Esperanto: First Impressions Of The Language

Since choosing to become an active member of the language blogging community, I have started seing Esperanto mentioned a lot. While I have had some basic understanding of what Esperanto is, I didn't really know any details about it. After seeing it mentioned a few times in response to last week's post about reasons to learn Spanish, I decided to take a little time to discover what Esperanto is about.

What is Esperanto?

Esperanto is a constructed language, or conlang. It was invented by Lazar Ludwik Zamenhof using an amalgam of features from English, Romance, Germanic, and Slavic languages. It is intended to be the easiest-to-learn middle ground between the disparate native languages throughout Europe.

Esperanto is not associated with any geographical region, and is not the official language of any country. However, it is the most successful auxilliary language in existence, with estimates as high as 2-million speakers, including perhaps 1000 native speakers!

There are regular meetings arranged all over the world for speakers of Esperanto, and it is used in travel, literature, conventions, correspondence, language instruction, television, radio, and more. In spite of being a "fake" language, it appears that there is a very real world built around Esperanto.

Characteristics of Esperanto

Esperanto uses a modified Latin alphabet with 28 letters. If you take the English alphabet, drop q, w, x and y, and then add ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ, and ŭ, you would have the Esperanto alphabet. The added characters represent sounds which are typically created by digraphs in English, but which typically have their own alphabetic representation in Slavic languages.

Words are formed by combining prefixes, roots, and suffixes, in a manner that feels very familiar to me, and appears to come from the inventor's Slavic roots. According to Wikipedia, This process is regular, so that people can create new words as they speak and be understood.

Any word stem can have one of the following endings: -o, -a, -e, or -i. Words ending in -o are nouns; words ending in -a are adjectives; words ending in -e are adverbs; and words ending in -i are infinitive verbs.

Nouns have no gender. Plural nouns append a -j. There is very basic noun declension into two noun cases: subject and object, where the latter simply adds an -n to the end.

Verbs are not conjugated — they have the same ending regardless of their subject. Those ending are -as for the present tense, -is for the past tense, and -os for the future tense. Two additional endings exist: -u for the jussive (imperative) mood, and -us for the conditional.

As in any language, articles, demonstratives, and prepositions must precede the words they modify, but otherwise, word order is relatively free, as it would be in any noun-declined language.

And word stress falls on the penultimate syllable with as much regulartity as in Spanish, making it a very phonetic language.

My impressions

It's not hard to see why this language has caught on. Zamenhof seems to have combined all of the desirable features of the major European languages, while excluding all the troublesome features. Dropping noun gender and verb conjugation while keeping a minimalized noun declension is, in my opinion, brilliant.

Moreover, after simply reading these rules, I was instantly able to understand the sample Esperanto texts that I found at Wikipedia. This is evidence not only of how easy the grammatical rules are, but also how familiar the word roots and cognates are. I can almost see how a person could become fluent in Esperanto in a week or less.

In fact, it's worth a try, and I can spare a week.

Ni lernu Esperanton!

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  • Excellent- I'm glad you aren't revulsed by the language, as so many experienced polyglots seem to be! Learning Esperanto was actually the experience that sparked my interest in foreign languages, and I've never regretted it. I'd say that 1000 native speakers is a fairly conservative estimate... even here in Canada, a country which is practically devoid of speakers compared to Europe, I've been introduced to three Esperanto-speaking families, each with two-three children.

  • Mi ne pensas ke oni povas vere ekfluparoli Esperanton en unu semajno. Nu, eble, se oni studus la tutan semajnon sen halti... Sed mi ja dubas tion.

  • There is nothing I find more motivational than someone telling me I can't do it. :)

  • I don't personally know anyone who speaks Esperanto. In fact, most people I know have never even heard of it. However, it didn't take long on Google to find an Esperanto Society here in Chicago. So there is certainly the possibility of that.
    As for being turned off by Esperanto, I can't imagine anyone who loves languages being turned off by something so cool. I am, however, still on the side of those who think it's superfluous. I can't conceive of a use for a language that I have a 0.01% chance of ever encountering in life, which is what Esperanto will be as long as it has no geographical ties. Still, I'm going to try learning it for one week. And if my doubts are proven wrong, maybe I'll learn more.

  • Well, fine, walk your talk then. :)
    We could have an Internet conversation afterwards to see how much you have learned. Italian won't suffer from your week off and as it is suggested that knowing Esperanto speeds up learning other languages, if that is true, it will even gain from it.

  • Lyzazel, estas laŭ mi ofte miskomprenata la ideo ke esperanto akcelas la lernadon de fremdaj lingvoj. La lingvo ne karakteriĝas de ia neordinara potenco kiu transformas la lernanton en virtuozon poliglotan... tio, kion vere asertas la sciencesploroj estas ke kiam junaj lernantoj - plejparte infanaĝaj - regas la rudimentojn de esperanto antaŭ ol pasi al la studado de nacia lingvo (ekz. la franca) ili sentas sin pli spertaj kaj kompetentaj rilate la fundamentajn principojn kaj teĥnikon de lingvolernado.
    Ĉiu lingvo, ne nur Esperanto, povus egale bone servi tiucele. Tamen, Esperanto ja permesas al novuloj kiuj neniam antaŭe atingis altan nivelon en fremda lingvo akiri la memfidon daŭrigi al aliaj *dum malpli da tempo ol per nacia lingvo*. Do la valoro de Esperanto estas sentata maksimume ĉe unulingvuloj.
    Por lernanto tia, kia estas the Yearlyglot, Esperanto certe ne transdonos iun lertecon pri lingvolernado kiun li ne jam posedas. Tamen, se li bonŝancos, li trafos novan vidpunkton pri la hodiaŭa stato de la esperanta komunumo, kaj iusence inversigos sian pensmanieron rilate la supozeblan 'senutilecon' de la lingvo pro manko de adeptoj.

  • *karakteriziĝas, pardonu

  • *...akiri la memfidon antaŭeniri al aliaj..." My apologies again. Checking for errors before posting is a skill I am in the process of acquiring.

  • I'm fascinated by Esperanto though I haven't actually tried to learn it yet. I am eager to see how well you are doing after a week!
    The text posted by Benjameno above seems almost readable to me, just based on the English and the little bit of Spanish that I know, though I have no idea what it should sound like.

  • Bonvenon, tre bona ideo!
    Welcome, very good idea!

  • Honestly, after one solid day I am feeling like this is quite possible. I may be proven wrong in the end, but so far I feel like I'm farther with Esperanto after one day than I had been with any other language after a month. To me, six more days with that kind of progress should be enough for basic fluency!

  • Thank you!

  • Tio, kion vi diras, faras sencon. Ankaŭ al mi tiu aserto, ke Esperanto akcelas alilingvlernadon, neniam ŝajnis tre kredebla.

  • Mi akordas ankaŭ, sed konfido naskas konfidon - eble esperanto estas bona por ies unua lingvo. Mi ankoraŭ pensas ke hispana lingvo estas pli bona. :)

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