Esperantaj Idiosinkrazioj


Although Esperanto is my Auxiliary Language Of Choice, there are some aspects that bother me. I'm not suggesting that these things be changed, but I did want to document them somewhere so that I can easily answer the question "Well, isn't there anything about Esperanto that you *don't* like?"...

Root categories and verbal in/transitivity (gender in disguise)

This, I think, is Esperanto's primary flaw.

Some verbal roots are transitive and some are intransitive (and some are both!). (Sometimes the root in/transitivity is "obvious", but I strongly suspect this to be a cultural thing.) So that's just something extra you have to learn, like genders for nouns in many other languages. A classic and most troublesome example is boli (to boil). The root is intransitive; the transitive form is, then, boligi. But in this case, I'd say that the choice of root in/transitivity is *highly* subjective, arguments for both choices being equally strong. My preference would be for verbal roots to have no default in/transitivity; one would *always* apply -ig- or -iĝ-, as appropriate. (However, that would cause another problem, if one were to mix it in with current usage. In Esperanto, application of -ig- to a transitive verbal root has a special meaning; it means that the subject is causing the object to perform the action.) That might be inelegant, though... repetitious. Another solution would be to say that *all* verbal roots are intransitive (or transitive; take your pick), even when that would seem nonsensical, and an infix would be used to flip the transitivity.

In Esperanto: Language, Literature, and Community, Pierre Janton says...

Confusion can arise from the fact that transitivity is not always indicated by a separate morpheme. Hence -ig and -iĝ are often used superfluously in spoken language, that is to say in the form of theoretically useless — but in practice clarifying — redundancies, and one occasionally meets "finigi" instead of "fini", or "ĉesiĝi" instead of "ĉesi"...

In addition (affecting all parts of speech, not just verbs), the grammatical category of the root dictates the construction of related words. For example, the root adolta (adult) is an adjective, and the root adulti (commit adultery) is a verb. Consequently, an adolto is a person characterized by adolt-ec-o whereas an adult-ul-o is a person characterized by adulto. (On the other hand, the root kreski (grow) is a verb, so an adolto could also be called a plenkresk-ul-o.)

Oh, well, as they say, anything is regular if the rules are complicated enough!

Agglutination

Agglutination is a *Good* Thing. Yes, it is *GOOD*... I *like* it! Really! But it can be problematic due to cultural or just plain experiential differences, and its utility is degraded when one must *learn* the meaning of these compounded words. See my discussion of the purpleberry problem.

Adverbial overload

Adverbs are used more often in Esperanto than in other languages. In addition to the uses one might expect according to one's own experience, Esperanto adverbs can also express concepts which would require phrases in other languages. That's all well and good and logical for the most part, but one usage which disturbs me is the use of adverbs to describe subjects which are not explicitly stated, or are infinitives or subphrases. The former is just plain illogical; a not-explicitly stated subject is still a subject and demands an adjective. As for the latter, an infinitive example from the Plena Manlibro de Esperanta Gramatiko is "Resti kun leono estas danĝere.". To me such subjects seem more like nouny things, wanting adjectives, not adverbs. (Apparently Johann Martin Schleyer, creator of Volapük, agreed. In fact, the Hand-Book of Volapük refers to the infinitive as a verb-noun, providing as one example "Liladön binos pöfüdik.", a construction parallel to that of the aforementioned Esperanto sentence, but using an adjective rather than an adverb to describe the subject infinitive. Ido also uses an adjective in this situation. Why Ido? states that The use of the adverb in Esperanto in phrases such as 'danci estas facile' (literally 'to dance is easily') is idiomatic and illogical but is probably due to the influence of Slav languages. It ignores the substantival character of the infinitive, with which Ido correctly uses the adjective.) Anyway, I usually just avoid the problem, saying "Pluvas." rather than "Estas pluve." (and I suspect that's what Zamenhof had in mind).

I'm thinking that this problem is related to the overload of the word is, and others, that I mention below; these little auxiliary words are idiomatic and tend to be used nonlogically and simply according to convention. "It is raining." Well, one asks, just what is raining? Zamenhof recognized that there isn't really anything doing the raining. Well, one might argue that the sky is raining, or the clouds are raining; but if that's what we mean, then we should say so. But, in English for example, we don't. So... Zamenhof argued that It should be dropped from the sentence. So far, so good. Unfortunately, he didn't take the next logical step. He kept the is, and since the sentence now had a verb but no noun, I guess he decided that the modifier would have to be an adverb; which appears logical on the surface, except that there's really no good reason for the is either. So I say, "Pluvas!".

Participles

A participle allows one to use a verbal root as an adjective...

1) La verda arbo...     2) La falanta arbo...

So far, so good. But then...

3) La arbo estas verda...     4) La arbo estas falanta...

That fourth fragment seems odd to me, and I couldn't really say why; it just does. But if it's odd, then the third fragment should also seem odd, but it doesn't; not nearly as much, anyway. And I think I realized why. It's because the word is, in English (and in some other languages (and in Esperanto too!)) is "overloaded"; not only overloaded, but usually unnecessary (it doesn't even exist in some languages); but used so often this way in English that I never realized the strangeness until Esperanto made me take a good hard look at participles, and then back at adjectives in general, and finally at is. (By the way, the feb 2002 issue of Esperanto contains an excellent article on this topic, Pri la roloj de la verbo "esti", kaj cetere....) While the relationship of arbo and verda in fragments 1 and 3 seem equivalent, they are equivalent only by convention, in this particular construction. Although falanta in fragment 4 is (by definition) adjectival, the phrase estas falanata, overall, feels verby to me. Fortunately, Esperanto allows for the use of "stative verbs", little used in the past but becoming more common, and this solves the problem rather neatly for me...

5) La arbo verdas...     6) La arbo falantas...

The overload (in the C++ sense) that I noted was that is has different meanings, depending on whether it is linking the subject with another noun or with an adjective. In truth, the only "need" for estas in fragment 4 is to apply a tense to the participle. So my argument is that we might as well go ahead and apply the tense directly. (Some disagree... this was the most common criticism of my Esperanto translation of Hesse's Der Wolf. But it is valid Esperanto, and neatly circumvents the overloading problem. (Admittedly, the use of estas does give Esperanto a nice friendly baroque feel.))

Sexism

As does English, Esperanto uses one form of nouns and pronouns for the male and epicene, and a special form for the female (except for a handful of roots which are uniquely male, and a slightly smaller handful of females). For example, the sex of a doktoro is unspecified, it could be either male or female. A doktorino is female. Why should women get special treatment? That's not fair! Ha ha only serious, uh, I mean, only joking, but still... when something appears sexist, it may appear sexist in the opposite direction to the other sex, for precisely the same reason! Half empty or half full? An AUXLANG writer remarked...

I can even imagine a situation where it was seen as a sign of progress that special feminine forms are used in a language.

One could think of -in- as the honorific suffix! For females only!

Solresol also treats the male and female with this asymmetry, but in contrast to the charges of anti-female sexism raised against Esperanto and Volapük by some, observe Stephen L. Rice's description of the parallel phenomenon in "A Synopsis of Solresol"...

Solresol has two genders: feminine and non-feminine. The non-feminine is unmarked; the feminine is marked by modifying the final vowel in some fashion.

Feminine and nonfeminine genders. That's a good way to describe it, briefer and more descriptive than feminine and masculine / epicene / neuter / neutral / inanimate / everything / else / under / the / sun, useful terminology since most languages exhibit this asymmetry. If starting from scratch, I'd say here's the word for the sexless thing, and if you want to specify sex, do this for males and that for females. (That's the Ido approach.) But most languages did *not* evolve that way. Most people, male and female alike throughout history, did *not* think like that, instead considering the male to be the default. Mere cannon fodder, nothing special. Women and children first, ĉu ne? Weird.

Inre Esperanto, it's an odd bit of asymmetry for such a highly regular language. I guess you could say I'm duone-ri-ema; I like the addition of a separate epicene ri (though I don't particularly like the sound of ri itself; gi has also been suggested, and that exhibits a nice logical relationship to ĝi), leaving li for the male pronoun, and I like the addition of a male suffix -iĉ-, leaving roots epicene and creating grammatical symmetry with -in-. But I certainly wouldn't want to discard li and ŝi, which serve at least one useful linguistic purpose that comes to mind; they are a shorthand which obviates the need to repeat (possibly long) names after initially stated, much as former and latter may be used in English. (Indeed, some languages have even more such words, not linked to sex, for reference to the Nth person under discussion.) And since we already have li and ŝi, it seems silly to not use them when speaking of a male and a female.

So, for me, Riism just goes a little too far. The addition of ri (or gi!) and -iĉ- is an improvement, adding clarity and symmetry to the language, but the removal of li and ŝi is itself sexism, although of the politically correct sort, and introduces an inconsistency between pronouns and nouns while eliminating the one between sexed pronouns, removing clarity (and making symmetry irrelevant). (Extra note: Somebody once suggested using hi for the masculine and li (sorta Ido-ish, eh?) for the epicene, which would be a nice English parallel with ŝi... but such a change for li would make for a confusing distinction between Old Esperanto and New!)

On the AUXLANG list, 11 feb 2005, Don HARLOW noted that There are a small group of people who are pushing "ri" as a gender-neutral _replacement_ for "li" and "ŝi", but they remain very small. One problem is that there is _already_ a gender-neutral 3rd person pronoun in Esperanto: "ĝi". English speakers, however, have some problem with this, since for them the equivalent "it" cannot be applied to human beings.

Or one could use tiu.

I'm probably repeating myself, but here some comments I made about Riismo at another time...

Only a few words are uniquely male or female. Most are male/neuter (male/neuter, not male!) unless the -in is applied.

Seksa signifo de O-vortoj

I think the simplest and most compatible way to avoid this issue entirely would be to 1) create opposite-sex counterparts to the inherently-sexed words (patro and matro, for example) and 2) use an optional male suffix (-iĉ, perhaps) counterpart to -in. (The problem with vir- is that somebody will probably complain that the male affix comes first, before the root, instead of last, like the female!)

And...

The Riisma Manifesto says that "la simetria uzado de -in- kaj -iĉ- eventuale forigas subkonscian instigon al la kredo, ke iĉoj estas pli gravaj aŭ fundamentaj ol inoj" (the symmetrical usage of -in- and -iĉ will possibly drive away the unconscious push to the belief that men are more important or fundamental than women). A silly thing to say, when men are grouped with all the sexless and inanimate objects in the universe, but women are given their own special honorific suffix! ;-)

Riismo has some good points, but its underlying politically correct sexism caused some poor decisions... elimination of li and ŝi, and elimination of implicitly-sexed words (instead of creation of opposite-sexed counterparts). And even though it introduces -iĉ as a parallel to -in, it frowns upon the use of either unless absolutely necessary.

Esperanto's asymmetry, which some call sexism, could easily be eliminated by adding to the language rather than subtracting, thereby retaining compatibility with works created during the past 100+ years.

Vivu la diferenco!

Editing the page at http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Esperanto/Lesson_4 several years after writing the above, I ended up explaining "-in" and "ge-" like this...

The Suffix -IN

In most languages there are separate words for items of different sexes. For example, in English a female bovine creature is a "cow" and a male bovine creature is a "bull" or "steer". This of course leads to much memorization of separate words, which is tedious and frustrating. Fortunately, Esperanto does away with this with two glorious letters: "in". Adding -in to the end of a noun's root transforms that word into a female version of the root. For example, the Esperanto word for a bovine creature ("bull", "steer" or "cow") is bovo. Adding -in to the root results in the word bovino, which translates to "cow". With only a few exceptions (those roots implicitly male or female), if a noun does not have the suffix -in, then the sex of the noun is unspecified. If one wants to emphasize that something is masculine, one may use the root vir- as a prefix, but this is rarely done.

The Prefix GE-

In Esperanto, the prefix ge- is used 1) to indicate the presence of both sexes in a group described by a male or female root (Esperanto does have a very few such words) or 2) to emphasize the presence of both sexes in a group. For example, Pedro has two friends: Esmerelda and Johano. When referring to them, Pedro could call them either amikoj or geamikoj, because amiko is simply a "friend". But his brother and sister must be his gefratoj, because frato is the word for "brother").

Mametoj

All dictionary definitions that I have seen for mameto claim it to be synonymous with mampinto or cico. For no other root have I found -et- causing such a change in meaning rather than degree. (If there are others, then I will have to consider this to be another flaw in Esperanto.) A domo is a house, a domego is a large house (mansion), and a dometo is a small house (cottage). A dometo is not a chimney, and a mameto is not a nipple! (If a mameto were a nipple, then one wonders what a mamego would be. A thorax, perhaps?)

I suspect that this flaw entered the language via English and/or French, which appear to have muddled teat and tit over the years, until today one of my newest dictionaries defines tit as a woman's breast or a teat (from "Old English titt, ultimately from prehistoric Germanic"), and teat as nipple (from "Old French tete, of Germanic origin"), and so I guess that in a roundabout way an American can argue that breasts (especially small ones?) are nipples. (But they're not!)

I have seen etmamo used as a workaround, but that should not be necessary. Some languages use diminutives exceptionally idiomatically at times, and that appears to be what Esperanto is doing with mameto, and that is a thing which Esperanto should not be doing.

(Yikes! Apparently such confusion goes both ways. In a review of Trevor STEELE's La fotoalbumo, Sten JOHANSSON wrote "Iomete anglisma ŝajnas al mi ankaŭ la uzo de cicoj en la pli vasta signifo mamoj".)

That damn trilled R

I hate the trilled R, though I guess I must be in the minority because it seems that whenever anybody constructs a language, one constant is the inclusion of a trilled R. Sounds like a D to me... D- D- D- D- D... If you want a D, then spell it with a D!

31 Decembro 2008 modifita, de Ailanto verkita.