Later On

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Archive for the ‘Esperanto’ Category

A Tale of Two Tongues: English and Esperanto

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Stephanie Tam writes in The Believer:

I. THE ISLANDER 

Ever since Orlando Raola was a boy, he harbored a curiosity that stretched across the seas. Growing up in Havana, Cuba, in the 1960s, he perused the encyclopedia sets of his elementary school and pressed his ear to his shortwave radio to listen to programs on Radio Sweden. Always, he wondered what lay beyond the horizon.

“Having been born on an island, and being an islander by nature, I always had this great curiosity: What is beyond the sea?” Orlando told me. “What is the world out there? I understood early that the only way to communicate with humans is through language, and I was interested in many different cultures.”

Of all the cultures out there, he developed a special fascination with those of the European Nordic countries, compelled by exotic visions of snow-capped mountains and blue-eyed Swedes. In 1981 he joined the Swedish Institute, a public agency devoted to promoting interest in Sweden around the world. Eventually, he decided to learn the language, and the institute shipped him a package containing dictionaries, cassette tapes, reading material, and textbooks.

As he sifted through the contents of the box, he felt overwhelmed. His heart sank as he realized the magnitude of time and effort it would require for him to master Swedish. He would study for years and years—and then what? He would be able to speak to a small sliver of the world. True, he found Swedish culture fascinating. But he was also curious about the cultures of Japan, Hungary, and China.

“Do I have time to learn all of these languages?” he asked himself. “No, there won’t be time.” Sitting amid the piles of books and cassettes, he realized something. What he longed for was not just any language, but a universal language: one that would connect him not just to one people, but to the whole of humanity.

“That day,” he recounted with a slight smile, “that’s the day I became an Esperantist.”

II. THE DREAM OF A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE

The dream of a universal language traces back millennia. One of our oldest stories about the origins of linguistic difference, the tale of Babel, is recounted in Genesis, the first book of the Torah. In it, men seek to build a tower that reaches the heavens: a rebellion of cosmic dimensions. To stop them, God scatters them into many nations and tongues across the earth. At its heart, Babel is an origin story about human miscommunication—language as a symbol for that which divides us. [1]

The history of universal languages tracks what its inventors believed divided humanity throughout the centuries. In the thirteenth century, the Catalan mystic and poet Ramon Llull developed a language that he believed would convert “infidels” to God’s truth. In his book Ars Magna, he designed a system of disks that could be rotated to combine theological concepts and generate 1,680 logical propositions by which the enterprising missionary might transcend linguistic barriers. (His eventual death at the hands of the Saracens suggests that the infidels felt otherwise.)

During the Enlightenment, the German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz also attempted to create a logical language that transcended words. He planned to create a universal language out of symbols and equations that could not only perfectly mirror the mechanics of human intelligence but also calculate new knowledge and resolve disputes, which has led some to believe that his philosophy of mind and language anticipated artificial intelligence. “This language will be the greatest instrument of reason,” he wrote in The Art of Discovery in 1685. “….When there are disputes among persons, we can simply say: Let us calculate, without further ado, and see who is right.”

Each effort to create a language intelligible to the whole of humanity was informed by its creator’s understanding of what could allow or impair communication—conversion, heathenism; rationality, irrationality—and a desire to solve the problems that proliferated among our “natural” languages. In other words, language has always evolved as both a bridge and a barrier.

III. THE OPHTHALMOLOGIST AND THE EDUCATOR

One hundred years before Orlando Raola despaired in front of his box from the Swedish Institute, a young ophthalmologist by the name of Ludovik Lazarus Zamenhof looked with anguish at the rampant anti-Semitism ravaging his hometown of Białystok. Born as a Jew in the Russian Empire in 1859, Zamenhof was acutely aware of the forces that threatened to tear apart the fabric of his society—rising nationalism, ethnic divisions, the formation of nation-states—and that would eventually draw Europe into the first of two world wars.

Zamenhof had grown up believing that all people were part of the same human family, but when he looked around his neighborhood he saw only tribes divided by language. “In Białystok the inhabitants were divided into four distinct elements: Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews; each of these spoke their own language and looked on all the others as enemies,” he recalled. “….the diversity of languages is the first, or at least the most influential, basis for the separation of the human family into groups of enemies.”

In his teens, Zamenhof began work on a language that could serve as a bridge for all cultures. His creation would eventually become known as Esperanto, the world’s most successful “constructed” language. Zamenhof wanted his international language to be easy to learn, so he created a simplified grammar consisting of sixteen rules. There are no gendered nouns—no feminine moon or masculine sun, as is the case in French. Each word ending indicates its part of speech: all adjectives end in a, all nouns in o, all adverbs in e. For instance, Eŭropo (Europe)is the noun; Eŭropa (European)is the adjective. To make a noun plural, one simply adds j to the end of the root; there is also an accusative case, in which words end in n (Eŭropon). That’s about all the rules when it comes to nouns.

Unlike in English, verbs do not change for person or number, and there is only one ending, -as, for verbs in the present indicative: for example, mi estas (I am), vi estas (you are), li/ŝi/ĝi estas (he/she/it is). Verbs do conjugate for present (-as), past (-is), and future (-os) tenses, unlike Chinese and Indonesian, which rely mostly on context. The spelling is phonetic, with each letter corresponding to a single sound—in contrast to many natural languages, which often disappear consonants from words as their pronunciation evolves, like poignant and Worcester in English.

As a universal language, Esperanto was intended to be unaffiliated with any particular nationality or ethnicity. Zamenhof compiled nine hundred root words primarily from Indo-European languages: German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Russian. These could in turn be used to create new words, in a compound structure similar to those of languages like Chinese and Turkish. The word for steamship, for example, is vaporŝipo = vapor (steam) + ŝip (ship) + (noun ending). In this way, vocabulary can be built up from the base of root words with suffixes and affixes: for instance, the verb manĝi (to eat) + the suffix –aĵo (a thing) = manĝaĵo (food). A truly “neutral” language was beyond this well-intentioned polyglot creator (Zamenhof learned nearly a dozen languages over the course of his life), given his European origins and influences; its phonology is essentially Slavic, and its vocabulary derives primarily from Romance languages. But Zamenhof succeeded in creating a language that was simple to pick up. [2] One study among Francophone children found Esperanto an average of ten times faster to learn than English, Italian, or German.

In 1887, Zamenhof published his language manifesto in a Russian-language pamphlet under the pseudonym DoktoroEsperanto(“Doctor Hopeful”). He referred to his creation simply as the “lingvo internacia” (“international language”). Eventually, though, it came to be known by the name—or, in this case, pseudonym—of its inventor: Esperanto.

Behind Esperanto’s humble linguistic LEGO blocks lay a vast vision. “La interna ideo de Esperanto…,” Zamenhof declared in 1912, “estas: sur neŭtrala lingva fundamento forigi la murojn inter la gentoj…” The core idea of the language was a neutral linguistic foundation to facilitate communication between peoples: in other words, it was intended to create world peace through mutual understanding. The idea was not for Esperanto to supplant natural languages, but to work alongside them as an auxiliary language to bridge nations. The global establishment of this “interna ideo” would be the “fina venko”—the final victory—and the undoing of Babel.

As for Doktoro Esperanto himself, he ceded its evolution to the public, inviting others to take the language into their own hands: “From this day the future of the international language is no longer more in my hands than in the hands of any other friend of this sacred idea. We must now work together in equality… Let us work and hope!”

Even before Zamenhof set to work on Esperanto, the foundation was being laid for a different sort of world language. In 1835, Thomas Babington Macaulay delivered a treatise on Indian education that would have lasting repercussions for the spread of the English language in the British Empire. Macaulay had witnessed the struggles of a small number of British administrators to govern a massive local population. As chairman of the East India Company’s Committee of Public Instruction, he emphasized the need for his fellow colonialists to “form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern—a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.” He supported his argument with glowing praise of the English language and an equally flamboyant savaging of Sanskrit literature:

It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit [sic] language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England. In every branch of physical or moral philosophy, the relative position of the two nations is nearly the same…. The claims of our own language it is hardly necessary to recapitulate. It stands pre-eminent even among the languages of the West.

For Macaulay, the English language was a way to inject Englishness into the minds and hearts of colonial subjects. Like Zamenhof, he had a vision for language, but it was not of bridging ethnic divisions; it was of building empire. In 1820, the Prussian philosopher and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt had articulated a view of language as the activity that shaped an individual’s and a nation’s Weltansichten: “The diversity of languages is not a diversity of sounds and signs but a diversity of the views of the world.” However, this was no diversity of equals. Humboldt, like most of his European contemporaries, believed . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

See also on this page the section “Language Learning with Esperanto” for more information on the language and resources for learning it.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2021 at 10:35 am

Esperanto Scrabble tiles

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At last. They also have sign language tiles (Australian, British, and US) and Aurebesh.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 November 2020 at 9:08 pm

Posted in Games, Esperanto

Mi sukcesis!

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Wow. Finally (or finfine as we say esperante). Still, I’m far enough along now to see how much farther I have to go. But at least I’m free of the course which I admit left me a little burned out toward the end — but close enough to the end, though, that it was pretty easy to suck it up and carry through.

The next step is the start reading things not part of a course. I’ve ordered one of Sten Johansson’s novels (Skabio) and will try that.

I have mentioned how I was from time to time aware of how my adaptive unconscious would come into play. This short video explains it well, I think. The video talks about skills other than learning a language, but any skill — a skill being acquired through practice — draws on the power of one’s adaptive unconscious.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2020 at 1:16 pm

Esperanto frustration, followed by advance

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The triggering event

Yesterday I was struggling intensely with Esperanto, feeling angry, frustrated, and depressed and came close — very close —  to quitting altogether. The triggering incident was my effort to grasp a distinction that Esperanto makes and English does not.

I find it relatively easy to accept the reverse situation, when English makes a distinction that Esperanto does not. For example, English distinguishes between “that” (restrictive subordinate conjunction) and “which” (nonrestrictive coordinate conjunction). Esperanto seems to lack such a distinction, though (for me) it’s a useful convention, helpful to the reader.

But when Esperanto makes a distinction that English does not, I find it much more difficult because I can’t “grasp” it in some internal way. I felt like a Flatlander struggling to understand the nature of the visiting Sphere (which the Flatlander sees only as a circle that mysteriously changes size). The (two-dimensional) Flatlander cannot get his head around an entity that exists in three dimensions.

I struggled to understand the distinction between “dum” (meaning, in the specific instance, “during” — “dum” can also mean “while”) and “en” (meaning, in the specific instance, “in” — “en” can also mean (for example) “into” when its object is in the accusative).

I had done a translation exercise with the prompt “In June my expenses were too high.” The obvious translation is “En junio miaj elspezoj estis tro altaj,” which I imagine you can readily understand since it’s a word-for-word substitution. But I didn’t want the obvious translation, so I wrote “Dum junio miaj elspezoj estis tro altaj.”

Duolingo marked it wrong (as I thought it might), and in the item-discussion forum I asked whether my formulation was not also correct, since “During June my expenses were too high” seemed to me equivalent to “In June” etc.

After considerable discussion and reading of references and struggling with answers that I didn’t understand and mulling it over, both consciously and not, for several hours, I finally grasped that, in Esperanto, “in” June means strictly at various times during the month, whereas “during” June means continuously (or at least continually) during the month.

“Mi ludis ŝakon en junio” means I played chess at some time(s) during the month of June, and “Mi ludis ŝakon dum junio” means I played continually for the entire month. Here’s a continuous example: “Mi restis ĉe mia onklo dum junio” (I stayed with my uncle (continuously) during June).

In English, the distinction can be glimpsed, but the distinction seems muted and visible only in some instances. I do see that “In June I stayed with my uncle” does not mean the same as “During June I stayed with my uncle,” but “During June I overate several times” seems perfectly fine (as a sentence, not as a practice). But while I may be perfectly fine in English, it’s unacceptable in Esperanto, which is much more careful than English in distinguishing continuous vs. intermittent actions over a given time period. In Esperanto, one can say “En junio mi tromanĝis kelkfoje” but to say “Dum junio mi tromanĝis kelkfore” is incorrect — and now that I’ve internalized the Esperanto distinction, the second version feels wrong, where the English “During June I overate several times” feels fine.

The frustration

I was so frustrated and depressed by my inability to understand what was wrong with my proposed wording that I was ready (and gearing up) to quit. I would have walked out on the spot (as it were) except that I have only 5 skills left in the Duolingo course (all but one partially completed) and just 5 days from completing a six-month (180-day) streak. I thought I should at least persist until then to wrap it up, but I was ready to quit altogether.

This particular event was the culmination of a frustrating period. For the previous two or three days I had constantly been making errors in my Duolingo sessions — stupid errors like getting the tense wrong, or using a singular where a plural was needed (or vice versa), or using the accusative when it was wrong and failing to use it when it was right. I was even making frequent typos. I felt I couldn’t get anything right, and struggling to understand what was wrong in my proposed answer brought my frustration to a head.

I was obsessing about it so much that I woke up around 3:00am and posted in the Duolingo item discussion a lengthy note about my frustration and my inability to grasp why my answer was wrong. Then I returned to bed and went to sleep.

The advance

I slept late, and when I awakened I lay quietly in bed and lazily thinking about a scene, describing the scene to myself Esperante, and I was surprised to find that I could go on at some length fairly easily. It felt like (say) skateboarding along smooth pavement and seeing obstacles ahead in plenty of time to alter my direction and avoid the obstacles — no running into things and even no last-minute hasty moves to avoid things.

Specifically: mi pensis pri aŭtuna tago, kiam la arboj estas buntaj, kaj mi promenis laŭ pado sur kio flavaj folioj kuŝas dise. — that’s one part of what I was thinking. (“I thought about an autumn day, when the trees were multicolored, and I walked along a path on which yellow leaves lay scattered.”)

Another analogy: I as though I were skiing downhill, gliding along with little effort, not going anyplace in particular, enjoying the motion and smoothly and easily avoiding trees and rocks without having to think about it.

This sequence — frustration, sleep, new skill — strikes me as similar to how an infant, old enough to get around easily and quickly on hands and knees, shows great frustration and anger just prior to learning how to stand up and walk. It seems that, just before achieving a new level of skill, one hits an emotional low point. “It’s darkest just before the dawn” comes to mind.

This morning the anger and frustration that last night filled me to bursting have drained away, and I’ve been enjoying my increased ease in expressing myself in written Esperanto.

Moral: Persist. When you’re feeling frustrated, depressed, and angry, recognize that as a promising sign. Those feelings augur a breakthrough to a new level of understanding and skill. Feel good about feeling bad.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 October 2020 at 12:29 pm

When you absorb without listening: Esperanto progress

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Part of what I enjoy about learning Esperanto, beyond the language itself, is observing the changes in me as I learn. I blogged earlier about a two-week sinking spell at around four months in, and how as that passed I realized that I “suddenly” could much more easily understand the spoken Esperanto phrases that Duolingo presents.

Today I experienced another change. I wasn’t really paying (conscious) attention as a sentence was spoken, but when I went to type what I heared, it played back in mind effortlessly.

Formerly I had to pay careful conscious attention, and make an effort to remember each word. This time I didn’t pay much attention at all, but the words were absorbed. The adaptive unconscious has been learning and is now pitching in to relieve my conscious mind of some of the burden.

It feels odd — along the lines having lifted a weight repeatedly and then finding that someone has substituted a styrofoam replica.

This doesn’t mean that every sentence is so easily absorbed, but this was the first and the experience is already becoming more common.

Note, however, that this is my 172nd consecutive day of doing lessons daily:  the skill is acquired at the speed of growth, not the speed of insight. Training a neural net takes time and many examples — but once it’s trained, it is surprisingly effective.

This is probably a good time to mention again Timothy Wilson’s book Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 October 2020 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Education, Esperanto

Alex Miller briefly explains what Esperanto is — and why

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 October 2020 at 11:11 am

Posted in Esperanto, Video

A brief guide to the accusative in Esperanto

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Lee Miller is the author of this overview, which I found in a Facebook post quoting him. It struck me as useful and succinct.

In Esperanto, the accusative does several things. These are the main ones:

1. It marks the direct object of a verb. (The thing which is being acted upon – so the thing being eaten, or read or had etc)

Mi havas katon.
Mia kato havas katidojn.

2. It indicates movement towards (not movement in general).

La kato saltas sur la tablon.
Mi vojaĝis norden.

3. It marks expressions of measurement (weight, length, time, distance, height, etc.)

Mi aĝas 68 jarojn.
La konstruaĵo estas 40 metrojn alta.

4. It marks points or periods in time.

Mi alvenos lundon.
La parado okazos la sekvan tagon.

5. It marks a number of customary greeting and other expressions.

Saluton.
Dankon.
Bonvenon.
Sanon.

The accusative isn’t optional. In places where you need it, you have to use it. But it also isn’t random. Don’t just throw -n endings in without a reason.

Note that in 2 (the accusative of direction) one result is distinguishing whether “en” means “in” or “into” (since those two English words differ in meaning):

La knabo kuris en la ĉambro. = The boy ran in the room (i.e., running around inside the room).
La knabo kuris en la ĉambron. = The boy ran into the rooom (i.e., from outside the room).

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2020 at 9:45 am

Posted in Esperanto

Good Esperanto channel on YouTube

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Take a look at the brief videos on Alex Miller’s channel. Many are introductory videos covering basic words and ideas, generally with excellent mnemonics. (Alex is an actor, and I imagine that actors have a toolbag of mnemonics given that they must memorize much material.) The videos have become more ambitious of late. Here’s the channel’s home page.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 September 2020 at 9:52 am

Posted in Esperanto, Video

Time spent in learning a language

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I got to thinking about the amount of time I’m spending in my Esperanto studies (which interest me much more than other ways of spending a lot of time — for example, poker), and I realized that I spent a lot of time learning English, though it was spread across years and even decades — and even now I occasionally learn some small thing to add to the heap of accumulated knowledge.

I mentioned how in elementary school and junior high I would spend hours with a dictionary, look up the definition of a word, then looking up the words in the definition that I didn’t know. When I read the (wonderful) book Scaramouche, by Rafael Sabatini in the 7th or 8th grade, I had to go to the dictionary constantly, sometimes four or five times in a page.

And that’s just vocabulary. There’s the mountain of knowledge and experience one must accumulate to develop good grammar, style, and fluency. I was 31 before I learned that it’s better to use “so” rather than “as” following a negative: “it’s as good as it gets, but not so good as I like.” That came from reading a remark by Walter Lippmann, and after that I spent hours in reading and working through The Reader Over Your Shoulder (see this post).

So though it feels as though I’m spending a lot of time now on Esperanto, it’s a small fraction of the time I spent in learning English. And for me it’s more satisfying (albeit occasionally frustrating) that other pursuits to which some people devote huge amounts of time — golf springs to mind, a game that I’m told carries with it some substantial amount of frustration in addition to the enjoyment it provides.

So while there’s a lot left to learn, I should note that I am making progress and faster progress than I enjoyed in learning English. It’s just that learning a language to the level of reflex is inherently difficult and also requires a fair amount of time for the brain to rewire itself, setting up the new connections. Just as learning to play the piano takes more than a few months of practice, so does learning a language.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Esperanto

An observation on learning a language

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I’ve noticed that certain Esperanto words and phrases have progressed from being known to being familiar — like moving from being an acquaintance whom you recognize to being a friend whom you know. These words I no longer translate in my mind since now for me they carry their own meaning: I know them and what they are.

Such words are still, of course, a minority: many more words are mere acquaintances, some of whom I’ve just met and barely recognize, and an even greater number of words I have yet to meet at all. But daily I gather more words to me, and a few more move into the friendship circle.

Occasionally I find I need to build a word. Here’s an example: A person close to me has a practice of tasting a meal and then setting aside a small portion — a mouthful — that incorporates the best tastes of the meal. For a breakfast, that might be a small bit of buttery egg-soaked toast with a little square of bacon. The idea is to choose the taste(s) that end the meal and that you take with you.

This small portion is called the “last bite.” In Esperanto, “mordi” means “to bite,” and thus “mordo” is a bite, but the action of biting rather than the contents — it’s “bite” in the sense “the horse took a bite at me.” The suffix -aĵo means a concrete manifestation of the root, so a “mordaĵo” refers to what is bitten off, the content of the bite rather than the act.

Literally, then “last bite” would be “lasta mordaĵo” or “fina mordaĵo” (“last” = last, “fina” = final), but that doesn’t really capture what’s going on. After all, everyone’s meal ends with a final bite, generally involving no conscious selection and rarely having set aside that bite early for the specific purpose of its being the final taste, the Last Bite.

I came up with “restigata mordaĵo” The verb “resti” means to stay or remain (not the English “to rest” — that’s “ripozi”), and the suffix -igi means “to cause to.” That suffix functions as a switch to turn an intransitive verb into a transitive verb.

So “restigi” is transitive and means “to make (something) remain/stay.”

Kiam mi iras al mia laborejo, mi restigas la hundon hejme.
When I go to my workplace, I make the dog stay at home.

(“-ejo” is another suffix, meaning “place where” (related to the root). “Labori” means “to work,” so “laborejo” is the place where word happens: the workplace.)

The Esperanto present passive participle of a verb (any verb — no irregular verbs in Esperanto) is indicated by a suffix, -ata (for the adjective form). So “restigata” describes something that has been caused to remain. “Last Bite” = restigata mordaĵo.

Update: I’m told that “mordaĵo” refers to a bite taken out of something — e.g., a bite from an apple — and not a bite-size quantity. So referring to food on a plate as mordaĵo has a connotation that it is food that was bitten off and then put onto the plate (not an appetizing idea).

Perhaps “buŝkvanta porcio” would serve better: a mouth-sized portion (literally, a mouth-quantity portion). I’m pretty happy with restigata, however.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 September 2020 at 10:14 am

Posted in Esperanto

Five months of Esperanto

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I just passed the five-month mark of daily study, and I feel it’s starting to come together. One thing that has helped is my fairly extensive revision and extension of the content of the Aniki “cards” (their terminology is “notes”) that I study. (This effort is not particularly onerous since I revise only the cards for the current day. Gradually, over the coming months, I’ll get around to all cards, but doing a few a day seems the best approach.)

I began doing this with the Kontakto deck (see this post — the update describes the process), but I now do the same thing with my own deck, “1 Daily Words.”I enter the basic word and also words derived from or related to it, so I get a cluster of words related to some idea.

As I describe in the linked post, I used Lernu.net’s dictionary, but I find more and more that I’m using the online Plena Ilustrita Vortaro (PIV). It offers many more derivatives, more detailed definitions, and examples of the words in use.

Of course, since it’s totally in Esperanto, a definition often includes one or more words I don’t know, so I look those up, and so on. It brought back memories of doing this in elementary and junior high school, when I would spend hours tracking things down in the dictionary.

Update: It occurs to me that I could not have comfortably done this at the start. One reason the word clusters are comfortable is that so much in them is recognizable: standard affixes, standard endings, common words I already know — for example, the words below are easier because I recognize “brak” (brako = arm), bebo (baby), el = out of and ĵeti = throw, faldi = to fold, and feki = to shit. /update

Example: “seĝo” means “seat, chair.” On the Esperanto side the note now reads:

seĝo
aposeĝo, brakseĝo
beboseĝo
elĵetseĝo
faldsegô
fekseĝo

And the English side:

seat, chair
armchair
baby seat, baby chair
ejection seat (in an airplane)
folding chair
potty seat

That particular card is from the Kontakto deck and those derived words are all from PIV.

As a result of my growing vocabulary, I now can read — albeit somewhat haltingly — Esperanto in actual use (not as an exercise). Right now I am reading things in an issue of Belarta rikolto (“Fine-arts harvest”). Augmenting the words shown in the Anki decks has definitely helped. And — of course — when I encounter new words in Belarta rikolto, they (along with derivatives) go into “1 Daily Words.”

I’m getting close to the end of the Duolingo course and will finish it within the next two-three weeks. I’ll then continue my studies using resources listed in this post.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2020 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Education, Esperanto

A better Mazi en Gondolando: The original, a full feature — plus the sequel

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Earlier I blogged a  short Esperanto video, which turns out to be a small segment of this original, just enhanced with CGI. But the original has its own charms, plus it’s a full-length feature. And you actually can learn quite a bit of Esperanto just by watching the two (Mazi in Gondolando and the sequel Mazi revenas al Gondolando. So, for your edification and enjoyment, here they are:

And the eagerly anticipated sequel:

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2020 at 10:25 am

Posted in Esperanto, Video

An example of why learning Esperanto as a first foreign language is helpful

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Learning a new language presents certain intrinsic difficulties — a new vocabulary is an obvious example. But it has been said that if you want a horse to jump a fence, make the fence as low as possible — that is, remove or reduce barriers to the action you want.

So if you simply want to learn a new language, pick one with the fewest barriers. For example, one that has no irregular verbs or complicated tenses; one that does not require you to learn the gender of each noun; one that provides tools to make it easier to learn vocabulary; one whose grammar is simple, regular, and free of exceptions to the rules.

Esperanto has all that, but there remain essential and intrinsic difficulties, and one reason Esperanto works so well as a first foreign language — being relatively easy to learn and (important point) makes learning subsequent languages easier — is that because the rest of the language is easy, you can focus on the intrinsic difficulties and learn how to attack those.

In effect, Esperanto offers a good environment for learning how to learn a language.

One common difficulty for beginners is wanting to say something — a specific sentence — and not knowing one of the words in the sentence. The difficulty diminishes as your vocabulary increases, of course, but it also diminishes as the student learns how to rephrase the thought using the vocabulary he or she already knows. Rather than simply getting stuck, students fairly quickly learn how to workaround the gap in their knowledge.

Another difficulty is when you know the foreign word for an English word (e.g., “kuri” in Esperanto means “to run” in English), and then use the word in contexts where the sense is very idiomatic.  Lee Miller offers some examples in the Duolingo group on Facebook. He writes:

In English, forms called “phrasal verbs” are used all the time. These are expressions formed of a verb plus a preposition, that yield a unique meaning.

A recent thread about the different meanings of the word “run” made me think it’s important to point out these phrasal verbs, because when you’re learning Esperanto vocabulary very often the literal meaning of the verb in English doesn’t apply.

Consider:

run aground
run along
run behind
run down
run out
run over
run short
run together
run upon

If you translate any of these sentences, the Esperanto word “kuri” is not going to be involved:

The ship ran aground.
I need to run along.
I’m running behind.
My clock ran down, and I’m feeling run down.
I ran out of energy.
The car ran over a board.
We had enough, but now we’re running short.
All his words run together.
I ran upon an interesting article yesterday.

Always think about “What does this sentence or phrase mean?” instead of “What does each of these individual words mean?”

Another example, not a phrase: “He’s running a temperature?” I would definitely not use “kuri” for the verb. (Verbs are trick: if you want to say “that clock doesn’t work” in Esperanto, the verb would not be “laboras” (works) but “funkcias” (functions — “works” in an idiomatic sense.)

As you practice Esperanto, you develop a sense of phrasing that is not literal — you become aware of when you using words beyond their literal meaning — and that helps you focus on the actual content of the thought you’re trying expressed and not mired down in a word-by-word translation that will be confusing to a non-English speaker.

Once you become sensitive to the traps and errors that idiomatic English presents, you can carry that into your next foreign language: the skill (and knowledge) is transferable, and since you already have it (from having studied Esperanto), you can save time and effort that you’ll need for (say) mastering the various conjugations and irregular verbs of the next language you learn. In this way, learning the next language after learning Esperanto is easier because you can use skills and knowledge you have already gained.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2020 at 12:17 pm

Posted in Education, Esperanto

Universal Soldiers: The Individuals Keeping the Esperanto Language Dream Alive

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Mike Rampton writes in Mental Floss:

For a language meant to serve as a means of universal communication, Esperanto is frequently—and ironically—misunderstood. The most popular constructed language in the world was created in 1887 by L.L. Zamenhof, an ophthalmologist by day and passionate polyglot by night. He came up with the Esperanto language by cherry-picking features from other tongues he had studied that could, in theory, be learned and mastered by everyone. But this is where the misunderstanding comes in.

Zamenhof had no desire to replace anything. The erroneous idea that everyone would speak Esperanto instead of their native language is what leads to it easily being dismissed either as a hippie-dippie utopian dream or a scary desire for a monoculture. However, the whole point of Esperanto is that it’s an auxiliary language—a second language for everyone speaking it.

“I don’t doubt that there have been one or two zealots over the years who have said something daft, but it’s never been the case that Esperanto is supposed to be the one and only language,” Tim Owen, director of the Esperanto Association of Britain (or rather, Esperanto-Asocio de Britio) and co-author of Teach Yourself: Complete Esperanto, tells Mental Floss. “Person X and Person Y have a chat in Esperanto, then go back to using their own language once the meeting is concluded.”

A universal second language allows for people from different cultures to communicate on an equal footing without one having to learn the other’s language, and in the process removes any unfair advantage the native speaker might have. There are no Esperanto monoglots, and someone raising a child to exclusively speak the language would be misguided at best. Rather, the central idea of Esperanto has a lot in common with positive changes people are trying to bring to the modern world.

“I suspect that most people who invest time and energy in learning Esperanto today are probably sympathetic to the idea of people not being different on the basis of where they’re from, the language they speak, or the color of their skin,” Owen says. “However, they’re not under the illusion that Esperanto will become the international language which brings about that realization to the world.” . . .

Continue reading. The includes the full-length Esperanto movie starring William Shatner.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 August 2020 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Esperanto

Less/fewer, much/many, and more — English v. Esperanto

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Esperanto makes a more precise distinction in pouring than does English:

verŝi – to pour a liquid (e.g, oil or water)
ŝuti – to pour a non-liquid (e.g., sugar or salt)

English uses “to pour” in both situations, though in the case of discrete particles, beyond a certain particle size “to dump” replaces ” to pour:

sugar – poured
marbles – poured
Lego pieces – poured or dumped
bricks – dumped
cinderblocks – dumped

That’s an approximation, of course, but as particle size increases at some point in English we stop pouring and start dumping. In Esperanto, however, the distinction is made right at the start.

In contrast, in English we distinguish less (amount) and fewer (count), whereas Esperanto uses “malpli” for both. Of course, many in English take the Esperanto approach and use “less” even when “fewer” is needed: “10 items or less” is not an uncommon sign.

What’s odd is that even those who can’t make the less/fewer distinction usually have no problem using “much” and “many” correctly. They don’t say “How much cards do you want?” Distinguishing amount and count is easy with “much” and “many,” so why isn’t it equally easy “less” and “fewer”?

I think it may be because the opposite of “less” is “more” (except for those tiresome people who insist the two are the same: if I hear “Less is more” one more time, I’ll frown), and the opposite of “fewer” is also “more.” We request both “more water” and “more bricks” when we have less water and fewer bricks than we need. And we never say that one can’t have “too many water” or “too much bricks.”

Using “more” for both amount and count confuses the issue for the deficiency words (“less” and “fewer”).

Esperanto has “pli” for “more.” The prefix “mal-” converts a word to its opposite — “amiko” = friend, malamike = enemy, “ami” = to love, “malami” = to hate — so “malpli” is the opposite of “more” — namely, less or fewer, depending on context. Thus in Esperanto, it’s evident that it’s the word for “more” that blurs the distinction that less/fewer offers.

Esperanto also does not distinguish “much” and “many”: “multa” is used for both. In Esperanto, you can indeed have “tro multa akvo” and “tro multajn brikojn.”

Still, it strikes me as odd that less/fewer is a problem for many English speakers who have no problem with much/many.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 August 2020 at 7:19 am

Posted in Esperanto

A couple of particles in English and Esperanto

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In thinking about this (fascinating) article by John McWhorter, I had an insight. I was taught in elementary school that “to do” means “to accomplish” and in learning later languages encountered their verbs that seemed always to include one that meant “to make or do.” 

But the English “do” is weird, as that article points out, and I was struck by two uses of “do” as a particle.

First, “do” as a particle that, when prefixed to a declarative statement, converts it to an interrogative. In this use, “do” transforms the declarative “You like cats.” into the interrogative “Do you like cats?”

I was struck by this because Esperanto has a particle that does the same — “Ĉu” — and in Esperanto it is not assigned  a specific word meaning. The student is informed only that “ĉu” is used to convert a statement into a question: “Vi ŝatas katojn” is the declarative statement, “Ĉu vi ŝatas katojn?” is the corresponding question. The dictionary entries would look like this:

vi = you (pronoun, second person)
ŝatas = likes (verb, transitive)
katojn = cats (plural)
ĉu – and here I quote directly from an Esperanto-English dictionary: “Used for introducing a question” [note that no specific word meaning is offered]

Somehow I had not realized that “do” as an interrogative particle isn’t connected with “accomplishing” anything. Like “ĉu” it functions only to make the statement a question, with no specific meaning in itself.

Spanish, FWIW, doesn’t use a word (or word order) at all. Instead, Spanish relies on punctuation:

Te gustan los gatos. – You like cats. (literally, cats are pleasing to you)
¿Te gustan los gatos? – Do you like cats.

Word for word the same, the interrogative nature being conveyed purely by punctuation (or tone of voice if the statement is spoken), and not by words or word order.

German, in contrast, relies purely on word order (and, of course, tone of voice if the statement is spoken — I suppose all languages are to a degree tonal, some (Cantonese) more than others (English)):

Du magst Katzen.
Magst du Katzen?

It would be interesting to go through various languages (via, say, Google translate) to see how they handle the declarative/interrogative conversion.

Sanskrit

Second, “do” as a particle to convey emphasis. “Do” converts the simple statement “You like cats” into the emphatic statement “You do like cats.” Again, “do” has no connection to accomplishment and no specific meaning in itself. It serves only to add emphasis.

Esperanto has a particle “ja” that serves exactly the same function: “Vi ŝatas katojn” is the simple statement, “Vi ja ŝatas katojn” is the emphatic version. Again, no specific word meaning is needed, only the observation that the statement is now emphatic. (In fact, an Esperanto-English dictionary does offer specific word meanings — “surely, indeed, rather, certainly” — but it equally well might have said only “Used to add emphasis to a statement” with no specific word meaning assigned.

What is now evident to me is that in these uses “do” (and “ĉu” and “ja”) don’t really have a meaning in the way that most words have a meaning. Rather, they (in effect) change the ambiance of the sentence — as in a play the lighting makes the same stage content appear this way or that, warm or bleak, comforting or jarring. The lighting is part of the play, but quite a differt sort of part than the actors or the dialogue or the props or the action.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 August 2020 at 6:48 am

Posted in Esperanto

Four months of Esperanto and I now know enough to have an idea of how much I don’t know

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I’m now four months into Duolingo’s Esperanto course, augmented with Anki flashcards and some additional reading. Although I’ve learned a fair amount in terms of both knowledge and skills — as an instance, I can now quite often transcribe a dictated Esperanto sentence after listening to it once, though certainly I struggle occasionally. The typical problem is that I miss where one word ends and another begins, so that I am trying to “hear” as a word a sound that belongs partly to one word and partly to another — or, conversely, I’ll hear a word not as a whole but separate the sounds and try to figure out the separate words they represent. This is a good example of how our knowledge and understanding shape what we hear.

I went through about three weeks recently when I was doing the absolute minimum, but then I regained energy and interest and am again plugging away happily, though now well aware of how much more there is to learn and master. Still, I can often translate a sentence easily. (Tamen, mi often povas traduki frazon facile.) These tips from Duolingo can help you if you also hit a sinking spell — and they are good as a prophylactic against that.

I have not completed Duolingo’s Esperanto course, but the end is in sight. Then I’ll complete Lernu.net’s course and the Jen Nia Mondo course (free download, PDF of text along with audio files). And I’ll then move on to general reading and podcasts.

For an overview of resources I’ve found and am using, see this post.

Anki update

I now use four Anki decks. I did use several more, but I have gotten from them what I needed (and completely finished some decks), so these are the decks now in use:

1 Esperanto Daily Words” — this is my own deck and I add to it words that I come across and don’t know — “lutro” (otter) is the most recent. It’s useful because is is specific to me and my knowledge and needs. The prefixed “1” is because Anki sorts the decks in alpha order by name, and I wanted to set the sort order for the four decks I use. I have begun adding to each card a substantial number of related and derived words, as described in the update below. I used Lernu.net’s dictionary for this initially, but I’m finding that more and more I use the online Plena Ilustrita Vortaro (PIV).

2 Esperanto from Wikipedia” — that’s how I renamed “Esperanto to English ordered by Wikipedia Usage Frequency v1“, using the “2” prefix to specify sort order. I renamed it also because in the list of my active decks it appeared simply as “Esperanto” and I wanted to remind myself of the source.

3 Esperanto 101 from Kontakto” — original name was “Esperanto 101,” and the deck description includes “This deck contains all must-have basic Esperanto root words as suggested by the editorial team of the magazine Kontakto,” thus my renaming: to remind me of the source.

4 Esperanto 1000 Most Wanted Words” — original name was “EO 1000 Most Frequently Occurring Words.” The description notes:

This deck uses the Frequency Database of Vjaĉeslav Slavik Ivanov found here: http://slavik.babil.komputilo.org/frekvencvortaro-ofteco.html . It contains just over 1,000 of the most frequently used words found works, whose original was written in Esperanto, together their English translations. The English translations come from J. C. Wells, Esperanto Dictionary, and the Plena Vortaro de Esperanto.

Problem fix for Esperanto 101

I did find and fix a problem in “Esperanto 101.” Most cards in that deck include in the answer (the “back” of the card) a list of related words, but when I went to edit a definition (which I do fairly often, generally to expand the definition), I noted that there were related words in the card (as viewed in the editor) that did not show up when the answer was displayed.

I looked at some cards that did show “related words” in the answer (“bak” of the card) and compared them to cards that did not, and spotted a difference. In the Edit view, the Back Template (which defines the display for the “answer” part of the card) did not include some text found in the cards that did display related words. It seemed that if that text were missing, the related words failed to display.

I copied that text from the Back Template of a good card (one that did show related words) into the appropriate spot in the Back Template of a bad card (one that did not show related words). Specifically, I copied from the good card’s Back Template the phrase:

[br][br]Related: {{Related words}}

Note: To display this line in this post, I had to use square brackets around “br” instead of angle brackets. You should actually use angle brackets, as you will see in the Edit view of the card.

I copied that text and pasted it into the Back Template of a bad card, putting it immediately (with no spaces) before:

[br][br]Sample: {{Sample usage}}

(Again, I’m using square brackets here because WordPress doesn’t display content enclosed by angle brackets.)

Making that change in one of the bad cards seemed to fix them all, presumably because they all share the same Back Template.

UPDATE: Enhancement for Esperanto 101

The cards for this deck present a single prompt (either Esperanto or English), and then when you view the answer you often will see “Related words.” I worked through the deck (slowly, just revising the cards I was presented with each day) to put all the related words in the prompt and answer.

For the Esperanto prompt, I listed the root word first — Lernu.net shows clearly in parentheses the root word along with the affixes used in deriving other words — for example, one card from this deck has “akvo” and “water” and, in “Related words”

enakviĝi – to get into the water

I use Lernu.net Esperanto to English vortaro and enter “akv” to see the list of words with that root:

  • akvi (akv·i ← akv·o)
    • to flush, to rinse, to water, to irrigate
  • akvo (akv·o)
    • water
  • akva (akv·a ← akv·o)
    • watery
  • akvero (akv·er·o ← akv·o)
    • drop, drop of water
  • akvilo (akv·il·o ← akv·o)
    • watering can

Clearly the root word is “akvo”, so I revise the Esperanto prompt to be:

akvo
akvi
akva
akvero
akvilo
enakviĝi

For the English portion, I enter the definitions from above. I delete “enakviĝi” from “Related words” since is is now a part of the regular prompt.

This revision of the deck, little by little, has greatly strengthened my grasp of vocabulary. If I am uncertain about whether a verb is transitive or not, I look it up in PIV, which not only tells me that but also often reveals more derived words I can add to the card and provides examples of the words as used.

Update to this update: I don’t think I could have comfortably used this technique when I first began. One reason the word clusters are comfortable is that so much in them is recognizable: standard affixes, standard endings, common words I already know. As a result, a new word cluster offers many well-known handholds to make the climb easier now. /update

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2020 at 11:35 am

Esperanto version of a Sesame-Street-like program

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2020 at 8:53 am

Posted in Esperanto, Video

More about writing — in English or in Esperanto

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My ideas often develop slowly, emerging over time, like the gradual growth of a crystal in a solution of mineral salts. In this post from yesterday, I wrote about how we express ourselves in our native language (for me, English) by drawing from a large mental storehouse of stock words and phrases — Lego blocks of language, which one snaps together to convey a thought or describe an experience. The stock words are our vocabulary and the stock phrases are those often used that flow easily from our tongue or pen (or keyboard).

Often those stock phrases are but an approximate match and it’s not always easy to find the best fit in phrasing — or even the right word. Mark Twain commented, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

This storehouse of stock phrases and stock constructs — not merely idioms (“we’ll paint the town red”) includes also stock ideas — ideas that we’ve learned and worked through, ready for quick retrieval when they fit (or come close to fitting) what we are trying to say. (Such ideas, alas, include not only things rationally worked out (e.g., the products of small whole numbers) but also prejudice and bigotry that come to mind without conscious effort.)

One example of a word and its accompanying idea, present in the mental stockpile of many movie fants, is “McGuffin” (sometimes “MacGuffin”). The word itself is due to Alfred Hitchcock, but the idea is older. A McGuffin is the physical entity that drives the plot and pushes the characters into action. The story is the story of the characters — their hopes, dreams, fears, thoughts, words, actions, and relationships, what they are as people — and the McGuffin (and its pursuit) serves as the catalyst to bring each person’s character into high relief so that we can see it.

The canonical examples are the Maltese Falcon (from the movie of that name) and the wine bottle of suspicious sand in “Suspicion,” but once you understand the idea of a McGuffin, you see it in many movies: it’s the eponymous stone in “Romancing the Stone,” it’s the treasure in “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”

And the idea of a McGuffin can be generalized beyond a physical object. For example, in “Friday Night Lights,” a television series ostensibly about football but in fact about the people involved, the McGuffin is football and a football championship. Thus people with zero interest in football (e.g., me) can enjoy the series immensely because of the story and the characters — who they are and how they interact and change. The series is not really about football, it’s about people.

Another example: the AlphaGo documentary ostensibly is about AI and the game of Go, but if you watch it (and I encourage you do that — it’s free on YouTube), you will see that AI and Go constitute a McGruffin, and the movie is actually about the people involved: what happens to them, what they do, what that reveals about their character, and how they change. Moreover, in this case the people are real — this movie is not “based on” or “inspired by,” it is the real deal: the actual people in the actual events at the time. But the McGuffin still works as a McGuffin.

It’s interesting the degree to McGuffins come into our lives: the new car one wants so much — it’s a McGuffin. Attending some big event: a McGuffin.


Let me return to that storehouse of stock phrases and ideas, which is what I discussed in the earlier post. As I mentioned above, though we try to describe our experience using these Lego blocks of predefined (and well-worn) phrases and ideas, in fact experience is unique: people differ, physical environments differ, and interactions differ. We must blur our perceptions somewhat to fit that uniqueness into the standard pigeonholes our stock phrases and ideas provide.

It strike me that breaking free of that limitation is exactly what poetry and literary fiction are about: an effort to write clearly — beyond the stock responses — and to express what is seen and understood without cutting it down to fit the stock phrases and perceptions that we normally use to avoid the effort of recognizing our (complex) reality and expressing it (to ourselves or others).

Of course, it goes beyond literary fiction and poetry. It includes art, and theater, and dance. All of those creative efforts are to help us see clearly things hidden from us by our the blinders of our daily life and learned habits.

Naturally enough, much fiction and verse and paintings cater to our limitations, using them, relying on them, and thus reinforcing them: romance novels, for example, or greeting card verse, or Thomas Kinkaid’s paintings. Those are comfortable, like well-worn house shoes, because they fit our expectations and habits of thought and language.

Art (fiction, poetry, painting, sculpture, theater, song, whatever) that makes us see things in a new way is uncomfortable because it breaks the shell we’ve built to hold and categorize our life, the shell that enables us to get from one day to the next without much angst or effort.  Art can make people uncomfortable (so they don’t like it), but it also can break through our old habits and let us see things afresh.

You, like me, have probably experienced discomfort at some painting or movie or sculpture or book and then suddenly “get it.” It feels as though scales have fallen from your eyes and you really see it for the first time, looking at what was familiar and seeing it in a new way, from a new perspective.

This article describes pretty well that phenomenon for a painter.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 July 2020 at 4:45 pm

Esperanto insight: Don’t write English in Esperanto

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It came about because I wanted to write “I bought this, but now I wish I had bought that.” (I was feeling some regret over buying off-brand headphone cushions instead of the manufacturer’s replacement part.)

The word for “wish” in Esperanto is “deziri,” which also means “to desire,” which did not seem right.

I posted a query in the Duolingo Esperanto group and got very good responses. As Lee Miller, the lead moderator, pointed out, “This English use of “I wish I had ___” really doesn’t have to do with wishing, but with regret.”

I suddenly realized that rather than expressing in Esperanto the feeling I had, I was expressing that feeling in English (in my mind), using English idioms and shorthand, and then trying to translated the English phrasing into Esperanto. What I should do is to use Esperanto to describe immediate experience, not describe it in English (mentally) and then translate (since our English-language descriptions of experience will often include unrecognized idiomatic expressions and follow templates we’ve developed.

Using a different language to describe experience resembles drawing/painting an object: You must observe the experience/object directly, rather than work from the shortcuts we’ve developed to deal with the experience or object.

In drawing, for example, Betty Edwards (in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain) gives ways to trick us into seeing directly what is in front of us rather than drawing from our assumptions. For example, in drawing from a photograph, turn it upside down. That forces you to actually look at what you’re drawing, since it is now unfamiliar. Another idea is not to draw the plant or the straight-back chair, but to draw the spaces around it. Those spaces — unlike the plant or the chair — are unfamiliar, so you actually look at them, and the drawing is much improved.

I have enough vocabulary now that I need to ponder the experience (action, idea, feeling, thing) and express it first in Esperanto rather than doing a translation from an English expression.

In this case, I might have written something like “”Mi aĉetis tion. Se mi nur estus aĉetinta ion alian!” — “I bought that. If I only had bought something else.”

“Estus aĉetinta” is the tricky part, since it is “native” Esperanto: “esti” means “to be” and “estus” is the conditional for the verb, and “aĉetinta” is the past active participle of “aĉeti” (to buy). So, literally, the Esperanto is “If I only were having bought something else.” Not the way one would say it in English, but of course it is not being said in English.

 

 

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2020 at 9:42 am

Posted in Esperanto

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