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Learning Esperanto Part II: Why Esperanto?

In yesterday’s post I explained why I wanted to learn a second language. In today’s post I’ll try and explain why I’ve selected Esperanto as my language to learn. Why? Well it basically comes down to three things. It’s easy. I like the ideals and culture behind it. And I love the elegance of the design.

Esperanto is an artificial language originally intended to be used as universal second language. Now I have no obvious real-world language to select. I haven’t acquired a Dutch girlfriend. I haven’t invested in a Spanish holiday home. There’s no language in particular I want to learn, so I figured it made sense to start with the training wheels on, with a language explicitly designed to be easy to learn and use.

In addition, learning Esperanto seems like a fun geeky thing to do. It’s true that there aren’t many speakers of it, but those who do speak it are scattered across the world and likely of a similarly geeky outlook to myself. So it’s a cool, sociable way of meeting like minded people.

And yes, I know that learning Klingon would be the seriously geeky thing to do, but I believe it’s both a hard language to learn and potentially wearing on the throat. (Lots of guttural shouting).

Finally, there’s the elegance of Esperanto’s design. I’m sure the programmers among you will know the feeling of encountering a really nicely designed programming language or library, one built upon core, universal principles, elegantly expressed, and of seeing it and thinking, “That’s just nice.”

It’s like that with Esperanto. Let me give you some examples, just from the stuff I’ve picked up in the last couple of days.

Firstly, every letter is pronounced (there are no silent letters), and every letter is pronounced in the same way, all of the time. You know how in English “lute” and “but” don’t rhyme? You wouldn’t get that in Esperanto. (And let’s not even get into “tough”, “dough”, “through”, “thought”, “thorough”, “plough”, “cough” and so on).

Secondly, you can deduce the nature of a word in Esperanto from its ending. All nouns end in “o”. All adjectives end in “a”. Words are pluralised by adding a “j” (pronounced “y”) to both their ending and the ending of associated words. So you get something like:

Blanka hundo = White dog

Li hundo = He is a dog; Lia hundo = His dog; Liaj hundoj = His dogs

Numbers work in a similarly elegant way. Imagine you have the following in English:

One First
Two Second Pair/Duo
Three Third Trio
Twelve Twelfth Dozen

So what we have there is the basic form of the number, the number when used as an adjective (e.g. the third man) and the number when used as a quantity (e.g. a dozen eggs). Note that the adjectives are all different (the change from v to f in twelfth is particularly vicious), and most numbers don’t have a quantity (e.g. you’ll end up saying things like a set of nine).

In Esperanto, you get the following:

Unu (One) Unua (First) Unuo (a single item)
Du (Two) Dua (Second) Duo (Pair/Duo)
Tri (Three) Tria (Third) Trio (Trio)
Dek (Ten) Deka (Tenth) Deko (a set of ten)
Cent (A hundred) Centa (hundredth) Cento (a set of a hundred)

Verbs mostly end with something s.

-as means present tense.

-is means past tense.

-os means future tense.

-us means something that would have happened if something else had been true.

So:

mia skribas = I am writing

mia skribis = I wrote

mia skribos = I shall write.

(The exception to that rule is if the verb is being used without reference to time or subject. In that case, it ends with i. I think that means that if someone was asking me what I do for a hobby and I wanted to reply that, “I write!”, I would say, “Mia skribi“).

Obviously there’s a lot more, but that’s hopefully given you a taster of what it’s like. In programming terms, if natural languages are like spaghetti code written in legacy C, Esperanto is like a modern, high-level structured language.

Oh and yes, if you’re wondering, “Esperanto” is a word in Esperanto, and yes, it is of course a noun. It means “one who hopes”.

12 Comments

  1. Bill Chapman

    Mi deziras al vi sukceson en la lernado de Esperanto. I wish you well in learning Esperanto. It has certainly enriched my life.

    The British Esperanto Conference will be taking place in Eastbourne, with a good number of overseas participants, next April. I hope to see you there.

    • Jonny Nexus

      Eastborne sounds good. I live fairly near (Brighton) and April’s far enough away that I can use it as a target (to achieve some knowledge of the language by then). Thanks for letting me know.

  2. Lord Zorgon

    La plej bela lingvo en la mondo. Bonan elekton

    • Jonny Nexus

      I need to get myself a dictionary! 🙂 I know bonan tagon is good day, yeah? So good something.

      🙂

      Anyhow, thanks for commenting. I’ll make a proper reply one of my first projects!

  3. Stæld

    Gratulon pro via elekto! Ja estos tre interese, kaj por vi kaj por ni. Novaj lernantoj ?iam estas bonvenigataj.

    Se vi uzas Tviteron, ja certigu ke vi sekvas la esperantistojn tie – estas tre bona metodo por lerni kaj uzi la lingvon. Mi trovi?as tie kiel @Staeld =)

    –––
    Congrats on your choice! It’ll be interesting, both for you and for us. New students are always welcome.

    If you use Twitter, make sure you follow some esperantists there – it’s a real nice way to learn and use the language. You’ll find me there as @Staeld =)

    • Jonny Nexus

      I think Twitter could be a very cool way of using Esperanto, although phone limitations might result in problems. How do you handle the carot thing on top of g, s, u and so on? In iPhone mail you can hold down a letter and get the option of a squiggle (wrong but I guess okayish). But that doesn’t seem to work in Safari (which I’m using here). Guess I need to try Echofon. Anyhow, yes I will follow, although I’m toting with the idea of creating a separate Esperanto account.

    • Jonny Nexus

      Okay, I should now have followed you from my new Twitter account, @jonnonekso.

  4. Nicolas Maia

    Keep up the good work, mate!

    Esperanto is truly lovely.

    • Jonny Nexus

      Dankon!

  5. James O'Neill

    Congrats on this decision. I am a programmer too, so I totally understand what you mean. Good luck with your journey.

    I have collected a massive list of links about Esperanto that you may find really useful:

    http://www.arionshome.com/esperanto/eo-links/

    Good Luck!

    • Jonny Nexus

      Cool. I’ll look though those.

  6. acheter yang

    nice post , thanks a lot . very cool post it is

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