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:
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.
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”.