Regular eating

I stumbled across a very powerful example of the beauty of Esperanto last week.

This picture was posted on Twitter by a user called @roman_eo, and is a great illustration of the way that the language uses affixes to build words in a logical and easy way.

The list uses the verb “manĝi” (pronounced “manji”), and it means “to eat”. So naturally, it’s a very important word indeed.

By using various different word endings, the list shows how you can come up with a whole range of food-related words. In English, of course, you have to learn these seemingly unrelated words individually – how on earth, for example, can you see a logical link between “eat”, “silverware” and “diner”? Of course the words themselves make sense, but they have no obvious connection to each other, so someone in the early stages of learning English will struggle to spot the relationship.

However, in Esperanto, thanks to its clever construction, you barely need to spend more than a few minutes learning these words, because the rules are just so consistent. For instance, you can see at a glance from the list how to make the future tense of a verb (add “os”), and what affix means “container” (“uj”) or “place” (“ej”). You know which of them are nouns or adjectives, because all Esperanto nouns end in “o” and all adjectives in “a”. And you just bung on “j” (pronounced “y”) to make a plural.

I could go on – Esperanto’s ability to let you consistently and satisfyingly reapply what you’ve learned to new situations, without exception or irregularity, is one of the language’s big attractions.

Here’s an example: if I was to now give you a new root, “trink” (meaning “drink”), you would be able to use the list above to instantly create seventeen new words without, as would be the case in English, having to learn each of them independently or try them out hesitantly in conversation. You can be assured that they’ll be correct, and you can use them for the first time with as much confidence as if someone had taught them to you in detail. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle having infinite possibilities because you know that each piece will fit seamlessly with any other piece.

In fact remember doing just this a little while ago. I was talking to another Esperantist and wanted to describe someone who was interested in languages. As you can see from the second-last example in the list, “ema” means having interest in something or a tendency towards it. I’d first met it through the word “hundema” – predisposed towards dogs, or interested in dogs. So rather than the comparatively cumbersome

“ŝi estas interesita je lingvoj” (“she is interested in languages”)

I was simply able to say

“ŝi estas lingvema”.

I’d never used the word “lingvema” before. I’d never checked it with a more experienced speaker, and I’d never looked it up in a dictionary. But I knew with complete confidence from the accessible way that Esperanto grammar works that the word would be technically correct and entirely understandable.

Esperanto, for this and many other similar reasons, really suits someone who has my combination of language interest on the one hand and laziness on the other.

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