|Justin B Rye 2007–2013|
But, surely, Justin – you must be aware that there's
official source* for all
the answers about Esperanto grammar:
L.-L. ZAMENHOF 1905
Fundamento de Esperanto
DE LA LINGVO ESPERANTO
EN KVIN LINGVOJ
Some people (like the authors of
Teach Yourself Esperanto)
claim that the sixteen rules in this document constitute a
comprehensive grammar of the Esperanto language. Others
realise how ludicrous that idea is, but say it's the list of all
untouchable rules Esperantists aren't allowed to
modify. That doesn't make much sense either, since some of
the early reform proposals that were rolled into a single political
football and kicked out as
Ido would have been perfectly
compatible with it… still, whatever it is, I personally used
to see it as a barrelful of fish which it wouldn't be sporting to
wheel onto the firing range. However, by popular request:
A) THE ALPHABET
The text comes in French, English, German, Russian, and Polish editions, each of which starts not with a Rule 1 but with an entire Section of rules that don't count towards the total of sixteen, setting out what the funny letters mean. Enshrining this in a specification document implies that unlike, say, Cornish, which is still Cornish no matter how you spell it, Esperanto must be written in this prescribed orthography. If you use Elvish Tengwar, it's not Esperanto any longer.
a as inlast
b as inbe
ts as inwits
ch as inchurch
d as indo
a as inmake
f as inﬂy
Yes, the punctuation is in Polish… but more significantly,
these are really rather shoddy pronunciation guides. As an
RP-speaker I'm advised to pronounce
<a> and <e> as [ɑː]
and [eɪ], while the versions in other languages say
to use [a] and [ɛ] – or
[e] if you're French. Francophones are also told
that <c> is pronounced as in
(depending on what French dictionary you believe) might mean
[dz] or just [z].
g as ingun
j as injoin
h as inhalf
strongly aspirated h,chinloch(scotch)
i as inmarine
y as inyoke
z as inazure
Calling <ĥ> a
strongly aspirated h is
quack linguistics; extra aspiration just produces a louder
[h]. If Zamenhof had bothered to ask a phonetician
he'd have learned that the sound in Scots
loch is the
voiceless velar fricative [x].
k as inkey
l as inline
m as inmake
n as innow
o as innot
p as inpair
r as inrare
The French are clearly instructed to pronounce <o> as
[o]; Poles are equally clearly told to use
[ɔ]; and anglophones… well, it might mean
[ɒ], [ɔ], [ɑ], or a
variety of other things depending on your accent. If it's
like mine, you'll probably pronounce <r> two different
ways in the one word
s as insee
sh as inshow
t as intea
u as inbull
u as inmount(used in diphthongs)
v as invery
z as inzeal
Anglophones are told <u> is [ʊ];
everyone else is told it's [u]. And as for
<ŭ>, the French are instructed to say it as in
laut and the Poles are just told it's
short… even though both languages have native
Remark. — If it be found impraticable to print works with the diacritical signs (^,˘), the letter h may be substituted for the sign (^), and the sign (˘), may be altogether omitted.
Assuming he means
impractical, this is a fairly generous
license to write <ĉirkaŭaĵojn> as, um,
B) PARTS OF SPEECH
Despite the name, this section mostly deals not with defining the lexical categories of Esperanto but with taking them for granted and describing how they inflect.
1. There is no indeﬁnite, and only one deﬁnite, article, la, for all genders, numbers, and cases.
The French and Russian versions of this document (but not the German or Polish ones) add a footnote here saying that Esperanto's use of articles is just like French or German, but foreigners who have problems can simply not use them. That's a myth; when you're struggling to understand what a Parisian Esperantist is saying, the information conveyed by <la> may be vital. If it was an ornamental nonsense-syllable, it would be crazy to waste a sixteenth of the ruleset on it!
2. Substantives are formed by adding o to the root. For the plural, the letter j must be added to the singular. There are two cases : the nominative and the objective (accusative). The root with the added o is the nominative, the objective adds an n after the o. Other cases are formed by prepositions; thus, the possessive (genitive) by de,of; the dative by al,to, the instrumental (ablative) by kun,with, or other preposition as the sense demands.
One moment Esperanto has only two cases, the next it has as many as it has prepositions – they're just spelled the same as the nominative. If you imagine this is merely an attempt to explain Esperanto grammar to speakers of English in terms of features neither language has, you're forgetting that these rules are definitive: they say Esperanto has a dative case, so it's heretical to deny that fact!
E. g. root patr,father; la patr'o,the father; la patr'o'n,the father(objective), de la patr'o,of the father; al la patr'o,to the father; kun la patr'o,with the father; la patr'o'j,the fathers; la patr'o'j'n,the fathers(obj.), por la patr'o'j,for the fathers.
Because apparently we need to be shown examples of how to stick an
<n> onto a word, but its function can be explained by
repeating the label
objective. And the prototypical
noun is an intrinsically male word.
3. Adjectives are formed by adding a to the root. The numbers and cases are the same as in substantives.
If dative case-marking is indicated the same way on adjectives as
it is on substantives, by adding the word
<al>, that means
to a white ship is
<al blanka al ŝipo>, right?
The comparative degree is formed by preﬁxing pli (more); the superlative by plej (most).
Oh no it isn't – prefixing would give
whiter! Esperanto does use
prefixing in, for instance, <malpli>,
the above is a botched attempt at a word-order rule (the only one
on the list): adverbial modifiers like <pli> and
very) precede the word they modify.
The wordthanis rendered by ol, e. g. pli blank'a ol neĝ'o,whiter than snow.
Why is it only French and Russian readers who are told about the preposition <el>, used with superlatives? Are the rules different for them?
4. The cardinal numerals do not change their forms for the diﬀerent cases.
Okay, so numerals are a separate PART OF SPEECH from the
articles and substantives and
adjectives. Never mind case just now; do
they inflect for number? After all, this very
rule uses the plural forms
They are :
unu (1), du (2), tri (3), kvar (4), kvin (5), ses (6), sep (7), ok (8), naŭ (9), dek (10), cent (100), mil (1000).
This isn't a random vocabulary lesson, it's an exhaustive list, and zero isn't on it.
The tens and hundreds are formed by simple junction of the numerals, e. g. 583 = kvin'cent tri'dek tri.
Yes, that's a typo in the English version of the original; it should be 533.
Ordinals are formed by adding the adjectival a to the cardinals, e. g. unu'a,ﬁrst; du'a,second, etc.
Multiplicatives (asthreefold,fourfold, etc.) add obl, e. g. tri'obl'a,threefold.
If only the ordinals had been given an affix of their own, instead
of being misclassified as the adjective forms of the cardinals,
threefold could just have been
different adjective senses of the root <tri>.
Fractionals add on, as du'on'o,a half; kvar'on'o,a quarter.
Thus <tridek duonoj>,
three twelfths; fractions are
regular nouns. It's only the integers named
above that are indeclinable:
add a thousandth,
a thousand, and a million is <adiciu milonon, mil,
Collective numerals add op, as kvar'op'e,four together.
Distributive preﬁx po, e. g., po kvin,ﬁve apiece.
That's a clone of the Russian preposition
<по>, not a unique
of its own special mention.
Adverbials take e e. g., unu'e,ﬁrstly, etc.
Those are the specifically ordinal adverbs, which is why the cardinal adverbs ended up in sidings like <kvarope>.
5. The personal pronouns are : mi, I; vi, thou, you; li, he; ŝi, she; ĝi, it; si,self; ni,we; ili,they; oni,one,people, (Frenchon).
If you want to say
people, why not stick to that word?
You'd save on special exceptional pronouns, and avoid the collision
Possessive pronouns are formed by suﬃxing to the required personal, the adjectival termination.
So when Rule 2 said possessives were formed with <de>…
The declension of the pronouns is identical with that of substantives.
Oh, so the root with the added <o> is the nominative, then for the plural, the letter <j> must be added?
E. g. mi,I; mi'n,me(obj.); mi'a,my,mine.
mine. Like ordinals, Esperanto possessive
pronouns can occur in the role of verbal arguments (as in English:
mine was the first), so their adjectival endings make no
sense. What they really are is determiners – see
6. The verb does not change its form for numbers or persons, e. g. mi far'as,I do; la patr'o far'as,the father does; ili far'as,they do.
A poor choice of example-word, since <fari> is never
an auxiliary verb and
do is rarely anything else.
Forms of the Verb :
a) The present tense ends in as, e. g. mi far'as,I do.
b) The past tense ends in is, e. g. li far'is,he did.
c) The future tense ends in os, e. g. ili far'os,they will do.
Tense-marking is fetishised; aspect-marking is marginalised.
ĉ) The subjunctive mood ends in us, e. g. ŝi far'us,the may do.
d) The imperative mood ends in u, e. g. ni far'u,let us do.
e) The inﬁnitive mood ends in i, e. g. fari,to do.
If these are all
moods, why is the subjunctive dressed up
like a tense? Can't a verb be simultaneously past and
subjunctive? (Also, two typos:
and <far'i> without its flyspeck.)
There are two forms of the participle in the international language, the changeable or adjectival, and the unchangeable or adverbial.
One of the strangest delusions Esperantists persist in subscribing
to is the notion that Esperanto is
language. In reality it wasn't even the first constructed
auxiliary language to acquire an international following (see
Xa)… but I still get emails denying
the existence of any other international language. From
foreign countries. In English.
f) The present participle active ends in ant, e. g. far'ant'a,he who is doing; far'ant'e,doing.
If it meant
He who… it would be a noun phrase.
DOING is probably used as a sound-effect more
often than as an appropriate translation for
g) The past participle active ends in int, e. g. far'int'a,he who has done; far'int'e,having done.
ĝ) The future participle active ends in ont, e. g. far'ont'a,he who will do; far'ont'e,about to do.
Rather than have a separate element to indicate tense, which could be emphasised when tense was relevant or omitted when it wasn't, he's built it in three times over, once as a verb-ending, again as part of the active participles, and yet a third time for passives. Unless we're meant to think of <‐is>, <‐int‐>, and <‐it‐> as sharing a morpheme <‐i‐>… in which case, why does it also turn up to mark infinitives (not to mention pronouns)?
h) The present participle passive ends in at, e. g. far'at'e,being done.
ĥ) The past participle passive ends in it, e. g. far'it'a,that which has been done; far'it'e,having been done.
i) The future participle passive ends in ot, e. g. far'ot'a,that which will be done; far'ot'e,about to be done.
If the present participle construction adds some sort of progressive-aspect element, how do I form a non-progressive passive? If on the other hand <ili faras> and <ili estas farantaj> mean exactly the same thing, why do I need to learn two different ways of saying it?
All forms of the passive are rendered by the respective forms of the verb est (to be) and the participle passive of the required verb; the preposition used is de,by.
Wasn't that the marker for the possessive (genitive) case?
E. g. ŝi est'as am'at'a de ĉiu'j,she is loved by every one.
the father does while
may do? Remember how the active
he who? Whereas
she happens to be the one used as the canonical example
7. Adverbs are formed by adding e to the root.
Except that we've already met one adverbial modifier that ends in <i>:
The degrees of comparison are the same as in adjectives, e. g., mi'a frat'o kant'as pli bon'e ol mi,my brother sings better than I.
Speak of the devil. Once again the male relatives hog the limelight.
8. All prepositions govern the nominative case.
C) GENERAL RULES
That's all the PARTS OF SPEECH finished – if Esperanto has any conjunctions, they're a secret.
9. Every word is to be read exactly as written, there are no silent letters.
Here we go again with the writing-system rules.
10. The accent falls on the last syllable but one, (penultimate).
The only piece of information about Esperanto phonology that gets to be counted as an official numbered rule.
11. Compound words are formed by the simple junction of roots, (the principal word standing last), which are written as a single word, but, in elementary works, separated by a small line (').
Not only is this yet another rule wasted on
prescribing how the language should be written down, it's a rule
that more or less nobody has ever been seen to obey –
small lines don't even appear in the Esperanto
portions of the Fundamento! What's more, each
translation has its own conflicting version; the French edition for
instance says the lines are standard (but optional in
correspondence with fluent speakers), while the Polish shows them
as slashes and gives no explanation.
Grammatical terminations are considered as independent words. E. g. vapor'ŝip'o,steamboatis composed of the roots vapor,steam, and ŝip,a boat, with the substantival termination o.
Thus in <vaporŝipoj> the plural-marker grammatical termination <j> is the principal word.
12. If there be one negative in a clause, a second is not admissible.
Doesn't this get us nowhere? is forbidden!
Incidentally, one of the dullest non-answers I get to my criticism
of the mandatory case-, number-, and tense-inflection systems is
that redundancy can be useful. Of course it can. But
the rest of the time it's useless. That's why I say to make
it optional, and let users decide how much of it they need.
Meanwhile, here's Zamenhof explicitly outlawing a popular form of
redundant marking, instead of telling us anything about how
negation does work!
15. In phrases answering the questionwhere ?(meaning direction), the words take the termination of the objective case;
More evidence that Zamenhof needed better
glasses. And somebody must have told him that
to? was bad grammar. This construction isn't restricted
to answering questions, though – indeed, it can be
e. g. kie'n vi ir'as ?where are you going ?;
Look, there's an <‐n> in that question there, attached to the <kie>… a representative of an entire family of words that aren't covered by these rules!
dom'o'n,home; London'o'n,to London, etc.
Answering this question with a plain placename would be dangerously
ambiguous, of course – unlike
where did you come
from?, where it's perfectly safe…
14. Every preposition in the international language has a deﬁnite ﬁxed meaning.
Indeed, some are blessed with several –
<de>, for instance, which as well as being a
possessive or sometimes
agentive marker also happens to have the bonus
definite fixed meanings
If it be necessary to employ some preposition, and it is not quite evident from the sense which it should be, the word je is used, which has no deﬁnite meaning;
Wait, what? So, uh, this <je>… is it a preposition in the international language? And how exactly would I detect such a necessity?
for example, ĝoj'i je tio,to rejoice over it;
it being an unlisted pronoun.
(Oh, it's not a
personal pronoun, like
<ĝi> is? Sure, that makes sense.)
rid'i je tio,to laugh at it; enu'o je la patr'uj'o,a longing for one's fatherland.
Well done managing to cram <patr> back in again there.
In every language diﬀerent prepositions, sanctioned by usage, are employed in these dubious cases,
No, many of the world's most important languages don't even have prepositions.
in the international language, one word, je, suﬃces for all. Instead of je, the objective without a preposition may be used, when no confusion is to be feared.
Oddly, the Esperanto versions of this text that I've seen allow for <‐n> only as an accusative or dative marker and say nothing about it standing in for an imaginary preposition that means nothing in particular!
15. The so-calledforeignwords, i. e. words which the greater number of languages have derived from the same source, undergo no change in the international language, beyond conforming to its system of orthography. — Such is the rule with regard to primary words, derivatives are better formed (from the primary word) according to the rules of the international grammar, e. g. teatr'o,theatre, but teatr'a,theatrical, (not teatrical'a), etc.
No change is a blatant lie; for instance,
becomes <kvazaro>, conveying neither the sound nor
even the spelling of the original. Come to that, nor is it
true that these are
so-called foreign words –
it's recent acquisitions we call
foreign, not Middle English
theatre. But Esperanto doesn't have any
16. The a of the article, and ﬁnal o of substantives, may be sometimes dropped euphoniae gratia,
for the sake of euphony – as I'm sure we
all agree, Esperanto is improved by any reduction in the amount of
it that's spoken.
e. g. de l’ mond'o for de la mond'o, Ŝiller’ for Ŝiller'o;
I'd have thought the more important consideration was that Friedrich von Schiller pronounced his name with one [l] and no [e]. And this performing-arts theme is odd, given that Zamenhof's background was in ophthalmology rather than musical theatre.
in such cases an apostrophe should be substituted for the discarded vowel.
So as well as unpronounced and unwritten small lines, Esperanto has these almost indistinguishable apostrophes too! But where does the stress go on <Ŝiller’>? And how are these silent characters not prohibited by Rule 9?
Now, what's missing from these sixteen commandments? Well, almost anything about the phonology, derivational morphology, or syntax… it would take about as many rules again just to get the kind of basic overview I'd want to see in the front of a tourist phrasebook.