The root of Esperanto: early thoughts of a learner

It’s a couple of months or so since I first started to teach myself Esperanto.  Just as I reported in my earlier post on the topic, progress remains steady despite the fact I don’t always have much time to devote to it.  Through a book, online learning tools and interaction with people by email or social networking, I’ve managed to get some real practice and I have continued to expand my grasp.  There are difficulties and challenges, of course, but nothing that simply putting in the hours can’t solve.

On reflection, there are so many things I like about the language, all – as I’d blogged previously – connected to simplicity and uniformity.  I’d also add to that its beauty and poetry – while the regular use of the letters j and k may seem strange and unattractive to an English speaker, it is a beautiful language to listen to and the sounds trip delightfully off the tongue like a new and unusual flavour of ice cream.

However, there are two particularly attractive features of Esperanto that I find most helpful in using it, and I’d like to briefly mention them.

Firstly, regular verbs.  Once you know that infinitives end in i, the past tense in is, present in as and future in os, then you can apply these rules without exception to any verb root.  For instance, take the verb “to be” in just about any language and you’ll find it’s ridiculously irregular.  In Esperanto, however, it’s different.  The root is est, and it is always estis for the past tense, estas for the present tense and estos for the future.  And by the way, the verb never changes for the person, so you also know that it’s mi estas (I am), vi estas (you are), li/ŝi/ĝi estas (he/she/it is; ŝi pronounced “shee” and ĝi pronounced “jee”) and so on.  Given any verb root, you can then conjugate it for all persons and in all tenses, without fear of irregularity or exceptions.

The second thing I like develops this idea of roots a little further.  In essence you can, technically, do anything you like with any root.  Take patro, for instance, which means “father”.  All nouns end in o, so even before knowing what it means, you are assured that patro is a noun.  Meanwhile, all adjectives end in a and all adverbs end in e, so we know that patra will mean fatherly and patre will mean… fatherlyly?  Fatherishly?  Well, there’s not really an equivalent English word and I suppose we’d write “like a father” instead.  So already Esperanto’s flexibility with roots gives a breadth of expression that doesn’t always necessarily exist in English.

For instance:

  • La patro parolas = the father speaks
  • Li estas patra = he is fatherly (or fatherlike)
  • Li parolis patre = he spoke fatherishly (or more properly, he spoke like a father)

The rules of the language even allow us to make it a verb: patri, to father.  Now I’ve never seen, learned or used the verb patri, and so by introducing it to you I am making a bit of an assumption.  However, the wonderfully consistent way that you can use the roots means that armed with just a single root you can confidently create fully conjugated verbs plus a noun, adjective and adverb – all without having to spend time learning each of those words individually.

Of course, not all roots will make sense if turned into everyone of those types of words.  For instance, you could turn kato (cat) into an adjective (vi trinkas kate – you drink like a cat) but the verb kati might be an odd and untranslatable concept.  However, if you were given, say, just ten roots you would immediately be able unlock a vocabulary of perhaps around a hundred or more words and phrases, none of which you need to learn or check independently because you just know from the rules that the root will behave logically and consistently in every single case.  This is why progress in Esperanto can be both swift and satisfying.

Mia studoj kontinuas (my studies continue)…

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