Learn Not Not to Speak Esperanto

Critique of a critique of Esperanto

Written on 2013-07-06.
Last revised on 2013-12-07.


Whenever I am reminded of Justin B. Rye's Learn Not to Speak Esperanto (a.k.a. Ranto), I feel like writing a rebuttal to each and every pointless criticism in that text. Surprisingly, it seems that in the last seven years since I have first come across that text no one has done that yet, and since I need something to do to procrastinate writing my graduation monography, I think this is an appropriate moment to finish this task.

First, a little bit of context about myself. I became an Esperantist around 2004 (when I was 13), and first met the Ranto around 2006. I subsequently mostly abandoned the Esperantist movement around 2008, due to lack of faith in the success of the cause (and in mankind in general, but I digress), but I still admire the idea of an international constructed language, and Esperanto in particular.

I don't think Esperanto is perfect and uncriticizable; for instance, I will be the first to agree that Esperanto's gender asymmetry is a problem of the language (though not an unsurmountable one). Nor am I one of those people who treat Esperanto as Most Serious Stuff and cannot stand even a joke, let alone criticism, about it (Rye's Nosferanto never fails to amuse me, for instance (even though it has one bit of inaccurate information: "malmalviva" is not the only way (not even the best way) of saying "undead" in Esperanto; "malmortinto" would be better, though less funny, in my opinion)). But the Ranto is full of meaningless criticism among a few good points, which makes it a very irritating read for an Esperantist and possibly a misleading read for a non-Esperantist. For the sake of making justice to the language, and to get this annoyance out of my organism, I am writing this.

As a matter of convenience, this work is presented as interlinear commentary to original text of the Ranto, and includes the full text of the original. This in principle makes it a derivative work of the Ranto, and therefore it is distributed under the same license as the Ranto, namely, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 (as I gather from the <meta name=license content="CC-BY-SA 3.0"> line in the source code of Rye's page as of 2013-07-06). Commentary is written [in a different color, in brackets] (so you can look for just the comments by searching for [ in the document). If you have anything to say about my commentary, please send me mail (you can find my e-mail adress at my home page). If you have something to say about the original text, please contact the original author.

Note that this document is based on the text of the Ranto as of 2013-07-06. It is (at least for now) not being kept in sync with modifications to the original.


A1: Contents


A2: Background

Esperanto was invented in 1887 by an oculist from Białystok, Dr Ludwig L Zamenhof (AKA Doctor Hopeful, hence the name).  Even its proponents estimate there to be barely a million Esperanto speakers in the world (largely Central/Eastern Europe); compare Albanian with about eight million, Mandarin Chinese with 1000 million, and English with (depending how you count) 500 to 1800 million.  Even Klingon appears to be outselling Esperanto round here. [For a constructed language, that's quite a success. Think about it: speakers of Esperanto currently have little economical motivation to learn the language. It has started with a single speaker, L. L. Zamenhof. And yet it has managed to achive the mark of one million speakers in more than a hundred countries. It seems that the idea of an international constructed language has quite a bit of appeal to a lot of people.]

Most people I know despise Esperanto, but largely for daft reasons – Everyone speaks English nowadays anyway [go to Brazil or France and try to get by speaking English to everyone], It sounds a bit foreign [anything that isn't your native tongue does], It has no cultural identity of its own [1. This would not be a defect; 2. Even though Esperanto has no "national" culture, it does have a universal culture which evolved around it during the last one hundred years or so (the Esperantist movement)], etc.  I, on the other hand, dislike it for being:

[Well, this is partially true.] So the result of Zamenhof's labours is that it's inconceivable that any artificial Interlang, however good, could succeed. [Nah. Anyone proposing a new auxlang will meet with the fury of lots of Esperantists, but this does not mean it would have no chance to be adopted. Esperantists are not the majority of people, as the Ranto likes to remind us every now and then. Just stay away from making a new "reform" of Esperanto; this path will meet with even more Esperantist fury and the result will seem even more unjustified given the existence of a very similar already established language with a large community and quite a bit of literature.]

A3: Scoring Criteria

An optimally designed world auxiliary language would be

  1. Clear – i.e. all its rules would be explicitly established, so users can filter out an utterance's ungrammatical parsings.
  2. Simple – involving a minimum of grammatical complexity (e.g. irregular forms, fancy inflections, or arbitrary categories like feminine).
  3. International – as learnable for Tamils, Koreans, or Zulus as for the Europeans who already have so many advantages.
  4. Elegant – designed to strike potential speakers as painless and natural to use.

My contention is that Esperanto contrariwise is

  1. Obscure – full of assumed rules and unadvertised usages.
  2. Complex – with cases, adjectival concord, subjunctives etc.
  3. Parochial – designed to appeal primarily to Europeans.
  4. Clumsy – full of hard sounds, odd letters, and absurd words.

It looks like some sort of wind-up-toy Czech/Italian pidgin.  And if there's one part of this world that doesn't need a local pidgin, it's Europe, which not only has (at a guess) the world's highest concentration of professional polyglots, but is also the home of the current de facto global lingua franca: English [English doesn't even have that many native speakers in Europe. And my guess is not everyone in Europe is content with English as the lingua franca (why is it that the European Parliament does not work exclusively in English?)].

If Esperanto vanished from existence, nothing of value would be lost; the world shows no sign of wanting to learn a constructed international auxiliary language [Except for one million people. But I grant this number does not seem to be growing a lot.].  Maybe someday that'll change – but if it does, we'll have no shortage of candidates to choose from, since Esperanto has any number of better designed but less well known competitors.  (They may have fewer existing speakers, but the difference is dwarfed by the billions they'd need to gain to be accounted a success.)  Or the UN could hire a linguist or two and get a language purpose-built, the way Hollywood now routinely does for fantasy movies!

A4: Notation

I'm following linguistics convention by using <angle> and /slant/ brackets to distinguish <orthographic> and /phonemic/ analyses; and I'm now using proper Unicode IPA for phonetic symbols.  Non-linguists can read anything that's unclear as some strange noise.

Esperanto also uses some unusual characters: circumflexed consonants and a breve-marked vowel (<ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ, ŭ>).  For example, the Esperanto for (accusative case) surroundings is <ĉirkaŭaĵojn>, pronounced roughly CHEER-COW-AH-ZHOYN.  However, there's an officially accepted way of avoiding these hard-to-type Unicode glyphs, so outside Section C that's the standard I'll be adopting. [I considered replacing all the digraphs in the original with the proper accented letters, but I decided to leave the original untouched.]

A5: Disclaimer

My clarity criterion strikes some readers as unfair in its apparent assumption that the rotten self-teaching texts I've been exposed to are all the Esperanto grammar there is… so just take my rhetorical questions as attempts to hint that there are language-design questions that Zamenhof showed no sign of recognising, and which his successors prefer not to mention.  Modern Esperantists acknowledge no Standards Maintenance Authority [nor does English; and there is the Akademio de Esperanto, but technically it only issues recommendations]; so on the one hand directed fundamental reforms are impossible, and on the other dialects inevitably confuse the issue.  And please bear in mind that my critique is aimed at Esperanto's pretensions as a global auxiliary language; if you're a hobbyist polyglot looking for a seventh European language to learn, feel free to waste your spare time on it.

SECTION B: PHONEMES (inventory of sounds used)

B1: Introduction

Phonemes are the mutually distinct sound elements which a particular language recognises as fundamental building blocks for word-making.  English – my dialect, anyway – has 19 vowels (mostly diphthongs), and 24 consonants (including the two affricates /dʒ, tʃ/, usually spelt <j, ch>).  For more details see my Phonemic Transcription Key page.

English – total 43 phonemes:
a tidy rather than accurate analysis
/ m  b  p  v  f  w  /
/ n  d  t  ð  θ  r  /
/ l  dʒ tʃ ʒ  ʃ  j  /
/ ŋ  g  k  z  s  h  /
/ i  e  ə  a  u  o  /
/ ii ei -  ai -  oi /
/ iə eə əə aə uə oə /
/ -  -  -  au uu ou /
Esperanto – total 34 phonemes:
though the diphthongs are arguable!
[They are; and if you leave them out, you are left with 28 phonemes, one for each letter of the Esperanto alphabet.]
/ m  b  p  v  f  /
/ r  d  t  j  h  /
/ w  -  ts z  s  /
/ l  dʒ tʃ ʒ  ʃ  /
/ n  g  k  -  x  /
/ i  e  a  o  u  /
/ -  ei ai oi ui /
/ -  eu au -  -  /

B2: Clarity

Natural languages have rules determining what sounds are accepted as forms of what phoneme.  For instance, in English /t/ may be an aspirated alveolar plosive, a glottal stop, or even a tap; in Spanish /t/ is usually an unaspirated dental plosive, and the tap is heard as an R-sound.  Esperanto speakers show no agreement about whether it even has such rules.  (And the ones writing to me seem particularly unwilling to agree on whether inter-word glottal stops are compulsory, optional, or prohibited. [Well, it cannot be compulsory, since such a thing has never been mentioned in the language's rules. It may be either optional or prohibited. In practice, since the glottal stop is not phonemic in Esperanto, this does not make much of a difference.])

B3: Simplicity

First, why is the inventory so irregular?  There's no single-phoneme /dz/, so why is /ts/ necessary? [/ts/ exists mainly so that <c> can be given a distinct sound; more on this below.]  Why /oi/ but not /ou/[/ou/ is hard to distinguish from plain /o/. The same could be argued against the /ei/ vs. /e/ distinction, though.] And second, why does it need so many consonants?  The worldwide average is to have about two dozen consonant phonemes [as opposed to Esperanto, which has 23 – oh, wait], and plenty of languages get by with fewer – for example:

Andean Spanish: / m p β f n t ð s l ɾ r ɲ tʃ j k ɣ h /
Japanese: / m b p w n d t r z s j g k h /
Hawaiian: / m p w n l k h ʔ /
Rotokas: / p β t ɾ k ɣ /

B4: Internationalism

Compare the Esperanto inventory with the following:

Eastern Polish – total 49 phonemes:
(parenthesised phonemes) are disguised by the spellings
/ m   b   p   v   f  /
/(mʲ  bʲ  pʲ  vʲ  fʲ)/
/ r   d   t   j   h  /
/ w  (dz) ts  z   s  /
/ l  (dzʲ tsʲ zʲ  sʲ)/
/ -   dʒ  tʃ  ʒ   ʃ  /
/ n   g   k   -   x  /
/(nʲ  gʲ  kʲ  -   - )/
/ i   e   a   o   u  /
/ -   ei  ai  oi  ui /
/ -   eu  au  -   -  /
/(-   ẽ   -   õ   - )/

The only phonemes Zamenhof left out of Esperanto are the ones that are hard to recognise as such – the soft (palatalised) consonants, nasal vowels, and /dz/ [is /dz/ harder to recognize as a phoneme than /ts/?]!  And note that I say Eastern Polish; this isn't just his natural Slavonic bias, it's the Białystok dialect!

B5: Elegance

Complaints about the ugly strings of affricates etcetera are always brushed off as a matter of taste.  But surveys say distinctions like /v/-versus-/w/ [this distinction barely exists in Esperanto; /w/ is mostly restricted to falling diphthongs], /ts/-versus-/tʃ/, /z/-versus-/ʒ/, /h/-versus-/x/ [this distinction is dying a slow death in Esperanto, with most words originally containing /x/ being replaced with words with /k/] are statistically rare, so it's the people who find Esperanto's sounds strange and awkward who are being objective!

B6: Miscellaneous

This crazed inventory is a splendid demonstration of Dr Z's linguistic incompetence; he couldn't see past the spelling rules of the first language he learned to write with the Roman alphabet! [Is there anything constructive to say here?]

SECTION C: ORTHOGRAPHY (grapheme system)

C1: Introduction

A grapheme is a contrastive unit in a spelling system.  Not surprisingly, Esperanto spelling is much better than English (in which <gh> is famously unruly – see my own Spelling Reform page); it can even be charted in a strict one-to-one correspondence with its phonemic inventory:

Orthodox spelling system:
< m  b  p  v  f >
< r  d  t  j  h >
< ŭ  -  c  z  s >
< l  ĝ  ĉ  ĵ  ŝ >
< n  g  k  -  ĥ >
< i  e  a  o  u >
< -  ej aj oj uj>
< -  eŭ aŭ -  - >

But not content with being phonemic (one phoneme: one grapheme), Esperanto also claims to be phonetic (one sound: one letter), which is (a) pointless and (b) infeasible. [So maybe Esperantists are just not careful enough with terminology? The Fundamento does not claim anything of that kind, anyway.]

C2: Clarity

Does Esperanto allow any variation in its sounds?  Are we to believe that the <n> in <ŝnuro> (rope) is acoustically and articulatorily identical to the one in <fingro> (finger)?  If so, Esperanto must be damned tricky to pronounce.  Or do Esperanto <l>s vary subtly like the ones in <athletes' schools>, and its <t>s like those in <too strict>?  What rules govern (e.g.) strings of voiced and unvoiced sounds, like the <kv> in <kvar> (four) and the <kz> in <ekzisti> (to exist)?  And is the word <naŭa> ninth pronounced /naw a/ or /na wa/?

[Yes, Esperanto's rules are unclear in those respects. In practice, however, this does not seem to make much difference. I tend to pronounce phonemes with minimal variation (including always pronouncing /n/ the same, which comes naturally to me), but that's just me. In practice, a little variation does not hurt comprehension. As for /na wa/ vs. /naw a/, is there even significant acoustic difference?]

C3: Simplicity

The system is bizarrely irregular.  Why is there a semivowel grapheme U-breve but no I-breve?  (Clue: compare Belorussian!)  Why S-circumflex but no Z-circumflex?  Why is the affricate G-circumflex paired up not with K-circumflex but with C-circumflex?  Why is the velar fricative H-circumflex dressed up as a form of the glottal approximant H?  And above all, why distinguish between /\ and \/ diacritics like this?

[The unstated reasoning behind those orthographic decisions is to keep words similar both in writing and in pronunciation to the words in the natural languages they were borrowed from. Since Esperanto's orthography aims to be phonemic, a distinct sound must be assigned to each letter. So, if the letter <c> is to be used, it must be assigned a sound distinct from other letters like <k> and <s>. The circumflexed letters have been chosen so as to display some similarity to the original words. That's why we get <ĉokolado> with a <ĉ> rather than a K-circumflex.

On the other hand, Esperanto is not very consistent with its ortographic principles. In some cases it prefers to borrow orthography at the cost of pronunciation, as the Ranto will show below. In others, it takes pronunciation and replaces c with k and s with z. I won't try to defend Esperanto on this one, except that it works in practice.

As for <h> vs. <ĥ>, they are both "guttural" consonants and sound similar. This choice of letters does not strike me as odd.]

C4: Internationalism

Writing <c, oj, eŭ, ŝ> in preference to, say, <ts, oy, ew, x> is a blatant display of parochial spelling traditions. [See above.] Most of the world's typewriters have a W key; none have a C with a circumflex accent.  No, not even in Croatia; you're thinking of hooks and acutes! [Dead keys, comrade. You type the accent, then the letter. Except for <ŭ>, Esperanto can be easily typed on a Brazilian (or French, I guess) typewriter. By the way, typewriter? Is that even relevant today?]

C5: Elegance

The problems with these diacritics were obvious enough to force a concession: we are permitted to resort to the digraphs <ch, gh, sh, jh, hh(?!)>, plus unadorned <u> – hence <chirkauajhojn>.  Many Esperantists advocate other ASCIIifications such as <cxirkauxajxojn>, but I'll stick with the less offputting version.

C6: Miscellaneous

Just to show how easy it is, here is an alternative system with no diacritics (all compound phonemes become compound graphemes):

Heterodox spelling system:
< m  b  p  v  f  >
< r  d  t  y  h  >
< w  dz ts z  s  >
< l  dj tx j  x  >
< n  g  k  -  h  >
< i  e  a  o  u  >
< iy ey ay oy uy >
< iw ew aw ow uw >

Thus <ĉirkaŭaĵojn> becomes <txirkawajoyn>[Which, of course, is far more recognizable, huh?] (I've heard from a good few independent inventors of schemes like this – it's a no-brainer [unless you expect the words to still have some resemblance to the natural language they were taken from; in which case it is harder to come up with a system that beats Esperanto's official orthography].)  But I could hardly stop there; the nearest half-way sane version is <kirkuajo>!

SECTION D: PHONOTACTICS (strings of sounds)

D1: Introduction

Phonotactics is the system of rules governing what sequences of sounds are permitted.  In English, for instance, /həŋ, viʒnz, streŋθs/ occur (<hung, visions, strengths>), while /ŋəh, ʒnzvi, stle/ are illegal.

D2: Clarity

The only hints we get about Esperanto phonotactics are bland reassurances about how euphonious it all is. [And a huge vocabulary from which we can infer the rules, even more so by comparing the Esperanto word with its natural language original. Yes, there are no officially stated rules, unfortunately, but this is not a real problem in practice.]  There clearly are restrictions: Esperanto has plenty of words like <shtrumpo, knabchjo, postscio> (stocking, sonny, hindsight) but none like <snouz, uahda, gvbrdgvnit> (cf. English snows, Arabic one, Georgian you tear us to pieces).  The extra /o/ sound in compounds like <dormo-chambro> bedroom is optional, but leaving such issues to Esperantists' native-language prejudices results in coinages like <antikv-scienco>, archaeology.  No, I'm not making this up… [Well, you can insert the vowel there if you wish. Or you may omit it if you wish. Comprehension is not hindered. Everybody happy?]

D3: Simplicity

In this context, simplicity means learnable rules for building speakable words.  A good proportion of the world's population find any syllable more complex than consonant + vowel hard to pronounce, which limits things unreasonably. [What exactly is the point the author is defending here?]

D4: Internationalism

Zamenhof's efforts to disguise Esperanto as Italian by adding final vowels are miserably inadequate. [Now comes criticism based on the claim (from thin air) that Esperanto is supposed to have Italian phonotactics.]  Italian uses closed syllables sparingly (chiefly ending in /r, l, n/); Esperanto loves them.  Italian allows few strings of consonants (mainly things like /bl, gr, sp/ and doubled letters); Esperanto permits many.  And the rigid penult-stress rule may be like Italian, but it's even more like Polish. [Or, for instance, Quechua. Regular stress is nice because it is always predictable and helps distinguishing each word in the sentence. What are better alternatives?]

D5: Elegance

The whole problem is that Zamenhof mistook his own prejudices about euphony (see Appendix Y) for a globally accepted standard of phonotactic elegance.  There is no such standard; Italian is full of tongue-twisters to Japanese-speakers (<postbellico>, post-war), and vice-versa (<hyakugyoo>, a hundred lines).  Even consonant + vowel languages have words like <'aueue>, Tahitian for trouble[If there is no such standard, why make such a fuss about Esperanto not following one?]

D6: Miscellaneous

It's pathetic!  Zamenhof didn't just give his brainchild a bad phonotactic system; he failed to recognise it needed any!  How can it claim to be naturally euphonious when it has no regulations about euphony?

SECTION E: DERIVATION (wordbuilding)

E1: Introduction

Zamenhof put a lot of work into creating a range of uniformly applicable prefixes and suffixes, such as <-ig-> render (or cause, arrange to have done) and <-igh-> become (or do intransitively) – as in <blankigi/blankighi>, whiten (something)/whiten (= go pale).  Nonetheless, his original ideas required several amendments before they were usable, and they still look rotten to me.

E2: Clarity

These affixes are often baffling.  In <cigaredujo>, cigarette box, <-uj-> means (bulk) container.  But it also occurs in <Svedujo>, Sweden (not Swedish ghetto) and <pomujo>, apple tree (not apple barrel).  Modern Esperantists just say <Svedlando, pomarbo>[Yes, those original uses of <-uj-> have been largely discarded; they are quirky, but they are out of much use.] Then there's <sendajho>, transmission [more accurately, <sendaĵo> is something you send, not the act of sending, which would be <sendado> or <sendo>], in which <-ajh-> is concrete (?) expression of; yet this is arbitrarily extended to form <majstrajho>, masterpiece and <porkajho>, pork.

E3: Simplicity

Who needs all these special affixes?  Isn't the two-word expression make white adequate?  Don't tell me we need complex affixing rules to produce indefinably subtle poetic shades of meaning; Chinese has no such rules, but is renowned for its nuanced poetry.  Besides, if we need affixes like <ek-> (suddenly), <-ach-> (contemptible) and <pra-> (ancient), why are there none meaning -ful, beloved, or -ward[<-en> has pretty much the same meaning of "-ward" in the sense of direction. Okay, the selection of affixes is arbitrary (you could conceivably have thousand of affixes for different things), but Zamenhof's selection has proven to be very versatile.] We can invent new ones, I suppose [and we have; <mis-> has been added lately to the language, for instance]; but what determines which are prefixes and which are suffixes? [In general, in Esperanto word composition, what comes before modifies what comes last. So a <majstraĵo> is a kind of <aĵo>, not of <majstro>. This general rule normally predicts what is a prefix or a suffix in the language. There are exceptions, though (<-aĉ-> being a notable example).]

E4: Internationalism

Different languages have very different approaches to building words (see Appendix T on morphological groundplans).  Esperanto's system of chaining together strings of invariable affixes uses the same pseudo-agglutinative groundplan spearheaded by Volapük (see Appendix X), which is at least more straightforward than alternatives like the Hebrew/Arabic system of triliteral roots.  If there's a problem, it's that Dr Zamenhof seems strangely biassed against any of the range of possible affix forms spread across the globe by the classical languages.  Compare the prevalence of the abstract noun endings <-ia, -ity, -(t)ion> with Esperanto's use of <-eco>.  Those <-ion> words Esperanto does condescend to admit have to hide their family resemblance; thus <regiono>, region but <nacio>, nation.

E5: Elegance

Clockwork morphology can produce some amusing quirks [the alternative being haphazard morphology?]:

And then there are ambiguities such as <kataro> = catarrh versus <kataro> = herd of cats – there are so many of these I've given them their own appendix.

Strangest of all, though, is the prefix <mal->, a meaning-reverser like Newspeak un-.  The only word for bad is <malbona>; cheap is <malmultekosta>, left is <maldekstra> and so on.  It's an imaginative vocabulary shortcut, but it's inconsistent (south should be <malnorda>), gratingly artificial (<malmalbona>, not bad? ["not bad" is <nemalbona>; negation and opposition are different things]) and misleading (<malodora> isn't malodorous)!

E6: Miscellaneous

Esperanto has a special suffix to mark feminine (or to be more accurate, female) nouns: <-in-> (from German; in Romance languages that's a diminutive).  But this has no equivalent masculine marker – being male is just taken to be the default!  See Appendix O on Sexism. [Ah, don't get me started on this one. This is a problem of Esperanto, one that will have to be solved in some way if the language takes on as tool for universal communication. And for Esperantists who think this asymmetry is not sexist, experiment for a while with speaking and translating to an alternative Esperanto in which the default is feminine and there is a suffix <-iĉ-> to form the masculine. The problem is not a lost cause, though, as I comment in the appendix.]

SECTION F: LEXICON (vocabulary sources)

F1: Introduction

Esperanto is notable among auxiliary language schemes for having possessed a well stocked dictionary from the start, made up from words out of an assortment of European languages.  Then again it also had notably warped selection criteria, taking <tornistro> (rucksack) from Danish <tornister>; <nepre> (certainly) from Russian <nepremenno>… and so on, to form a peculiar stew of words picked for their familiarity to nineteenth-century Europeans.

F2: Clarity

In this case I'll take clarity to mean having an adequate stock of technical, poetic, and everyday words to be generally usable.  Zamenhof was if anything overzealous in this department, stuffing his basic wordlists with trivial distinctions such as <kiso> a kiss versus <shmaco> a noisy kiss, and so on; who asked for these?

F3: Simplicity

This is the inverse problem, overlooked by Zamenhof.  Language learners want to be able to start communicating with as little rote learning of vocabulary as possible.  English is rather good at this, as it is rich in metonyms – coverterms like house [<domo>] or clothes [<vestaĵoj>], usable as stand-ins for more specialised terms like palace or sou'wester as well as in self-explanatory compound words like treehouse [<arbodomo>] or nightclothes [<noktovestaĵoj>]Basic English cut its essential vocabulary to 850 words [Esperanto's original vocabulary had 900; and Basic English "cheats" by having expressions such as 'make good' for 'succeed' and not counting them as separate vocabular entries]; any language designed from the ground up with lexical efficiency in mind could in principle do much better.

F4: Internationalism

Vocabulary is a relatively superficial, transient aspect of a language compared to things like syntax (speaking Pig Latin doesn't make you a polyglot); but it's the first and often the last feature of a foreign tongue that people notice, so padding out your Warsaw-centric auxiliary language with Romance dictionary entries can be an effective way of making it seem international.  Instead of this random European stew, a real world auxlang would get as much use as possible out of the two most truly global word sources:

  1. Western Colonial Vocabulary: gathered and/or spread by the European imperial powers – <chocolate, hotel, kangaroo> [<ĉokolado, hotelo, kanguruo>]
  2. International Scientific Vocabulary: words usually built from Latin, Greek, or English roots for newly classified phenomena – <eutheria, radium, interferometry>.

(It would be even more international to accept globally recognised Chinese or Hindi words too, if only there were any… Arabic, maybe.  Or see Appendix P for some cases where there were better solutions available in Latin and Greek.)

F5: Elegance

Many Esperanto borrowings are clumsily based on spellings: [this makes sense since people are usually more familiar with the spelling of foreign words than the sounds; then again, Esperanto is inconsistent in this respect, as I mentioned before]

and: Esperanto <kaj> (roughly KIE)
from Mod. Greek <kai> = /ke/ (roughly KEH, though with a palatalised K)
[no; it's from Ancient Greek <kai>, pronounced as in Esperanto]
ball: Esperanto <pilko> (roughly PEEL-COE)
from Polish <piłka> = /'pʲiwka/ (roughly PEWKA)
bird: Esperanto <birdo> (roughly BEER-DOE)
from English <bird> (BUH(R)D)
boat: Esperanto <boato> (roughly BO-AH-TOE)
from English <boat> (BOTE)
fist: Esperanto <pugno> (roughly POOG-NOE)
from Italian <pugno> = /'puɲɲo/ (POON-NYOE); cf. Spanish <puño> [or perhaps Latin <pugnus>]
Miss: Esperanto <fraulino> (roughly FROW-LEE-NO)
from (dated) German <Fräulein> = /'frɔʏlaɪn/ (roughly FROYLINE)
shame: Esperanto <honto> (roughly HONE-TOE)
from French <honte> = /ɔ̃t/ (roughly AWNGT)
thirst: Esperanto <soifo> (roughly SO-EE-FOE)
from French <soif> = /suaf/ (roughly SWAHF)

Apart from anything else, where would Esperanto be if any of these languages changed their spelling systems? [Then the Esperanto spellings would remain familiar to a lot of people, and the new natlang spellings would not...]

F6: Miscellaneous

Esperantised placenames frequently look as if they've been transliterated into Cyrillic and then back without regard for pronunciation: Washington becomes <Vashingtono>, Jamaica becomes <Jamajko>, Guinea becomes <Gvineo>

SECTION G: CONSTITUENCY (parts of speech)

G1: Introduction

Esperanto goes way over the top in marking what part of speech each word is, via its neat but somehow risible final vowel system [some verb endings end in vowel + S rather than vowel]:

Ending Class Example Meaning Notes
<-a> Adjective <viva> alive/vital – plus case and number concord
<-e> Adverb <vive> vitally – even some adverbs take <-n> [which supplies the need for "-ward" affix, as mentioned before]
<-i> Infinitive <vivi> to live – but finite verbs end in <-s>
<-o> Noun <vivo> (a) life – inflecting for case and number
<-u> Imperative <vivu> live! – melodrama exclamation

This grand scheme is based on the idea that every verb has one associated (equally basic) noun, adjective, and so on – an idea with an attractive air of symmetry and logic, but one that turns out to be fatally flawed; see Appendix U for details of the root-classes fiasco [the fiasco has been solved for about one hundred years].

G2: Clarity

Non-linguists rarely understand that grammatical categories like Adjective or Preposition are based not on universal logical principles but on pragmatically constructed conventions in a given language – for instance, where English uses adjectives like <angry>, Yoruba relies on verbs like <bínú>, be-angryNoun is essentially universal, but Zamenhof can't take its application for granted; what do the words event, moth, gravity, day, waterfall, Esperanto have in common besides the fact they're Nouns?  (Ignore the propagandists who still claim that Esperanto roots are categoryless semantic primitives; the official grammars from the Academy of Esperanto disagree.)

G3: Simplicity

There are hordes of unnecessary exceptions and irregularities.  Numerals, prepositions, correlatives, conjunctions, modifiers, articles, and so on are all exempt; pronouns even form their own breakaway faction, consistently ending in <-i> rather than <-o> and inflecting for case but not for number. [Since these are closed word classes (i.e., words are not usually added to these classes), there is no strong need for part-of-speech marking on them; there is a finite, small number of words to learn here.]

G4: Internationalism

Esperanto's word-classes are based on the traditions of classical Latin and Greek grammars, and a poor fit for many of the languages of Europe, let alone Chinese.  Hungarians won't be used to prepositions; Germans have to learn that adverbs aren't the same as plain adjectives; and Slavs have to cope with articles… [It's as if they had to learn a new language!]

G5: Elegance

Shoehorning words into this system can mangle them horribly. [I disagree; I think the system mangles them nicely.]

<boa, gala, penta, praa> = by marriage, bilious, repentant, ancient
<die, male, obee, ree> = divinely, contrariwise, obediently, again
<ekkrii, mini, peni, scii> = to cry out, mine, try, know
<lego, mono, pesto, sago> = reading, money, plague, arrow
<fluu! ghuu! skuu! instruu!> = flow!  enjoy!  shake!  teach!

G6: Miscellaneous

Esperanto is oddly happy to sacrifice recognisability in stem vowels – Asia becomes <Azio>, voice (Latin/Italian <voce>) becomes <vocho>, coffee (near-globally <kofi/café>) becomes <kafo>, etc.  If only there were fewer constituent classes to distinguish, maybe some nouns could end in <-a> or <-e>… which would also make the rhymes in Esperanto poetry more interesting! [Regularity is nice, and once you are used to this, words are pretty recognizable without their original last vowel.]

SECTION H: VERBS (tenses, subjunctives etc.)

H1: Introduction

For details of how Esperanto verbs and participles work, see Appendix Y; it's designed to look vaguely latinate, but with its past, present, future, and subjunctive/conditional tenses and its inflecting participles it again most resembles a tidied-up version of schoolbook Polish. [Or, for instance, Latin, or Proto-Indo-European.]

H2: Clarity

Zamenhof takes categories such as Infinitive, Participle, and Subjunctive on faith as universal concepts.  Note particularly his failure to define the subtle differences between simple tenses (I saw, <mi vidis>) and compound forms (I have seen, <mi estas vidinta> – more literally I am having-seen)… an especially vexing question when passive verbs are always formed as compounds (I was/have been seen, <mi estas vidita>). [What exactly is the complaint here? That Esperanto usually uses the simple past for both things? (Portuguese does too.) Or that Zamenhof did not take the trouble to define these compound tenses (even though their meanings are compositional)? And technically, "I was seen" would be <mi estis vidata>, providing the distinction between "I was seen" and "I have been seen", though I guess this distinction is rarely observed in practice.]

H3: Simplicity

It should be apparent to Anglophones that special suffixes for infinitives, future tenses, and subjunctives are a redundant complication.  [It should? Which advantage does using auxiliary verbs as in English provide?] It may be less obvious that English is itself over-complex in some ways, with its passive voice (they are regarded as a foundation, <ili estas rigardataj kiel fundamento>), vestigial subject-agreement (we are, it is – wisely dropped in Esperanto), and obligatory tense marking even where the context makes it obvious (I was born in 1967) or nonsensical (time is a dimension – cf. my guide to SF Chronophysics).  None of this is necessary; future tense for example can be shown with auxiliary verbs (will) [see above], adverbs (soon) [okay, I buy this one], or if you insist, optional affixes.

H4: Internationalism

One feature of verbs is present in almost all human languages, though trivialised in traditional Latin-based school grammars: aspect, the distinction between Perfective (roughly, the single event or act) and Imperfective (ongoing state or behaviour).  Esperanto's rules barely allow for aspect marking, relying on an unreliable suffix (<-ad> continual or gerund) and arguable applications of participles (e.g. <estas fermata>, which some translate as is presently closed and some as is being closed).  Left with no official system, Esperantists just stuck to their mothertongue habits, giving most modern dialects a (further) heavy Slavic influence. [Sad but true. Even if you consider the -ata/-ita distinction, you still have two meanings to estas fermata: la pordo estas fermata nun ("the door is being closed now") vs. la pordo estas fermata ĉiutage je la 6-a ("the door is closed everyday at six"). Then again, this is exactly the behavior of the simple present in Esperanto (or, for instance, German), so at least things are consistent. Well, things could have been better defined, but then again, they work in practice. And the meaning is left to context, something the author of the Ranto seems to glorify.]

H5: Elegance

The actual forms of these inflections (<-os><-inta>?) are unconvincing.  [What does this even mean?] Worst of all is <-u>, the imperative.  Most languages, for obvious reasons, arrange it so that commands can be given via the most basic verbal stem available, not a special, uniquely inflected form! [Talk about parochialism. Quite a lot of languages (Romance, Japanese, even Mandarin with its <ba> particle) use a special form for the imperative. And Esperanto's imperative is the same size as the infinitive, and shorter than the present.]

H6: Miscellaneous

Zamenhof also adopts a Slavic approach to tenses in quoted speech: where English reports we are! either directly as they said `We are!' or indirectly as they said that they were, Esperantists and Slavs have to say (in effect) they said that they are (tenses direct, everything else indirect).  [So Esperanto is not English. Shocking, huh? That said, I guess this feature of Slavic is not very widespread across world languages.] There are some fairly knotty problems being ignored in Esperanto's use of reflexive pronouns and an active/passive distinction, too; for more details on this see Appendix Q. [We shall see.]

SECTION I: NOUNS (case, number etc.)

I1: Introduction

Esperanto nouns inflect both for number and for case; i.e., more than is considered necessary in most European languages.  Compare the English sentence yesterday you hit the three white sheep (case, tense, and number left to wordorder and context [though quite exceptional in this respect, since English marks tense in most verbs and number in most nouns; and most Romance languages mark tense and number in verbs, and number in nouns and adjectives]) with the Esperanto version: <hierau vi frapis la tri blankajn shafojn> (case, tense, and number redundantly expressed by suffixes).

I2: Clarity

Esperantists never attempt to explain what cases or plurals are for.  The former is extremely tricky; but even the latter is hardly cut-and-dried.  Why are zero seconds, one point zero seconds plural?  Indeed, what's the point of pluralising two seconds?  Why are rice, wheat singular, while nuts, oats are plural? [You pluralize when you think of the thing as countable, and you don't when not.]

I3: Simplicity

Obligatory inflections are a bad idea.  Couldn't Esperanto emulate Japanese, which essentially does without plurals (one ninja, two ninja…), or Tagalog, which marks number only if it seems relevant (using a separate regular plural-marker word)? [Well, I won't try to defend obligatory case and number marking. But the Ranto does not present here any argument for why they are a bad idea.]

The same applies to case (if not more so).  The Esperanto <-n> suffix is not only compulsory on verb objects, but appears on time expressions, directional adverbs, complements, and goals of motion – hence <Lundon rajdu chevalon norden dek mejlojn en Londonon!>, On Monday, ride a horse northward ten miles into London!.  And yet… some kinds of noun phrase (infinitives, numerals, many people = <multe da homoj>, etc.) can't be marked for case, and they seem to get along perfectly happily without.

I4: Internationalism

Languages disagree not only on how to indicate which of a sentence's components is the subject (Russian gives nouns fusional endings, Japanese has particles after noun phrases, Swahili uses verb marking, and Chinese relies on word order), but even on how to define this notion of Subject; see Appendix R.  For now I'll point out that the informal English phrase It's me! may make poor Latin, but it's fine Turkish. [So you have to choose one way of marking after all. And since the intersection of all possible ways is nil, you will have to settle for some way of marking, and it will be different from what some language does. Esperanto chose to use morphological case marking. It might have used word order as well; or it might not. What gives?]

I5: Elegance

Why <-j>[From Ancient Greek, I believe.] It might be recognisable to the Italians (one percent of the world's population) who use <-i> as a regular plural marker, or even the Slavs (five percent) who use <-и>; but compare <-s>, used throughout Central/Western Europe (Spain, Germany, France, the UK…) and their colonies: forty percent of the human race!  Meanwhile, <-n> as an object marker seems to be based on one piece of German morphology [no; from Ancient Greek, I believe]; <-m> might have been better.  And come to think of it, did Zamenhof ever explicitly forbid the suffixing order <shafonj>, or is this left to common sense?

I6: Miscellaneous

If nouns were formed from participles regularly, the word for one currently hoping – and for the language – would be <esperantulo> (though that tense-marking's a century out of date now anyway).  For more on <-n> after prepositions, see L2.  Incidentally, I get a lot of complaints from Esperantists who imagine it's inconsistent to want both expressive clarity and grammatical simplicity; apparently they can't imagine distinguishing (e.g.) singular from plural without there being special extra rules to make number-agreement a compulsory part of the morphological system…

SECTION J: PRONOUNS (and demonstratives)

J1: Introduction

See Appendix Y for Esperanto's selection of pronouns.  The system should be familiar to Anglophones, with its single word for we (whether inclusive or exclusive), single word for you (whether familiar singular or polite plural), and compulsory distinction in the singular (only) between he, she, and it.

J2: Clarity

Few languages [citation needed] distinguish as we do between a/some fish and the fish, and explaining the point of this distinction is well nigh impossible. [Is it? It serves as a way to indicate "the fish in topic", as opposed to some other fish. Kind of like a pronoun, but more flexible. There, explained!]  Consider also the unpredictable (to English-speakers) way that Esperanto <la> occurs in ten past one, <dek minutoj post la unua> [because it's implicitly <la unua horo>]; God bless you, <la dio benu vin> [is this used?]; bird migration is remarkable, <la birdmigrado estas mirinda> [agreed, but the article is not required in this case; I would even discourage its use in this case. But this goes on to show that the rules behind article usage are indeed not clear.].

J3: Simplicity

Couldn't Esperanto do without articles, and treat pronouns and so on as regular nouns? [And allow them to be modified by adjectives? Pronouns are distinct from nouns.]  Or if the pronouns really need their own system, complete with possessive adjectives <mia, lia> (my, his) etc., why does the interrogative pronoun have to mess things up with <kia> = what sort, <kies> = whose (a Lithuanian-style genitive)?

J4: Internationalism

Esperanto's words for who, what are <kiu, kio>, which act both as question words and as relative pronouns – a trademark misfeature of the European languages that's responsible for such unnecessary ambiguities as Did you ask the man who did it?  Compare, say, Hindi, where question-words begin with <k-> but their relative-clause equivalents have <j->.

J5: Elegance

Notice that <kiu, kio> aren't listed among the pronouns; instead they're in a separate irregular subfamily, the so-called correlatives.  These are words for a mixed bag of concepts like every-thing, what-kind, no-where, some-time, that-many; they naturally form a table with columns like every- (= <chi->) and rows like -where (= <-e>), intersecting at every-where (= <chie>).  But the grid has no columns for else-(where), any-(way), or this-(time), and no rows for (some)-degree, (how)-often, or (which)-direction; such coinages require arbitrary botch-ups, so triplets like when, then, now become <ki-am, ti-am, nun>.  A more open system (where e.g. anything is simply any thing) would make the whole table unnecessary.

J6: Miscellaneous

These word-forms may not display much regularity, in the sense of behaving like normal nouns, but they do score highly for uniformity, in the sense of did you say <li estas>, <ni estos>, or <mi estus>?

SECTION K: ADJECTIVES (and numerals)

K1: Introduction

Esperanto adjectives end in a superficially latinate <-a>, then add inflections to agree with the noun they modify.  If there's any logic behind this, wouldn't it imply you need to put similar markers on <la>?  That's how things work in the natural languages Zamenhof was copying here: if agreement belongs anywhere, it's on articles.

K2: Clarity

What kinds of word go in this things-ending-in-<a> category?  Third, but not three; many and any kind of [technically, the -a in kia is not the same adjectival -a; but their similarity makes sense: adjectives usually indicate qualities, so a correlative with an adjective-like ending relates to qualities], but not every; his and one's, but not whose… if only Zamenhof had ever heard of determiners [had the term existed by his time], a lexical class covering things like articles, pronouns, and correlatives, maybe the categories wouldn't have ended up such a mess.

K3: Simplicity

Above all, why oh why did Zamenhof give his simple international language obligatory case-and-number concord? [Hell, again this one?]  The Esperanto for the houses are new is <la domoj estas novaj> – which is on the fussy end of the scale even by European standards. [Most Romance languages behave exactly this way.]  Compare French <les maisons sont nouvelles>, where the plural agreement is silent [but present; compare also other Romance languages, where it is present and spoken]; German <die Häuser sind neu>, where the predicate shows no concord [of course, showing concord in some situations but not in others is far better]; or Russian <doma novi>, which while it does have agreement at least compensates by letting you leave out the verb.  Even Volapük didn't get it this wrong – <doms binom nulik>!

K4: Internationalism

English may depend on an Adjective to say the new houses, but many languages go about things differently.  Arabic uses appositional nominals (the-new-things the-houses); Japanese prefers things that morphosyntacticians analyse as stative verbs (being-new house). [And again, Esperanto uses adjectives. For the thousandth time, you have to pick up some choice, and whatever you pick, there will be languages that will do things differently.]

K5: Elegance

The basic number-terms <tri, trio, tria> (three, threesome, third) are a crowded jumble, making a mockery of the regular root/noun/adjective pattern they imitate (note for instance that both <tri> and <tria> can occur as either argument or modifier [for the exact same reason, that Esperanto allows a "null argument" where English would use "one": mi havas tri ("I have three ones"), mi estas la tria ("I am the third one"); this is just like Romance languages]).  Knock-on effects include the baroque selection of number-related suffixes needed for <trioble, trifoje [foj- is not a suffix, it's the radical for "time" (in the sense of "one time")], triope> (triply, three times, in threes).

K6: Miscellaneous

Why, other than because of European tradition, do we need a one-word label for 103 (thousand = <mil> instead of ten hundred) but not for 104 (myriad) or 105 (lakh); and a label for 106 (million = <miliono>) but not for 107 (crore) or 108 (a Japanese oku)? [What is the alternative? Another arbitrary choice?]  If Esperanto was built around the S.I. system of prefixes this might make sense, but there's no sign Zamenhof ever heard of kilo- etc.  Indeed, <pico> is the Esperanto for pizza!

SECTION L: ADVERBS (and prepositions)

L1: Introduction

These categories are less reliable than most people assume.  Latin may have had distinct Adverbs and Prepositions, but Vietnamese uses neither (it just needs flexible adjectives and verbs); even many English words (like, except) are hard to pigeonhole.  Yes, most adverbs are simply verb modifiers like fast; but this hardly covers cases like extremely.

L2: Clarity

Esperanto's <-n> ending simply replaces some prepositions, modifies the meanings of others [turns prepositions of place into prepositions of movement], and never associates with the rest [the ones that don't indicate place; okay, ĉe is an exception; one usually simply switches to al instead of using ĉe with the accusative].  Zamenhof didn't just mix these prepositional functions confusingly into his case system, he also made them officially vague – see Appendix Y!

L3: Simplicity

Esperanto grammar favours a proliferation of adverbs.  Whistling in whistling, I left is not allowed to be a mere adjective <fajfanta> describing the subject; no, it's <fajfante mi foriris>.  Worse yet, since Esperanto weather phrases involve no nouns at all, they can't have adjectives either; it's warm becomes <estas varme> (is, warmly!). [The rules are simple. If it is not modifying a noun, or serving as an argument (a special case where the "noun" is null), it is an adverb. Nice, huh?]  Or so my old primer claims; modern Esperantists, I'm glad to hear, simply go for <varmas> (is-warm).

L4: Internationalism

Many languages go without the category Adverb, making do with adjectives and phrasal expressions (quickly = fast or at speed).  What might seem more surprising to Europeans is how few languages have the category Preposition.  Where Yiddish expresses the phrase jump onto a box via a preposition (slightly assisted by casemarking), Vietnamese uses modified verbs (jump-ascend box); Finnish has hyper-specialised cases (jump box, with box in the allative!); and Panjabi goes for postpositions (jump box onto). [And there we go again. What is the least common denominator here? You've got to pick a choice.]

L5: Elegance

These words are a strange mix.  Prepositions can end in consonant clusters (like all Esperanto roots, but without the usual disguise of a tacked-on vowel), leading to sequences like <post Kristnasko>, after Christmas.  On the other hand there are twenty-odd random adverby particles and things that form a sort of semi-developed word-class with the distinctive ending <-au> (<ambau, kontrau, preskau> = both, against, almost).

L6: Miscellaneous

English prepositions are a bit un-European in their willingness to appear with no following object noun (cf. our transitive verbs: Appendix Q).  This blurs the line between Preposition (I walked along the road) and Adverb (I walked along), and allows English to form phrases outlawed by Esperanto grammar (e.g. that's the road I walked along)! [Nice, English is not Esperanto! And in this particular case, all you have to do to translate the sentence into Esperanto is to move the preposition to before the relative pronoun (omitted in English, another oddity of that language), like basically every non-Germanic European language.]

SECTION M: SYNTAX (sentence structure)

M1: Introduction

Zamenhof's efforts to explain the rules of Esperanto grammar (see Appendix Y) focussed almost exclusively on derivational and inflectional morphology (i.e. word-building and word-endings).  The nearest they get to syntax is implicit word-order rules.  Unsurprisingly, Esperanto's phrase structure rules and so on turn out to be hardly distinguishable from the ones Zamenhof grew up with – they're pretty good simple ones, but it's sheer blind luck… [See? Esperanto is so horrible, that even when it's right, it's wrong.]

M2: Clarity

We know sentences are usually Subject-Verb-Object, possessives go Property-Of-Owner and adjective phrases are Adjective-Noun; but that's about all we learn. [And these "rules" are only what most speakers do; apart from Property-Of-Owner, they are in no way mandatory.]  Esperantists boast of the way the final vowels make individual nouns readily identifiable; what they fail to mention is that free word order turns all the higher structure of noun phrases, subclauses, and so on into a matter of guesswork. [No, they don't, because the word order is not completely free. Of course, the Ranto will come around and complain about exactly this afterward.]

M3: Simplicity

Many languages, especially in Europe [such as the Germanic languages, and to some extent French], have sets of sentences related via order-shuffling rules (transformations) such as English question-inversion (I have; have I?).  That's one Esperanto doesn't share [thank Zamenhof] (<mi havas; chu mi havas?>); which just makes it more baffling that it does insist on correlative extraction, moving words like who, where, why to the start of their clause, and not permitting the Unextracted column in the following table any more than English does [i.e., it permits them, just like English]:

No correlative Unextracted Extracted
Esperanto: <mi legas ghin.> <mi legas kion?> <kion mi legas?>
English: I am reading it. I am reading what? what am I reading?

M4: Internationalism

Some of Esperanto's word-order conventions are no more than optional defaults; others (although taken for granted in grammars) are unbreakable.  Yesterday you hit the three white sheep may legally become <la tri shafojn blankajn vi frapis hierau>, but it's never <blankajn la vi hierau tri frapis shafojn>!  Even the dislocation of only English allows in I only ate one is forbidden for <nur> [because the placement of nur changes meaning: nur mi manĝis unu ("Only I ate one"), mi manĝis nur unu ("I ate only one"), mi nur manĝis unu ("I only ate [did not do anything else to] one").].  The following obvious order rules demonstrate classically European default assumptions:

M5: Elegance

Excess inflections such as case might at least lead to extra flexibility in word order; and Esperantists consider this an aid to stylistic elegance.  But wouldn't it be easier as well as more flexible to use topic-marker particles to assign emphasis?  Instead, Tibetan-speaking learners of Esperanto (with no guide to what stylistic effects are produced by what order-shift) have to learn to treat word order as essentially meaningless.

M6: Miscellaneous

The question-forming particle <chu> is a neat idea (though maybe a bit redundant, when interrogative intonation or punctuation will do – you agree? [I don't; interrogative intonation is not the same in every language. As a native speaker of Brazilian Portuguese, I can attest that this can cause confusion even among native speakers of a language that relies only on intonation to mark questions.]).  But its form is copied from its source, the Polish <czy> (or Ukrainian <chi> or even Belorussian <ci>), rather than resembling the question words like <kio> [In an astounding coincidence, Quechua uses <chu> for that too (though the word has other uses in Quechua too).].

See Contents for list of Appendices
starting with the FAQ

Ranto Appendix – N


[I have few observations to make here; the FAQ is surprisingly sane.]

If you've come here looking for the Mailbox section, that's been moved to the end as Appendix Z.  Here to take its place as the first of the Appendices is a new page, the Frequently Asked Questions list.

i) What makes English so much better than Esperanto, then?
Did I say anything about English being good?  It has all the unfair advantages of a widely used natural language, but it also has plenty of annoying features of its own; so if you write webpages about its shortcomings as an international language (oh, here's one) I'll be more than happy to link to them.
ii) What's so difficult about inflections like <-ajn>?
Any grammatical mechanism is going to seem natural and self-evident to you if your mother-tongue does it.  But imagine how disorientating it would be if Esperanto adverbs had obligatory tense-prefixes to show agreement with their verbs, or if there were different pronouns for referring to people older and younger than yourself.  You'd be constantly having to remind yourself to pay attention to people's ages just to be able to produce grammatical sentences.  That's what Esperanto's like for the vast majority of us who aren't accustomed to compulsory number-agreement on predicate adjectives.
iii) Can't we just work around these problems?  For instance, you can just ignore any aspects of Esperanto you think are overcomplicated.
To deal with that second part first: no, that's not an option – if I ignore the language's rules, I'm left with no way of parsing sentences.  Esperanto needs fixes, not workarounds; but its fundamental grammatical rules were declared untouchable a century ago.  You can come up with your own private-language reform-scheme if you like, but you'd better not use it on an Esperanto newsgroup!
iv) Why do you give examples of features from all those exotic languages, as if it would make sense to combine Cantonese pronouns, Swahili verb-endings, and Thai noun-classifiers?
If you design your artificial interlanguage with the starting assumption that Cantonese is more exotic than German, you can't expect to produce one suitable for the whole planet.  However, the idea isn't that it should multiply together all the world's grammars, it's that it should use only the truly universal common factors, and you can't find those by surveying Yiddish, Polish, and Latvian. [I have said this ten thousand times by now, but I will repeat the point: beyond some very basic structure, you will not find ways of expressing certain concepts that are common to all languages in the world. You will have to pick some way, and this will invariably be different from what some language does. Of course you can take pains not to make things more complex than they need to be, and Esperanto arguably did not do an excellent job in this respect, but the goal of having "only the truly universal common factors" in the grammar of a language is unfeasible: the truly common factors are not enough to build a language, and whatever you add on the top of them will diverge from a bunch of languages.]
v) Why are you so obsessed with Esperanto?
Actually, these days I rarely think about invented languages at all unless someone else raises the topic.  You don't need to be a fanatic to recognise Zamenhof's mistakes, and writing webpages costs nothing.  Nor is it some sort of fringe viewpoint – on the contrary, the number of people not learning Esperanto is growing every day!
vi) Have you read Psychological Reactions to Esperanto?
Yes, and I'm impressed by how effective it is at making Esperantism look like Scientology, but I wasn't planning on mentioning it – it's Esperanto I object to, not Esperantists.  But since you insist, here's a link.  Happy now?
vii) What about such-and-such an alternative Constructed International Auxiliary Language?
There are half a dozen or so big names, all featuring clear design improvements on Esperanto, and minority candidates to suit any taste.  I'm not going to try to summarise my views on all of them here… I'd end up having to turn my whole site into yet another conlangopaedia.
viii) But don't you realise that nobody speaks any of those?
Well, approximately nobody, but then again by the standards of Hindi approximately nobody speaks Esperanto, either.  The pragmatic solution to communication barriers is to pick the language everyone else speaks regardless of its shortcomings; the idealistic solution is to pick one on the basis of its technical merits.  Picking a poorly engineered artificial language gets you the worst of both worlds.
ix) If other invented auxiliary languages are simpler and more regular than Esperanto, why haven't they become globally successful?
It would hardly be the first case of a better product losing out because a rival brand was first-to-market.  But the main factors that make a language successful with the general non-hobbyist population have little to do with its grammar (except in that it helps if you already speak something closely related).  The things that matter are how strong the social pressures are obliging you to acquire it, and whether appropriate teaching materials are conveniently available.
x) Isn't it unfair to expect Zamenhof to have known about modern linguistics?
Sure; there was essentially no chance that a nineteenth-century European polyglot was going to design anything worth keeping – it's like criticising some Victorian inventor's efforts to build a steam-powered helicopter.  Except that I don't know of any organisations dedicated to promoting gyrolocomotives as the best possible form of transport…
xi) Why do your webpages use ASCII substitutes for aitch-circumflex and so on rather than displaying them directly in Unicode?
I've gradually switched over to Unicode for things like IPA [ə], but Esperanto characters like <ĥ> are at the very bottom of my list of priorities for conversion.  After all, the ASCII version is already readable, even for visitors using antique software (a surprising number of webmail systems still insist on garbling Unicode characters when people start quoting my pages back to me in correspondence).  Besides, the official rules (see Appendix Y) irrevocably license the alternative of spelling it as <hh>.
xii) Why isn't there an Esperanto version of your essay?
Because it's not aimed at Esperantists; it's a warning to people who might consider learning Esperanto in future.  There's no point putting the Danger – do not open signs on the inside of the door!
xiii) Will you do my homework for me?
Glad to – just give me your teacher's email address and I'll send it direct.

Ranto Appendix – O


Consider the implications of usages such as the following:

This doctrine of Male-As-Default treats women as a negligible subgroup, and femaleness as abnormal but always noteworthy.

Sexism is (in principle) avoidable in English, via words like human, people, he/she, they, and sex-neutral jobtitles where sex is irrelevant.  Things are different in languages with grammatical gender: e.g. in French, masculine plural is ils, feminine plural is elles, but mixed groups (even of 99 women and one grammatically masculine hornet) are ils.  To the French, Thatcher was Madame le premier ministre!  So how about Esperanto?  Surely a language without arbitrary gender-classes designed by an enlightened liberal humanist will avoid such pitfalls?  Well, er… no.  In fact, as first propagated his brainchild was blatantly and systematically sexist.  All animate nouns were male by default, unless given the ghettoising suffix <-in>. [To make a little justice to Zamenhof, he probably did this out of pure ingenuousness, not out of intentional sexism; in the 19th century, people were not as sensible to gendered language as we are today.]

Boy, girl, man, woman = <knabo, knabino, viro, virino>.  In English, by the way, a virino is a hypothetical mini-virus. [What has this to do with anything?]   Similarly, an Esperanto job advert for a typist (<tajpisto>) would be ambiguous (how sexist is the advertiser's dialect?) without or typistess (<au tajpistino>).  Father, mother becomes <patro, patrino> – dads are apparently more fundamental than mums.  Likewise, sister is <fratino> = brotheress, and so on with unclesses, sonesses, cousinesses, and fatheresses-in-law (<bopatrinoj>).  There is even a prefix <ge-> to indicate both sexes, as in <gepatroj>, parents (it's still a matter of some debate whether you can use it in the singular, or to refer to a group of parents who might all happen to be women).  There is only one clearly neutral noun: person = <homo> (cf. French homme), which far from being the default is strangely avoided in coinages such as dwarf, giant = <vireto, virego>. [Nothing bars you from using hometo, homego.]

Horse = <chevalo>, mare = <chevalino>; Esperanto also provides for <ghirafino> = female giraffe, <blatino> = cockroachess (henroach?), and so forth, regardless of tradition (English geese, cows, and ducks are female), let alone actual biology (most hornets are sterile females).  Farmers may also find handy the Esperanto pup suffix <-id> as in <chevalido>, foal, and the stud prefix <vir-> as in <virchevalo>, stallion – but why aren't these affixes extended to humans to give words like <homido> = humanling, kid or <virpatro> = father, sire?  Too dehumanising?

Then again there are the derogatory affixes, <fi-> and <-ach>, demonstrated in Teach Yourself Esperanto just as feminists would predict: by forming sex-specific insults. [If anything, this is Teach Yourself Esperanto's fault; these affixes have nothing to do with gender.]  <Fivirino> is dirty woman, slut; <virinacho> is crone, contemptible female.  Why are we never offered the male equivalents, whatever they are? [They are, of course, fiviro and viraĉo.]  If you can't see what the fuss is about, try imagining an equivalent racist language, with black and white pronouns, a suffix <-afro>, and an assumption that the human race is Caucasian (one white, one vote).  Now imagine the <-ach> suffix being exemplified with <vir-afr-acho>

Time for a few jokes.  Is a casino a feminine case?  Is a neutrino a female eunuch?  [...] And if a <fraulino> is an unmarried woman, is an unmarried man a <fraulo>?  Well, actually, yes; a merry jest from Dr Zamenhof.  Ha ha ha… (sob). [Again, Esperanto is always wrong, even when it's right.]

Even if the linguistic discrimination doesn't worry you (like two of my correspondents who explicitly supported it because it's misogynistic), this scheme of compulsory lopsided gender-agreement rules is offensive just for its poor design.  Look for instance at one of the side-effects of the rule that any affix can lead an independent life as a word in its own right: <ino>, a female; <ina>, feminine.  Generally, Esperanto requires more intricate morphology to refer to women than men; but here is an exception.  Teach Yourself Esperanto translates feminine intuition as <la ina intuicio>.  So… how exactly do you say masculine intuition?  Candidates for a masculine affix parallel to the feminine have been proposed (<-uch, -ab, vir-, -ich, -un, mal-in, -ul>), but while few present-day Esperantists may support the original nineteenth-century system, equally few take the obvious step of marking male and female symmetrically. [The most widely known proposal for a male equivalent of -in- is -iĉ-, by analogy with the existing suffixes -nj- and -ĉj-, which build female and male nicknames. Probably every Esperantist who has used the language for some time is at least familiar with the proposal, so people can start using it right now if they wish without much fear of being misunderstood. It will still take time for it to become standard usage, though (assuming it will ever happen). The situation is not hopeless, though.]

Ranto Appendix – P


Zamenhof couldn't have been expected to predict that words like telefon, microbiologia, aéroplane were going to end up in every dictionary on the planet; nonetheless, as a world-wide wordlist develops, Esperanto looks more and more perverse in its parochial root choices.  Many opportunities for wide recognisability were sacrificed in favour of lexical tokenism, throwing scraps to all the key local ethnic groups.  Of course, radical suggestions like stocking the lexicon with fragments of technical jargon are invariably decried by Esperantists as obscure; but which is the average non-European auxlangist more likely to recognise – German <Farbe> as in <farbo>, or neo-Greek <chrom-> as in chromatophore, Kodachrome, etc.? [I won't argue against this one; I agree with this.]

English Esperanto Source Alternatives
blood <sango> (∼Romance) haem(at)o
day <tago> (Germanic: cf. Thursday [?]) die, diurno
dog <hundo> (Germanic) Canis (familiaris)
fear <timo> (Latin: not Romance) phobia
finger <fingro> (Germanic) digito, daktylo
fire <fajro> (English/Yiddish) pyro
football <piedpilko> (∼French-Polish!) futbol [futbalo is currently accepted]
gold <oro> (Romance: not Latin) aureo – symbol Au
heart <koro> (Romance: not Latin) cardio
horse <chevalo> (French) Equus (caballus)
school <lernejo> (Germanic learnery) scholia, skulo [lernejo at least is compositional]
sheep <shafo> (German) Ovis (aries)
star <stelo> (Romance) ast(e)ro
sun <suno> (∼English) sol, helio
thief <shtelisto> (Germanic stealer) klepto
Thursday <jhaudo> (∼French: joveday) fifth day of the week
time <tempo> (Romance: musical rate)
[no; tempo means "time" in Portuguese and Spanish,
for instance, and comes from Latin tempus, tempora]
chrono [not much of an improvement over tempo]
word <vorto> (Germanic) verba, lexico
year <jaro> (western Germanic) anno (domini)

Incidentally, the Esperanto for dictionary is itself a good example of How Not To Do It: <vortaro>, with the inscrutable literal meaning word-herd ["word-collection", actually].  I mean, I wasn't expecting Zamenhof to see the potential of the Arabic word <qamus>, which has got into other languages from Swahili to Urdu to Indonesian (though by a strange coincidence, it's originally a loan from Greek!) – but how did he manage to overlook the example of all the Germanic languages that make the compound wordbook?

Ranto Appendix – Q


Valency categories are a feature of classical European grammar so basic they're taken for granted; they regulate the number of noun phrases that can be associated as arguments with a given verb (or other wordclass, but never mind that for now). [Many languages are even more strict about valency than Indo-European, but let's go on.]

(Zero-argument verbs don't occur in English, excluding commands like stop! with omitted subjects; Esperanto behaves like a Slavic language [or like most Romance languages] by expressing (it)'s raining as <pluvas>.)

Compared to the European standard model, English has notably relaxed valency rules, allowing many verbs to occur with any number of arguments (give: please give generously; I gave earlier; cows give milk; she gave me this).  The grammars warn that no such illogical behaviour is tolerated from Esperanto verbs – any valency change, no matter how obvious from the accompanying noun cases, must also be signalled with the <ig/igh> suffixes (E1) [actually, if all you want to do is omit an argument, like the "give" examples above, you don't need to do anything special in Esperanto; you only need affixes when the meaning of each argument changes], like this:

give birth to – what mothers do to babies (marked in the dictionary as an inherently transitive verb)
the causative form – but rather than meaning cause to give birth (a midwife's job), this is used to mean beget; that is, what the father did nine months earlier (solo?)
lexicons translate this not as give birth (plain intransitive) but as be born – what babies do. [That's because -iĝ- is not meant to merely "intransitivize"; it actually moves the participant which was the object to be the subject of the new verb. So, naskiĝi is actually "to make oneself born".]

What was that about logic? [Explained above.] Meanwhile, reflexives such as they saw themselves, which you'd think logically would get some similar valency-modifying suffix, are handled instead as normal transitives with a special pronoun. [Because ili vidiĝis would mean "they made themselves visible", or "they became visible". Again, the object of vidi becomes the subject of vidiĝi.]

The subtleties of valency categories wouldn't matter if they weren't critical to passivisation, which converts any two-argument verb to a special one-argument form.  Converting an active sentence like I read the book (or Esperanto <mi legis la libron>) involves four steps, in English or Esperanto:

  1. Simple tenses become compounds: <legisestas leginta>
  2. Active participles become passive: <legintalegita>
  3. The subject is demoted to a by-phrase: <mi de mi>
  4. The object is promoted in its place: <libronlibro>

So the book was read by me = <la libro estas legita de mi> (note however that <de mi> can also mean out of me or of me – i.e. my book).

English as usual allows extra possibilities to mislead Anglophone Esperantists.  Some English verbs mean essentially the same thing whether active or passive (they burned vs. they were burned; compare they stabbed vs. they were stabbed).  Then there are the three-argument verbs, which have a choice of promotable objects when passivised (direct or indirect); Sam lent me this hat becomes either this hat was lent to me by Sam or I was lent this hat by Sam.  The behaviour of Esperanto indirect objects is similar, but nothing like that latter passive form is allowed in Esperanto.

All these complex passivisation rules are so unnecessary, too!  Traditional grammarbooks do their best to pretend it's some sort of semantic universal (When the subject of the verb does not perform the action, it is said to be passive – drivel!  What action are the subjects of such non-passive verbs as resemble, enjoy, miss, overhear performing?)  But its only function is to give centre stage to the Patient of a situation rather than the Agent.  Even most modern European languages avoid the passive where possible, and Esperanto shouldn't need the construction at all when it's (potentially) got:

[And that's why you almost never see a passive in Esperanto. All you have to do is not use it. And apart from the use of de to indicate the agent, passives in Esperanto are really just a logical use of participles, so you don't need to consider the passive as a fundamental feature of the language.]

Ranto Appendix – R


A good polyglot learns to take the rules of any given target language for granted as natural laws; a good linguist on the other hand learns that there are many different ways of doing things.  Esperantists (who tend to be hobbyist Euro-polyglots) often trumpet the language's case-marking system as an indispensable guide to the fundamental argument structure of a sentence.  But even disregarding the way Esperanto mixes indirect objects in with its direct objects [clarification needed], there's nothing logically necessary about subjects and objects.  Indeed, the terms are only meaningful once you've defined them for a specific language in terms of the more universal concepts of:

Different languages group these according to various schemes.

A) the pedant's solution (known from one Australian language).  Clearly more complicated than there's any call for.
Agent distinguished as Ergative case
Experiencer distinguished as Intransitive case
Patient distinguished as Accusative case

B) the clairvoyant's option (less rare; much use of context): cases not distinguished even by wordorder rules.
AgentExperiencerPatient all treated alike (i.e. no cases)

C) the monster raving loony candidate (some Iranian sightings); combines all the drawbacks of (A) and (B).
AgentPatient treated alike as Transitive case
Experiencer distinguished as Intransitive case

D) the orthodox Indo-European approach; two cases, Nominative (= Nonpatient) versus Accusative (= Patient).
AgentExperiencer treated alike as Nominative case
Patient distinguished as Accusative case
(In English, for instance, Nominatives go before the verb and Accusatives after.)

E) looking glass logic – the rather widespread opposite of (D); Agent vs Nonagent.
Agent distinguished as Ergative case
ExperiencerPatient treated alike as Absolutive case
(This often strikes Europeans as passive: sentences hinge on the Absolutive – often meaning the Patient – not the Ergative; cf. Sam was seen by us.)

F) a compromise solution – part (D), part (E).  Also common.
Agent ⁄ (voluntary) Experiencer handled as Nominative case
Patient ⁄ (involuntary) Experiencer handled as Absolutive case
(So I in I slid on the ice may be Nominative if it was deliberate skating or Absolutive if it was an accident.)

What's more, many languages mix the above systems!  For more detail, and further examples of exotic possibilities Zamenhof never considered, see Language Universals And Linguistic Typology by Bernard Comrie. [So what is the point here again? To show that Esperanto could have chosen some other morphosytactical alignment, even though any choice might work? And in actuality, nominative-accusative is the more common system.]

Ranto Appendix - S


Many Esperantists have a weird model of political neutrality.  English is considered an unacceptably partisan choice as International Auxiliary Language because it's closely associated with (if not original to) the USA, while Esperanto is considered neutral because it isn't a national language (that is, the principal language of a nation-state), it's the language of a harmonious and open community.  That sounds sensible enough until you compare it to other world-wide standards such as S.I. units, which became international by becoming national for more than one nation; the neutrality Esperantists value so highly (just like its small-town friendliness) is the mark of a failure.  After all, if the EEC had adopted Esperanto as its lingua franca in the seventies, Belgium would by now be full of eurocrats claiming it as their native language; wouldn't that make Esperanto just as politically unacceptable as English for an Asian interlinguist?

Besides, Kurdish isn't a national language either, but that wouldn't make it a politically neutral choice as a global auxlang.  Nations aren't the relevant question; what matters is the power-balance between existing speakers and new learners, and that's mostly dependent on how the learners are organised.  There are obvious reasons why people might be wary of adopting the tongue of the current coca-colonial superpower, but that isn't the only option – here in the UK we have our own independent standard dialect, and India and Ireland have versions with quite different geopolitical associations.  None of these countries maintain Language Academies full of Grammar Police, and even if they did you'd be at liberty to set up a new standard dialect of your own.

(Please note: using English to point out the holes in Esperantist propaganda is not the same thing as advocating World English – if I knew all my readers spoke Spanish, I'd choose different examples…)

How would it be possible for a global social-engineering project like Esperantism to be politically neutral, anyway?  Stalin and Hitler didn't think it was; they saw international communication as a dangerous thing and interlang organisations as conspiracies of dissent.  What, you disagree with the policies of Stalin and/or Hitler?  Fine, but that means you're abandoning any claim to political neutrality…

As a further illustration, consider one of the irregularities in Esperanto's word-building system.  The names of nations such as Austria or Belgium are formed from the word for an inhabitant, using the <-ujo> container for suffix:

But most countries outside Europe are handled the other way round, using the <-ano> member of suffix:

The situation is obscured by rampant irregularity – e.g. <Svislando> is inhabited by <svisoj>, whereas <Irlando> is inhabited by <irlandanoj>; and to top it all off <-ujo> is normally replaced by <-io> in modern Esperanto.  But ignoring all that: why the big split between countries like Austria and countries like Australia?  Wouldn't a single system have worked everywhere, so that Austrians are (say) <austrianoj>? [This too is an actual problem of Esperanto, but you can solve it right now by never using aŭstro and friends, and using instead the (perfectly correct) aŭstriano and the like.]   Zamenhof's insistence on going the long way round shows the influence of the political worldview in which races are elementary units and nation-states are natural homelands for single ethnic groups (each with its own unique culture and language) – a doctrine that was all the rage in pre-WW1 Eastern Europe, or indeed apartheid-era South Africa [but which we can easily abandon right now without changing a single rule of the language].

Ranto Appendix – T


Faced with the charge that the design of Esperanto's grammar is parochial, the nearest thing Zamenhof's apologists have to counter-evidence is the fact that Esperanto's morphology was avowedly influenced by agglutinative languages such as Turkish rather than the fusional model dominant in Europe.  What this means is that where Italian verbs have endings such as <-ai>, which signals past-tense-first-person-singular in one indivisible blob, the Turkish equivalent is <-d-im>, where the <-d-> marks the tense and the <-im> carries the person agreement.  It was recognised well before Zamenhof came along that this makes a better groundplan for the morphology of a constructed international auxiliary language, since it avoids the need to memorise combinatorial tables of grammatical endings.  In Zamenhof's neighbourhood this groundplan was represented by Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian – all predominantly agglutinative, though they look very europeanised when put alongside other examples such as Korean, Luganda, or Quechua.

Zamenhof eagerly adopted the concept of discrete invariable building-blocks; but there are two kinds of block – derivational, used to build new vocabulary items, and inflectional, used to signpost syntactic features.  It's mostly the derivational affixes that Esperanto links together in long but regular chains, as in the compound noun <te-krucho-mufo-kolekt-ist-ar-ejo> tea-pot-cosy collectors' club-house.  The inflectional ones never get much beyond <ekzil-it-o-j-n> exiles – and even there the <-ojn> is designed to merge into a single unit.  In effect Esperanto is like a version of German with its affixes de-fused, not like a paradigmatically agglutinative language.  A whole-heartedly Turkish-style auxlang would handle all the various modal, reflexive, conditional, or aspectual forms of verbs by stacking verb-endings, so that (for instance) I won't have been seen, <mi ne estos vidita>, would instead use perfective, passive, future, and negative suffixes to form something like, say, <mi vid-iv-at-ur-en>. [Not all agglutinative languages are made equal. Esperanto is less prone to agglutination for grammatical purposes – so what?]

The third major option (which has influenced Esperanto's verbal system there) is the isolating groundplan, which consists of eliminating affixes (re-straight-en-ed) in favour of multiword phrases (did make straight again).  It turns out that a case can easily be made for thoroughly isolating solutions being more convenient for more people:

[Very good points. And I confess I have a soft spot for Glosa. But in isolating languages, you usually have to put elements in compounds in a fixed order, so that the resulting blocks can be treated as single words, and then you're back to something quite close to agglutination. It is worth noting that in Esperanto, most affixes can be used as independent words (with the proper word-class ending), bringing it even closer to isolating languages in terms of morpheme usage.]

The natural equivalent of the artificial auxiliary language is the creole (which is what a sub-linguistic pidgin turns into once children start growing up as native-speakers); they are designed by the innate preference babies have for a complete but easily learnable grammar, and they tend overwhelmingly to use isolating rather than agglutinating groundplans.

(And for the sake of completeness I should also mention the fourth basic groundplan: polysynthetic grammars are exemplified by the West Greenlandic one-word sentence <ininnukalaarniarlungaana>, the thing is, I'm going to my room for a bit… but this is rarely proposed as a model for an auxiliary language!)

Ranto Appendix – U


Zamenhof gave Esperanto one strikingly unnatural feature – the <-a -e -i -o -u> endings (see Section G), superficially resembling the sets of thematic vowels in Latin- or Russian-style declensional systems.  Forcing words into this pattern may add that little bit of extra distortion to the roots, but it was intended to serve three purposes:

  1. Class-Marking – if all nouns end in <-o> this makes it easier for learners to find their way around a sentence.

    Now, this part did work to some extent.  Unfortunately… listeners don't benefit from a rule that <-i> marks an infinitive and <-o> marks a noun if they can't tell the marker vowel from any other I- or O-sound.  After all, sentences are heard as streams of noises, rather than as sequences of discrete words. [That's what stress is for: to help determine word boundaries.]  Sure, readers can see the spaces between words… but if it was just for readers, what was wrong with the old German trick of capitalising nouns?  Besides, all the little words learners need most help with are left outside the system: <ili> is the pronoun they and <maltro> is the adverb too little.

  2. Class-Switching – any given root can take any one of the endings, reducing the number of separate dictionary entries required: a verb can become an adjective, or a noun can become an adverb, without retaining any trace of its history.

    Unfortunately… this radically artificial approach has unpleasant effects.  For a start, a single noun may be associated with more than one adjective – take for instance the roots <viv-, sun-, dent->.  As nouns they mean life, sun, tooth, but the adjectives are ambiguous in each case between pertaining to and richly supplied with the noun (biotic/lively, solar/sunny, dental/toothy).  Even when the class-switching could work neatly, it often doesn't: compare the relationship between <timo> fear and <timi> to feel fear with the supposedly parallel behaviour of <nauzo> disgust and <nauzi> to inspire disgust.

  3. Class-Abstraction – the roots themselves are classless, so there's no need to memorise whether <viv-> is basically a verb, noun, or whatever.

    Unfortunately… as soon as anyone else looked at this scheme, it became apparent that it simply didn't work.  The only way Zamenhof's morphological shambles could be sorted out was by abandoning the doctrine of class-abstraction and declaring a basic category for each root in the dictionary.  Thus for instance <bros-> (brush) is inherently a noun, while <komb-> (comb) is inherently a verb – <kombo> means an act of combing, and the meaning tool for combing requires the compound <komb-ilo> (no, <ilo> and <ili> aren't related).

    Most unfortunately of all, this attempt to break and reset Esperanto's backbone was implemented as a quick fix, with as few detectable alterations to the published grammar as possible, rather than as an honest attempt to eradicate the problem.  Many of my Esperantist correspondents have themselves been unaware of these retrospectively imposed cryptoclasses – they aren't mentioned at all in Teach Yourself Esperanto, despite their effects on the meanings of affixes.  For example, <-ad> on a verb-root implies a long-running process, such as <tern-ado>, constant sneezing, while on a noun-root it forms an ersatz verbal noun, such as <kron-ado>, a (single) crowning.

And thus Esperanto has wedged itself between the two stools of naturalism and regularity.  People familiar with Romance languages often expect the <-a> ending in <mi estis la tria> (I was the third) to signal feminine agreement, which of course it doesn't.  But the word <tria> isn't underlyingly an adjective-root [but it is a derived adjective ("third")], and isn't here modifying a noun [it is modifying a "null argument" (i.e., it is standing in place of an argument; this is common in Romance), as discussed before], so why does it get an <-a>? [Because it is an adjective. And, that's the way you derive an ordinal from a cardinal. Not particularly esoteric.]

Ranto Appendix – V


Which of Zamenhof's mistakes was stupidest?  A lot of his decisions were clearly the result of forgivable ignorance – he was after all working before linguistics as a science really existed.  The phonology; the word-classes; the relative pronouns… there are plenty of mistakes to choose from.  But when it comes to picking the stupidest, it's not a very hard decision.  Two of the leading candidates as I see it are as follows:

However, since these two stupid mistakes interact, we have a single clear front runner:

As usual I welcome feedback: any dissenters with alternative candidates for Zamenhof's Single Stupidest Mistake should check out my mailbox.

Ranto Appendix – W

[Nothing to add here.]


Just for light relief (this page doesn't claim to be a serious critique!) here are some accidental by-products of Esperanto's neat snap-together word-building system: words that can be interpreted in either of two unrelated ways.

Esperanto Meaning A Meaning B
<acheto> a purchase a contemptible little thing
<alterni> to alternate to sneeze at
<avaro> avarice a group of grandfathers
<dieto> a diet a minor deity
<dignagho> age of dignity a swim in a dike
<ekstero> an exterior a former world
<elfaro> an accomplishment a group of elves
<filino> a daughter dirty linen
<galero> a galley a drop of bile
<kolego> a colleague a big neck
<kukurbo> a pumpkin a city of cakes
<lavenda> lavendery in need of cleaning
<lekanto> an oxeye daisy someone licking
<marmito> a casserole a sea-tale
<modulo> a modulation a fashionable guy
<paperaro> a ream of paper a papal mistake
<persono> a person a sounding-out
<pretenda> pretend needing to be ready
<rapido> speed a turnip-sprout
<regula> regular aristocratic
<revido> re-seeing child of a daydream
<sardino> a sardine a Sardinian woman
<sentema> sensitive without theme
<sukero> sugar a drop of juice
<urino> urine an aurochs cow

These are just the ones I thought were most worthy of rescuing now that Geoff Eddy has taken down the longer list he used to maintain.  And for the benefit of those who insist I justify mentioning them, I'd better emphasise that I am not presenting them as evidence that Esperanto has more such ambiguities than English – they're just funny!

That said, misinterpretable English words like unless aren't strictly comparable, because a natural language is defined by the usage of its native-speaker community; the conjunction derived from the Middle English expression <on lesse> may look like a synonym for more, but that's not what it means.  It's only artificial languages that are defined by the prescriptive grammarbooks they're learned from; for them, if the rules allow a coinage <fi-lino> (literally shameful flax) then that word's as legitimate as any.  Oh, and the mis-division problem is not inevitable in a constructed language; for a start, hyphens could be compulsory.

Ranto Appendix – X

[Nothing to add here.]


Propagandists for Esperanto seldom turn out to be well informed about the ordinary languages of the world (especially outside Europe).  That's always a pity, but there are some particular cases that I wish my correspondents would read up on instead of launching straight into spiels about the unique greatness of Esperanto.

  1. There was one man in the nineteenth century who was inspired with the original brainwave of constructing an artificial international auxiliary language (using a regular, supposedly simple grammar, a macaronic lexicon, and a pseudo-agglutinative morphological groundplan).  Some people thought this was brilliant, and started evangelising to persuade everybody in the world to learn it.  They met with little success; it struck the few members of the wider public who noticed it as laughable.  But its supporters rejected any suggestion that they were backing the wrong scheme.

    Yes, I'm talking about Volapük, created in 1879 by the Reverend J. M. Schleyer.  It's the only prominent competitor to Esperanto that I would be prepared to agree is a worse design.  When the auxiliary language movement abandoned it there was a surge in membership – demonstrating that there's nothing wrong with changing horses in midstream when the one you're flogging is dead.  And since then, any number of more sophisticated designs have become available.  You aren't using a computer built from Charles Babbage's blueprints, so why would you want a nineteenth-century prototype auxiliary language?

  2. Only one of the languages Zamenhof knew went during his lifetime from being a dead tongue artificially taught from grammar books to being a genuinely living one, with a millions-strong community using it as their everyday medium of communication.  This singular success story was due largely to the work of one individual language-planning fanatic born in a Tsarist Russian province in the 1850s.

    I am of course referring to Hebrew.  Before it was resurrected through the efforts of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, it had spent 2000 years as the cultural interlang of the polyglot Jewish diaspora, working quite adequately as an international auxiliary language even though it was stone dead (with no mothertongue speakers).  Mind you, the Zionists themselves were more fluent in European languages like German, so the Hebrew they brought up their children in was a rather westernised version.

  3. Millions of people in the world today use as their primary medium of communication something that started as a constructed language, deliberately developed within the last couple of hundred years.  Indeed, the largest such language is bigger than most of the world's natural languages, showing that an artificial origin is no handicap as long as people have a solid practical reason for adopting it.

    Yes, I'm talking about Chinese Sign Language.  It may have been fully developed only in the late 1950s, but don't make the mistake of thinking sign languages for the deaf are somehow not real languages!  CSL has a flexible, powerful grammar, a well stocked vocabulary, and a community of native speakers several million strong.  Runners-up include American Sign Language and Indo-Pakistani Sign Language.

  4. Sometimes it's argued that the big problem with adopting an existing language as an international auxiliary is that nobody wants to be a second-class citizen speaker.  But if that's really the objection to World English, how about an alternative that's about as close as you can get to English in its core syntax and vocabulary, though with, for instance, a simpler inventory of vowel distinctions (only half as many as my own native dialect)?  One whose speakers are never going to be in a position to mock you for having a non-prestige accent, failing to use proper grammar, or forgetting some absurd spelling rule?

    Naturally, I'm referring to Scots.  It's just like English, but those nasty Americans don't speak it, and it has no official standard form, either spoken or written!  Or you could pick a creole with a handful of speakers and a flavour of the Pacific, like Pitcairnese.  Yet such options have never attracted any interest, because outside their local region nobody ever needs to learn them, and most of the world's population will never learn a language unless it's necessary.

Ranto Appendix – Y

[Not much to add here. The Fundamento apparently is very imprecisely worded. But if you let go of being pedantic and accept that the language is defined by the way its speakers use it (as is the case with natural languages), and that there is a consensus in the community as to how the Fundamento is to be interpreted, its ill-wordedness ceases to be a terrible problem.]


But, surely, Justin – you must be aware that there's an official source for all the answers about Esperanto grammar:

L.L. Zamenhof
GRAMMAR (English version)

Some people (like the authors of Teach Yourself Esperanto) claim that the sixteen rules in this document constitute a comprehensive grammar of the Esperanto language.  Others realise how ludicrous that idea is, but say it's the list of all the untouchable rules Esperantists aren't allowed to modify.  That doesn't make much sense either, since some of the early reform proposals that were rolled into a single political football and kicked out as Ido would have been perfectly compatible with it… still, whatever it is, I personally used to see it as a barrelful of fish which it wouldn't be sporting to wheel onto the firing range.  However, by popular request:


The rules start not with Rule 1 but with an entire unnumbered Section, which sets out in somewhat approximate terms what the funny letters mean.  Enshrining this in a specification document implies that unlike, say, Cornish, which is still Cornish no matter how you spell it, Esperanto must be written in this prescribed orthography.  If you use Elvish Tengwar, it's not Esperanto any longer.  But let's skip over that lunacy and proceed with:


…which mostly deals not with defining the lexical categories of Esperanto but with taking them for granted and describing how they inflect.

1. There is no indefinite, and only one definite, article, la, for all genders, numbers, and cases.

Some translations of this document add a footnote here saying that Esperanto's use of articles is just like French or German, but foreigners who have problems can simply not use them.  That's a myth; when you're struggling to understand what a French Esperantist is saying, the information conveyed by <la> may be vital.  If it was an ornamental nonsense-syllable, it would be crazy to waste a sixteenth of the ruleset on it!

2. Substantives are formed by adding o to the root.  For the plural, the letter j must be added to the singular.  There are two cases: the nominative and the objective (accusative).  The root with the added o is the nominative, the objective adds an n after the oOther cases are formed by prepositions; thus, the possessive (genitive) by de, "of"; the dative by al, "to", the instrumental (ablative) by kun, "with", or other preposition as the sense demands.

One moment Esperanto has only two cases, the next it has as many as it has prepositions – they're just spelled the same as the nominative.  If you imagine this is merely an attempt to explain Esperanto grammar to speakers of English in terms of features neither language has, you're forgetting that these rules are definitive: they say Esperanto has a dative case, so it's heretical to deny that fact!

E.g. root patr, "father"; la patr'o, "the father"; la patr'o'n, "the father" (objective), de la patr'o, "of the father"; al la patr'o, "to the father"; kun la patr'o, "with the father"; la patr'o'j, "the fathers"; la patr'o'j'n, "the fathers" (obj.), por la patr'o'j, "for the fathers".

Because apparently we need to be shown examples of how to stick an <n> onto a word, but its function can be explained by repeating the label objective.  And the prototypical noun is an intrinsically male word. [Now the use of patro is an evident example of sexism. Perhaps we should stop talking about fathers at all?

Surprisingly, Rye let escape another inaccuracy in the text of the Fundamento: the rule says that the accusative is formed by adding "n after the o". So, where goes the plural marker?]

3. Adjectives are formed by adding a to the root.  The numbers and cases are the same as in substantives.

If dative case-marking is indicated the same way on adjectives as it is on substantives, by adding the word <al>, that means to a white ship is <al blanka al shipo>, right?

The comparative degree is formed by prefixing pli (more); the superlative by plej (most).

Oh no it isn't – prefixing would give <pliblanka>, whiter!  Esperanto does use prefixing in, for instance, <malpli>, less, but the above is a botched attempt at a word-order rule (the only one on the list): adverbial modifiers like <pli> and <tre> (very) precede the word they modify.

The word "than" is rendered by ol, e.g. pli blanka ol negho, "whiter than snow".

Why is it only French and Russian readers who are told about the preposition <el>, used with superlatives?  Are the rules different for them?

4. The cardinal numerals do not change their forms for the different cases.

Okay, so numerals are a separate PART OF SPEECH from the articles and substantives and adjectives.  Never mind case just now, what are their pluralisation rules?  After all, the forms <dekoj> and <centoj> occur in the Esperanto text of this rule! [Of course, dekojand centoj are derived nouns: "tens" and "hundreds".]

They are: unu (1), du (2), tri (3), kvar (4), kvin (5), ses (6), sep (7), ok (8), nau (9), dek (10), cent (100), mil (1000).

This isn't a random vocabulary lesson, it's an exhaustive list, and zero isn't on it.

The tens and hundreds are formed by simple junction of the numerals, e.g. 533 = <kvin'cent tri'dek tri>.  Ordinals are formed by adding the adjectival a to the cardinals, e.g. unu'a, "first"; du'a, "second", etc.

The versions of Rule 4 diverge here.  The Esperanto edition reiterates the agreement rules for adjectives, while the others go on like this:

Multiplicatives (as "threefold", "fourfold", etc.) add obl, e.g. tri'obl'a, "threefold".

If only the ordinals had been given an affix of their own, instead of being misclassified as the adjective forms of the cardinals, words like triple or threefold could just have been different adjective senses of the root <tri>. [Either choice would be arbitrary.]

Fractionals add on, as du'on'o, "a half"; kvar'on'o, "a quarter".

Thus <tridek duonoj>, thirty halves; <tridek-duonoj>, thirty-seconds; <tri dek-duonoj>, three twelfths; fractions are regular nouns.  It's only the integers named above that are indeclinable: add a thousandth, a thousand, and a million is <adiciu milonon, mil, kaj milionon>.

Collective numerals add op, as kvar'op'e, "four together".  Distributive prefix po, e.g., po kvin, "five apiece".

That's a clone of the Russian preposition <po>, not a unique prefix deserving of its own special mention.

Adverbials take e e.g., unu'e, "firstly", etc.

Those are the specifically ordinal adverbs, which is why the cardinal adverbs ended up in sidings like <kvarope>.

5. The personal pronouns are: mi, "I"; vi, "thou", "you"; li, "he"; shi, "she"; ghi, "it"; si, "self"; ni, "we"; ili, "they"; oni, "one", "people", (French "on").

If you want to say people, why not stick to that word?  You'd save on special exceptional pronouns, and avoid the collision with <oni>, to be fractional!

Possessive pronouns are formed by suffixing to the required personal, the adjectival termination.

So when Rule 2 said possessives were formed with <de>

The declension of the pronouns is identical with that of substantives.

Oh, so the root with the added <o> is the nominative, then for the plural, the letter <j> must be added?

E.g. mi, "I"; mi'n, "me" (obj.); mi'a, "my", "mine".

Note that mine.  Like ordinals, Esperanto possessive pronouns can occur in the role of verbal arguments (as in English: mine was the first), so their adjectival endings make no sense.  What they really are is determiners [isn't the fact that they can ooccur by themselves evidence that they are not just determiners?] – see K2.

6. The verb does not change its form for numbers or persons, e.g. mi far'as, "I do"; la patr'o far'as, "the father does"; ili far'as, "they do".

A poor choice of example-word, since <fari> is never an auxiliary verb and do is rarely anything else.

Forms of the Verb:
+ The present tense ends in as, e.g. mi far'as, "I do".
+ The past tense ends in is, e.g. li far'is, "he did".
+ The future tense ends in os, e.g. ili far'os, "they will do".

Tense-marking is fetishised; aspect-marking is marginalised.

+ The subjunctive mood ends in us, e.g. shi far'us, "she may do".
+ The imperative mood ends in u, e.g. ni far'u, "let us do".
+ The infinitive mood ends in i, e. g. fari, "to do".

If these are all moods, why is the subjunctive dressed up like a tense?  Can't a verb be simultaneously past and subjunctive?

There are two forms of the participle in the international language, the changeable or adjectival, and the unchangeable or adverbial.

One of the strangest delusions Esperantists persist in subscribing to is the notion that Esperanto is the international language. [The original name of the language is "international language".] In reality it wasn't even the first constructed auxiliary language to acquire an international following (see Xa)… but I still get emails denying the existence of any other international language.  From foreign countries.  In English.

+ The present participle active ends in ant, e.g. far'ant'a, "he who is doing"; far'ant'e, "doing".

If it meant He who… it would be a noun phrase.  And DOING is probably used as a sound-effect more often than as an appropriate translation for <farante>!

+ The past participle active ends in int, e.g. far'int'a, "he who has done"; far'int'e, "having done".
+ The future participle active ends in ont, e.g. far'ont'a, "he who will do"; far'ont'e, "about to do".

Rather than have a separate element to indicate tense, which could be emphasised when tense was relevant or omitted when it wasn't, he's built it in three times over, once as a verb-ending, again as part of the active participles, and yet a third time for passives.  Unless we're meant to think of <-is>, <-int->, and <-it-> as sharing a morpheme <-i->… in which case, why does it also turn up to mark infinitives?

+ The present participle passive ends in at, e.g. far'at'e, "being done".
+ The past participle passive ends in it, e.g. far'it'a, "that which has been done"; far'it'e, "having been done".
+ The future participle passive ends in ot, e.g. far'ot'a, "that which will be done"; far'ot'e, "about to be done".

If the present participle construction adds some sort of progressive-aspect element, how do I form a non-progressive passive?  If on the other hand <ili faras> and <ili estas farantaj> mean exactly the same thing, why do I need to learn two different ways of saying it?

All forms of the passive are rendered by the respective forms of the verb est (to be) and the participle passive of the required verb; the preposition used is de, "by".

Wasn't that the marker for the possessive (genitive) case?

E.g. shi est'as am'at'a de chiu'j, "she is loved by every one".

Remember how he definitely did and the father does while she only may do?  Remember how the active participles mean he who?  Whereas now she happens to be the one used as the canonical example of passivity… [...]

7. Adverbs are formed by adding e to the root.

Except that we've already met one adverbial modifier that ends in <i>:

The degrees of comparison are the same as in adjectives, e.g., mi'a frat'o kant'as pli bon'e ol mi, "my brother sings better than I".

Speak of the devil.  Once again the male relatives hog the limelight. [This gets tiresome. Is Esperanto gender-asymmetric? Yes. Is this a problem? Yes. But by the point you cannot even speak of males without being accused of sexism, we have a serious problem.]

8. All prepositions govern the nominative case.



That's all the PARTS OF SPEECH finished – if Esperanto has any conjunctions, they're a secret.

9. Every word is to be read exactly as written, there are no silent letters.

Here we go again with the writing-system rules.

10. The accent falls on the last syllable but one, (penultimate).

The only piece of information about Esperanto phonology that gets to be counted as an official numbered rule.

11. Compound words are formed by the simple junction of roots, (the principal word standing last), which are written as a single word, but, in elementary works, separated by a small line (').

Not only is this yet another rule wasted on prescribing how the language should be written down, it's a rule that more or less nobody has ever been seen to obey!  What's more, each translation has its own conflicting version; the French edition for instance says the small lines are standard (but optional in correspondence with fluent speakers), while the Polish shows them as slashes and gives no explanation.  Any readers hoping that the Esperanto edition might be authoritative, or at least elementary, sorry: it neither uses nor mentions them!

Grammatical terminations are considered as independent words.  E.g. vapor'ship'o, "steamboat" is composed of the roots vapor, "steam", and ship, "a boat", with the substantival termination o.

Thus in <vaporshipoj> the plural-marker grammatical termination <j> is the principal word.

12. If there be one negative in a clause, a second is not admissible.

Asking Doesn't this get us nowhere? is forbidden!  Incidentally, one of the dullest non-answers I get to my criticism of the mandatory case-, number-, and tense-inflection systems is that redundancy can be useful.  Of course it can.  But the rest of the time it's useless.  That's why I say to make it optional, and let users decide how much of it they need.  Meanwhile, here's Zamenhof explicitly outlawing a popular form of redundant marking, instead of telling us anything about how negation does work!

13. In phrases answering the question "where?" (meaning direction), the words take the termination of the objective case;

Somebody must have told Zamenhof that where to? was bad grammar.  This construction isn't restricted to answering questions, though – indeed, it can be asking one:

e.g. kie'n vi ir'as? "where are you going?";

Look, there's an <-n> in that question there, attached to the <kie>… a representative of an entire family of words that aren't covered by these rules!

dom'o'n, "home"; London'o'n, "to London", etc.

Answering this question with a plain placename would be dangerously ambiguous, of course – unlike where did you come from?, where it's perfectly safe…

14. Every preposition in the international language has a definite fixed meaning.

Indeed, some are blessed with several – <de>, for instance, which as well as being a possessive or sometimes agentive marker also happens to have the bonus definite fixed meanings from and since.

If it be necessary to employ some preposition, and it is not quite evident from the sense which it should be, the word je is used, which has no definite meaning;

Wait, what?  So, uh, this <je>… is it a preposition in the international language?  And how exactly would I detect such a necessity?

for example, ghoj'i je tio, "to rejoice over it";

That it being an unlisted pronoun.  (Oh, it's not a personal pronoun, like <ghi> is?  Sure, that makes sense.)

rid'i je tio, "to laugh at it"; enu'o je la patr'uj'o, "a longing for one's fatherland".

Well done managing to cram <patr> back in again there.

In every language different prepositions, sanctioned by usage, are employed in these dubious cases,

No, many of the world's most important languages don't even have prepositions.

in the international language, one word, je, suffices for all.  Instead of je, the objective without a preposition may be used, when no confusion is to be feared.

Oddly, the Esperanto version of this text allows for <-n> only as an accusative or dative marker and says nothing about it standing in for an imaginary preposition that means nothing in particular!

15. The so-called "foreign" words, i.e. words which the greater number of languages have derived from the same source, undergo no change in the international language, beyond conforming to its system of orthography. -- Such is the rule with regard to primary words, derivatives are better formed (from the primary word) according to the rules of the international grammar, e.g. teatr'o, "theatre", but teatr'a, "theatrical", (not teatricul'a), etc.

No change is a blatant lie; for instance, quasar becomes <kvazaro>, conveying neither the sound nor even the spelling of the original.  Come to that, nor is it true that these are so-called foreign words – it's recent acquisitions we call foreign, not Middle English ones like theatre.  But Esperanto doesn't have any older, native vocabulary!

16. The a of the article, and final o of substantives, may be sometimes dropped euphoniae gratia,

That's for the sake of euphony – as I'm sure we all agree, Esperanto is improved by any reduction in the amount of it that's spoken.

e.g. de l´ mond'o for de la mond'o, Shiller´ for Shiller'o;

I'd have thought the more important consideration was that Friedrich von Schiller pronounced his name with one [l] and no [e].  And this performing-arts theme is odd, given that Zamenhof's background was in ophthalmology rather than musical theatre. [Who does he think he is to speak of Art?! He's a mere doctor!]

in such cases an apostrophe should be substituted for the discarded vowel.

So as well as unpronounced and unwritten small lines, Esperanto has these almost indistinguishable apostrophes too!  But where does the stress go on <Shiller´>?  And how are these silent characters not prohibited by Rule 9? [Answer: they are not letters.]

Now, what's missing from these sixteen commandments?  Well, almost anything about the phonology, derivational morphology, or syntax… it would take about as many rules again just to get the kind of basic overview I'd want to see in the front of a tourist phrasebook.

Ranto Appendix – Z

[Left here only for completeness. Nothing to add here.]


1997: now that I'm getting traffic from reputable centres of constructed language expertise like Mark Rosenfelder's I'd better admit that I can't claim to be infallible – I haven't even managed to find an up-to-date Teach-Yourself!  So mail me – I'll post acknowledgements for corrections; or short specific rebuttals (adding appropriate HTML markup without interpolating smartarse editorial comebacks); or links to other sites for extended counter-arguments.

1998: meanwhile (07-Feb-98) my fellow Edinburgher Geoff Eddy has his own bones to pick with Esperanto [now accessible only via the Wayback machine].

Wael Al-Mahdi (gulfgc, at batelco, a com in bh), 09-Feb-98:

From the outset, I'd like to make it clear that I am not an enthusiastic Esperantist.  I always try to be objective.

Your critique is indeed convincing in some points, but perhaps you were a little too extreme and subjective in your attack on Esperanto and Zamenhof.  I think your section on phonology is especially convincing.  But I still think that you've been too… well, too harsh.  It seems you completely ignored all the good points in Esperanto.  I myself think it is a beautiful language, flexible and simple.  But I don't see any good in Zamenhof's idea of Esperanto being an international language.

Thanks to [the late] Don Harlow (01-Mar-98) for pointing out that Polish-born Polish-speakers aren't necessarily Polish.

De Francesco Amerio (f.amerio, che agora, stm en it), 30-Apr-98:

Mia kara,

mi ghojas konstati, ke vi havas ideojn malsamajn ol miaj: la mondo estas bela char ghi buntas!

Sed, mi petas, ne devigu min uzi vian lingvon: mi studis ghin nur dum kvin jarojn kaj mi apenau kapablus per ghi mendi kafon!!

Bonan laboron!

1999: the latest fashion is for blanket accusations of factual inaccuracy, backed up either by no examples at all or by a handful of hopelessly debatable points.  The odd part is that these usually turn out to be things I only introduced into my page at the insistence of other Zamenhofites who dictated them as urgently needed corrections!

2000: my ability to participate in 1.5 MB email marathons has been limited lately; but I am still reading my inbox, and I'm grateful to all the friendly pedants, helpful Esperantists, and others who have made critical contributions behind the scenes.

2001: to save embarrassment I should warn people hoping to disguise their affiliations that newsgroup posting histories are easy to check…

2002: after a succession of unusually dumb contributions I'm beginning to regret my policy of never quoting people without their permission, but it still holds: if you want me to publish your comments, say so explicitly!

Davor Klobucar (davor.klobucar at ht.hr), 29-Aug-2002:

Even if there are things in Esperanto that could be improved, this is not a reason to reject Esperanto.  Even now Esperanto is good enough.  This good enough means that the language is already very easy to learn, and its structure is already very good and regular.  And its sound is as good as the sound of any other language.

Let's first study it, talk it, write in it.  Let's first make it live among many millions of speakers.  This is what the Esperanto community has already been doing for more than a century, and a lot of this is done well.  Then, when its future is stable, we may discuss changes, but systematically, with much care and in a well organized way.  Even Zamenhof said that was possible.  But until then, Esperanto is developing.

I have done much in/for/about Esperanto.  But if another one language would appear, being as easy to learn and belonging to no particular nation, and if that language would have enough strength, money and speakers, then I would be glad to forget my dear Esperanto, and join that new language.  But the chance is almost zero, because any new language probably has a lot of problems to solve from the time of its childhood to the time of its maturity, which Esperanto has already done.

What is essential, is the principle, not the particular language.  And what is even more important, is to have even today one living language such as Esperanto, at least to show to the world the possibility of such languages and the value of the idea itself.

2003: feel free to mirror this rant elsewhere, but if you're going to take an obsolete edition (complete with nineties recently modified markers), mangle it through Microsoft Front Page, and then display it as if I was endorsing your thoroughly dodgy-looking IAL scheme, then I'd appreciate it if you would at least refrain from claiming you owned the copyright.  (No link, because they don't deserve the googlejuice).

Dumb Fanatic Cultist (sic; nydube@yahoo.com AKA indoyug@hotmail.com AKA esperado@wp.pl…), 03-Oct-2003:

Hello, you rude, obnoxious, arrogant, uncivilized, racist troglodyte! […] How dumb am I? […] I coordinate a project concerning civil society and legislative reform in Central and Eastern Europe. As part of my job, I travel abroad several times a year to attend conferences, make presentations, and meet leaders of the non-governmental sector as well as parliamentarians, supreme court justices, and legal experts. […] In my 8-page reply (which was returned as undeliverable), I noted […] that much of your critique involves stating how things are in this or that language and then pointing out that Esperanto does it differently – as if that proves how bad Esperanto is! […] Yes, Esperanto has its share of oddities, irregularities, and inconsistencies, but they are minor compared to the merits of the language. […] All told, I've travelled to 35 countries on 3 continents. Where have YOU been, you stupid barbarian??? […] Don't bother replying – your email will be deleted without being read.

Judge his intelligence for yourselves from the fact he's let me quote him like this.  In all he sent eight of these long-winded hodgepodges of boilerplate propaganda and irrelevant egomania, most of which were identical apart from variations in source address and message format (at least I got him to stop attaching them as MS-Word documents).  Apparently he imagines this is going to convince me Esperantists aren't Dumb Fanatic Cultists… well, I know some of them aren't.

2004: lately I've been deluged with new global auxiliary language proposals consisting purely of reformed orthographies for English…

2005: typically, after eight years of bogus corrections from zealots who've only read the first Section, it's a non-Esperantist who has spotted the typo in the first sentence!  Białystok has either a C or an Ł, not both… so thankyou david.marjanovic [at] gmx.at.  Thanks also to Christopher Culver, who warns not to trust claims that the use of Esperanto would help to protect national languages.  In fact this has been a particularly good year for sane and polite correspondents… so I'd better apologise in advance for this Halloween SpecialAny similarity to actual languages, living or undead, is purely coincidental.

2007: just to show cluelessness isn't confined to the pro-Esperanto camp…

Clay Shentrup, 14-May-2007, writing under the Subject line Esperanto sucks:

I've been learning Spanish over the last two days, and […] I'm going to start piecing together something better, called parolim (pahr-O-leem) tentatively.  I want it to be a project based on always finding the coolest sounding (but also appropriate) roots, and going from there.

My suggestion that it might help to have some basic knowledge of topics like, say, syntax met with incredulity:

If I think of how I'd describe a concept like Mary just came into the room and undressed in front of me…awesome!, I can just engineer the manner in which objects, descriptors, and actions work together in my language to express such a concept.  I know how I'd say it in English, which is a handy starting point – a way of seeing how such a thing has already been done, so I'm not starting from scratch.  I don't even need to know a language to make my own – it just makes it easier.

And then he insisted I should quote him on this.

2008: an Esperantist correspondent has provided a link for FAQ question (i) – thanks!

The text from the Ranto is Copyright © 1997-2013 Justin B. Rye.
The added preface and commentary is Copyright © 2013 Vítor Bujés Ubatuba De Araújo.
This document is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0.