A constructed language supposedly culture neutral, but drawing vocabulary, phonemes and general sound and feel heavily from western indo-european languages, particularly italian, of which its polyglot creator was especially enamoured. Spoken by about two million esperantists worldwide, largely at conferences, except for a strange minority of esperantists who met and fell in love at a conference and use it as their main language together, which also accounts for the only people who speak it as their mother tongue - their kids, though you can bet they've learned another language or two so they can actually communicate with oh, the kids at school and everyone else. Sci-fi guy Harry Harrison (y'know, the Stainless Steel Rat series) was an Esperanto freak, featuring it prominently in many of his books. Lots of internet sites offer free correspondence lessons in Esperanto.

My favourite phrase: "Via panjo!" (yo' momma!)

The Grammar of Esperanto

At the time of the writing of this article, major web browsers still do not fully support Unicode. There are 6 letters in Esperanto that are not normally part of English native character sets. We're going to improvise them as follows:

"C^" will represent the Esperanto letter C marked with a circumflex.
"G^" will represent the Esperanto letter G marked with a circumflex.
"H^" will represent the Esperanto letter H marked with a circumflex.
"J^" will represent the Esperanto letter J marked with a circumflex.
"S^" will represent the Esperanto letter S marked with a circumflex.
"U^" will represent the the Esperanto letter U marked with a breve.

The 16 simple rules to say anything in Esperanto:

1. Articles

Esperanto has no "a" or "an". Esperanto has only the definite article "la", which is equivalent to "the" in English.
     "hundo"                            "dog, a dog"
     "la hundo"                         "the dog"
     "leono"                            "lion, a lion"

2. Nouns

Nouns are either subjects or direct objects. Nouns which are subjects end in "-o". Nouns which are direct objects end in "-on". Their plurals are formed with the "-oj" or "-ojn" suffix respectively. If a noun is neither a subject nor a direct object, use a prepositional phrase.
     "La leono mordas."                         "The lion bites."
     "La leonoj mordas."                        "The lions bite."
     "La leono mordas hundon."                  "The lion bites a dog."
     "La leono mordas hundojn."                 "The lion bites dogs."
     "La hundoj mordas leonojn en la g^angalo." "The dogs bite lions in the jungle."

3. Adjectives

Adjectives end in "-a". For clarity, the case and number of an adjective always match the noun it describes. Depending on the noun, then, an adjective could end in "-a", "-an", "-aj", or "-ajn".
     "la bruna hundo"                       "the brown dog"
     "la brunaj hundoj"                     "the brown dogs"
     "La leono mordas la brunajn hundojn."  "The lion bites the brown dogs."
Comparisons are formed with the word "pli" for "more", "plej" for "most", and "ol" for "than".
     "la bruna hundo"                         "the brown dog"
     "la pli brunaj hundoj"                   "the browner dogs"
     "La hundo estas pli bruna ol la leono."  "The dog is browner than the lion."
     "la plej bruna hundo"                    "the brownest dog"

4. Numbers

The basic numerical elements are:
     "unu"   "one"               "sep"   "seven"
     "du"    "two"               "ok"    "eight"
     "tri"   "three"             "nau^"  "nine"
     "kvar"  "four"              "dek"   "ten"
     "kvin"  "five"              "cent"  "hundred"
     "ses"   "six"               "mil"   "thousand"
Compound numbers are formed by prefacing each decimal position with a multiplier. The ordinal is formed by hyphenating all decimal positions and adding the "-a" suffix.
     "dek unu"                   "11"
     "dek-unua"                  "11th"
     "dudek tri"                 "23"
     "mil nau^cent okdek kvar"    "1984"

5. Pronouns

The personal pronouns are:
     "mi" "me"              "s^i" "she"                "ni"  "we"
     "vi" "you"             "li"  "he"                 "ili" "they"
                            "g^i" "it"
The possessive pronoun is formed by adding an "-a".
     "mia"                             "my"
     "mia hundo"                       "my dog"
     "miaj hundoj"                     "my dogs"
     "La leono mordis miajn hundojn!"  "The lion bit my dogs!"

6. Verbs

Verbs undergo no change with regard to person or number. The infinitive form ends in "-i". Tenses are indicated by replacing the "-i" suffix.
    Suffix     Tense                    Example
    -------  ----------    ---------------------------------------
     "-i"    infinitve     "mordi"            "to bite"
     "-as"   present       "Mi mordas."       "I bite."
     "-is"   past          "Mi mordis lin."   "I bit him."
     "-os"   future        "Mi mordos lin."   "I will bite him."
     "-us"   conditional   "Mi mordus lin."   "I would bite him."
     "-u"    imperative    "Mordu lin!"       "Bite him!"
participle:Participles (adjectives created from verbs) can be formed with the "-nta" or "-ta" suffixes.
    Suffix       Participle        Example
   --------  -----------------  ----------------------------------------------
     "-ant"   active present     "la falanta stelo"    "the falling star"
     "-int"   active preterite   "la falinta soldato"  "the fallen soldier"
     "-ont"   active future      "knabo estas falonta" "a boy is about to fall"
     "-at"    passive present    "s^telata biero"      "a beer being stolen"
     "-it"    passive preterite  "s^telita biero"      "a stolen beer"
     "-ot"    passive future     "s^telota biero"      "a beer about to be stolen"

7. Adverbs

Adverbs always end in "-e". Use "pli", "ol" and "plej" as you do for adjectives.
     "rapida viro"                              "a quick man"
     "La viro kuras rapide."                    "The man runs quickly."
     "La hundo kuras pli rapide ol la viro."    "The dog runs more quickly than the man."
     "La leono kuras plej rapide."              "The lion runs the most quickly."

8. Prepositional Phrases

In a prepositional phrase, the object of the preposition ends in "-o", not "-on".
     "La hundoj mordas la leonon kum siaj dentoj." 
     "The dogs bite the lion with their teeth."

9. Pronounciation

Every word is pronounced literally as it is spelled. No exceptions.

10. Syllable Accent

The accent is always on the second to last syllable. No exceptions.
     "RAdo"                       "a wheel"
     "familIo"                    "a family"
     "plenkresKULo"               "an adult"

11. Compound Words

Compound words are formed by combining words together, with the most important word at the end. If a vowel is needed to make the word pronounceable, use an "-o-".
     "c^ambro"                    "a room"
     "mang^i"                     "to eat"
     "mang^oc^ambro"              "a dining room"

The word "room" comes last, because a dining room is a room, not something you eat.

12. Double Negatives

Double negatives are not used in Esperanto. Do not use "no" with a word that indicates the negative, such as "nothing" or "never".
     "ne"                              "no"
     "nenio"                           "nothing"
     "Ne mi havas la hundon."          "I do not have the dog."
     "Mi havas nenion."                "I have nothing"
     "Ne mi havas nenion!"             INCORRECT! This is a double negative!

13. Direction and Approach

Giving the object of a preposition the "-n" ending can indicate motion towards the object.
     "Neniom monoj saltas sur la lito."   "No more monkeys jumping on the bed."
     "La infano saltas sur la liton."     "The child jumps onto the bed."   

14. Prepositions (II)

If no preposition really fits the relation you're trying to express, use the generic preposition "je". You could also add the "-n" suffix to the noun and forego the preposition altogether.

15. New Words

When a word is imported from a foreign language into Esperanto, transliterate the root word and apply the appropriate Esperanto suffix(es).
     "chocolat-"        "c^okolad-"
     "chocolatey"       "c^okolada"

16. Poetic License

The final vowel of a noun or the article "la" may be dropped and replaced with an apostrophe.
     "la hundo"         "the dog"
     "l' hund'"         "the dog"
The Esperanto alphabet:
a b c ĉ d e f g ĝ h ĥ i j ĵ k l m n o p r s ŝ t u ŭ v z
Note that Q, W, X, and Y are not used.
If you'd like to use the special letters with diacritics, here's a guide:
Ĉ : Ĉ	ĉ : ĉ
Ĝ : Ĝ	ĝ : ĝ
Ĥ : Ĥ	ĥ : ĥ
Ĵ : Ĵ	ĵ : ĵ
Ŝ : Ŝ	ŝ : ŝ
Ŭ : Ŭ	ŭ : ŭ

Personally, I have not bothered to learn Esperanto, mostly because while it's "marketed" as a beautiful and good-sounding language, it's not. And need for weird characters or the common ASCIIzation involving x's clearly doesn't make it any "cooler". Plus, if you need an "universal language", English is pretty commonly understood around the world.

Also, people who have studied Esperanto report that the "16 rules" are definitely not enough to learn all of the subtleties of the language.

An interesting factoid:

In America, [Esperanto's] most widespread application has been in wargames; when rehearsing European battles, the US Army used to designate Esperanto as the official language of the Aggressor Force.

- Wired Magazine, August 1996

Quite of an achievement from a language designed to promote world peace =)

Historical overview of Esperanto

With the publication of the pamphlet 'Lingvo Internacia' in 1887, Esperanto is born. L.L. Zamenhof (1859-1917) introduces, with this pamflet, his plan for a simple, international language, intended to bring people and nations together. The grammar is strictly systematic, 60 percent of the vocabulary is derived from Roman languages. Zamenhof made his design during his childhood years in Bailystok, a place troubled with conflicts between Polish, German, Russian and Jewish populations.

In 1905 the first world congress is held. Three years later Universala Esperanto-Asocio is founded

In 1954 the language is recognised as such by UNESCO.

In 1993 Esperanto is recognised by the PEN-club

It is unknown how many Esperantists there are worldwide, numbers vary from half a million people to three million people.

Pronunciation of Esperanto is extremely easy, there are no exceptions.

Six letters have circumflexes over them. To denote this, I will place a caret before that letter.

Esperanto letter - English example
A - father, never as is ate, man, or cat
B - baby
C - hats, never as in cat
^C - chip
D - do
E - the sound of eight, the length of met, never as in meet or where and never silent
F - fun, never as in of
G - good, never as in George
^G - George
H - hat
^H - no English equivalent, but like a strong H as in German ach, Scottish loch, or Russian Mikhail
I - the sound of meet, the length of bit, never as in bite
J - young, never as in jump (think German)
^J - azure (think French)
K - kiss, never silent
L - leap, as opposed to bell (this L has a darker sound)
M - met
N - net
O - vote, never as in bottom or ought
P - pet
R - no English equivalent, but similar to a Spanish R as in areba*
S - soon, never as in beds or sure
^S - bush
T - top
U - the sound of boot, the length of put, never as in but or cute
^U - week
V - van
Z - zoo

Do your best to pronounce p, t, and k without a puff of air, but don't worry if you have trouble doing this, it is not crucial.

NG - finger, never as in singer or ingest
AJ - bide
EJ - eight
OJ - oil
UJ - week, ruin, or better yet, to yield or boo-yeah
A^U - how

All juxtapositions of vowels, such as IE, must be pronounced as two seperate sounds, e.g. kie is pronounced "key-ay", never "kee".

ER, IR, and UR should never be pronounced as English her, girl, or spur. Both the vowel and the R should be distinct sounds.

You might find the letter X in some texts. This is used to denote that the preceding letter should have a circumflex over it, as I did with the carets. Some older texts use the letter H for this same purpose (in keeping with western tradition); this is clearly the wrong thing. Please do not use this method!

* Esperanto requires a tap or flap rather than a Spanish trill. A lot of Americans think thay can't do this, but most do all the time: say the word "butter" somewhat quickly. If it comes out like "buddr", then the "ddr" is probably the sound you want for the Esperanto R. If it comes out like "butt-err", then congratulations, you pronounce English well!

Thanks to many helpful noders pointing out that E2 doesn't support tables, and for not downvoting me while I was sleeping! (I wrote the original at 12:30 at night, for lack of anything better to do!) Thanks also to Gritchka for some corrections on the examples I was using.

This article is somewhat philosophical and is intended as a kind of preface to the miscellaneous comments and articles I found in this node.

Esperanto is a remarkable language invented in 1887 by Dr Ludowic Zamenhof, of Poland. At a time when Poland was carved up among Russia, Germany, and Austria, people of many nationalities lived in the country. In addition to Poles, there were large numbers of Russians and Germans, as well as a large Jewish community, to which Zamenhof belonged. The different communities had little enough love for each other.

Most people today consider Zamenhof to have been a dreamy utopian who believed that if everybody in the world spoke the same language, all wars would cease and the world would become a Garden of Eden. Such a cynical view of Zamenhof does not do him justice: he was an educated man who was well aware that language differences play only a small part in the problems faced by the world. But he reasoned that solving communication problems would be a good - even necessary - first step to solving much larger problems later on.

What Zamenhof did was to take words - which he called roots - which are common to as many European languages as possible, make regular forms for the roots, and fit them all within a regular grammatical framework. For example, he made FRATO the word for "brother"; most European languages have a similar word, and even English has such recognizably related words as fraternal and fraternity. Zamenhof decided that all nouns should end in -O, all adjectives in -A, all adverbs in -E, and all infinitives in -I. The plural form is made by adding -J; and -N is added to the noun when it is the object of the sentence. Adjectives have to agree with nouns in case in number - i.e., if a noun has -N or -J added, any adjectives that precede it must also have -N or -J added.

One of the most brilliant of Zamenhof's ideas was to make a small vocabulary, which could be expanded almost indefinitely with prefixes and suffixes. The prefixes and suffixes would be defined exactly and could be used in all situations as required (which is quite unlike the case with English : in English we can, for example, add PRE- to words like arrange to make pre-arrange, but we never say pre-warn - it has to be fore-warn. Esperanto prefixes and suffixes, by contrast, must be absolutely regular). For example, Esperanto has no word for "mother"; we just add the female suffix -IN- to the word for "parent". The same suffix can be added to any word to denote the female sex. By using a large number of prefixes and suffixes, a small basic vocabulary (of around 2000 words) can be expanded almost without limit. I learned Esperanto about 20 years ago, and I have never regretted it.

© David Cannon.

One of the world’s more interesting examples of a market failure is the general inability of Esperanto to secure its intended role as a universal second language. If a great many people spoke Esperanto, it would be reasonably worthwhile to devote one’s time to learning it. Knowing that there was even a 30% chance that a random person encountered in Estonia or Italy or Japan would speak it, the energetic traveller or businessperson would have a pretty good incentive to learn at least a bit. If few people do, conversely, it is not worth anyone’s time. This is what economists call a network effect: having a fax machine when nobody else does is not very useful. Likewise, having a telephone or internet connection. The more people subscribe to any such network, the more valuable the network becomes to everyone. Such networks tend to explode in usage once they cross a critical threshold of popularity. Since the development of a base of speakers generally depends on such individual choices, it remains perpetually stuck at a low level of usage.

The idea of an invented universal second language is appealing for many reasons. While English has certainly emerged as a world language, it is not without significant cultural baggage. The forces that spread English - from the British empire to American ascendancy and the dominance of English cultural and technological materials - are inevitably connected with structures of dominance and submission in the world. While Esperanto does borrow from other languages, it seems sensible to say that it is free of at least a good portion of this kind of baggage.

Another serious issue related to second languages is how quickly they shrivel when not used. Much as many Canadians who learned the language as children would like to avoid forgetting French, it is very hard to maintain in the absence of a need to use it. When in an environment where one is virtually never exposed to the language, such as on Canada's west coast, one's knowledge fades quickly indeed. If everyone spoke one common language, it is quite likely that each person would be exposed to it often enough to gain and maintain facility in its use.

The message is simple, then: rest of the world, please learn Esperanto. Once two billion or so of you have, I will set upon the task myself.

This node has been modified from a post on my blog, at: http://www.sindark.com/2006/09/03/on-esperanto/

Es`pe*ran"to (?), n.

An artificial language, intended to be universal, devised by Dr. Zamenhof, a Russian, who adopted the pseudonym "Dr. Esperanto" in publishing his first pamphlet regarding it in 1887. The vocabulary is very largely based upon words common to the chief European languages, and sounds peculiar to any one language are eliminated. The spelling is phonetic, and the accent (stress) is always on the penult. -- Es`pe*ran"tist (#), n.


© Webster 1913

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