”

  • “Pluvas” = “It’s raining/It rains”
This is often the case with sentences about the weather, where in English we like to say “it’s thundering”, or “it’s hailing”, Esperanto will simply use the verb.
However, there are other such situations, any time the “it” isn’t referring to a concrete thing that you’ve previously referred to seems to be a candidate for verbs without their “it” subject.
Take this example from Lernu.net:
  • “Temas ne pri li, sed pri ŝi.” – “It’s not about him, but about her.”
“Temas” (temi = to be about) doesn’t have a subject! But in English we use “it”.
Also, in English we often introduce things with “There are/is…”. In this case the “there” isn’t necessary, and in Esperanto we can just use the verb for is/are:
  • “Estas kameloj” = “There are camels”.
It seems like the word “there” is only necessary in Esperanto if you are talking about a particular place where something is. So perhaps:
  • “Tie estas kameloj” means “There (in that place) are camels”.

Conjunction

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.”

Trimming the Fat

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:

  1. She works between a tall man and a short man.
  2. 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!

Keep it simple.

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?