Evolution Is Proof of Life
Those who are interested in the evolution of Esperanto are
fortunate: the Esperanto community has always produced a huge amount of
documents, so that there is no difficulty in researching the developments that
more than a century of use has brought about in the language. A study of that
documentation reveals that two factors, mainly, have modified the language
proposed by L.L. Zamenhof: the substratum of the various users, on the one hand,
and, on the other, the adjustments spontaneously introduced so that the language
might remain understandable for the various members of the highly diversified
community that has adopted it for its intercultural relationships. Although
those factors were not governed by conscious decisions, they were remarkably
effective. They thus constitute an interesting illustration of the unconscious
mechanisms that ensure the efficiency of linguistic communication.
- Semantic evolution
A number of roots have experienced a shift in their semantic
field. Here are three examples:
- In Zamenhof's usage (1) and still in Waringhien's
dictionaries (2), (3), the
usual way to express the idea 'I like to sing' is mi amas
kanti. The verb is the same as in 'I love you' (mi
amas vin). Apparently, using the same word, as in Russian
and French, to express a simple taste and a love feeling that
may be extremely profound shocked a large part of the Esperanto
community, which unconsciously reacted by differentiating
the two concepts. Today ami covers only the semantic
field of 'to love', the concept 'to like' being rendered by
ŝati, which originally had a meaning closer to 'to
appreciate' (4). This example illustrates
both the influence and the pliancy of the substratum. The
differentiation was limited at first to a part of the diaspora
(5), but that part was the majority, and
it eventually conquered even the speakers of Esperanto with
French and Russian linguistic backgrounds, who gradually assimilated
the distinction although it does not exist in their languages.
- Often, semantic evolution is due to intercultural frictions.
In the first decades of Esperanto use, the word for 'first
name', 'given name' was antaŭnomo (antaŭ 'before',
nomo 'name'). However, under the influence of Chinese,
Korean and Japanese speakers, who, in their respective traditions,
place the family name first, that word has gradually been
replaced by individua nomo, which has the further advantage
of making the parallelism with familia nomo more apparent.
- At first, the meaning of the morpheme kaz- was restricted
to that of a 'declension case'. It was a purely grammatical
term. For most other meanings of 'case', the morpheme okaz-
was used. (Okazo is an exact semantic equivalent of
the Russian sluchaj: like it, it encompasses the three
meanings 'event', 'case' and 'opportunity', 'occasion'. Russian
sluchit'sja 'to happen', 'to occur' is rendered by
okazi). In the twenties, kaz- came to be used
in a medical sense, then in a legal one. Today, it is almost
the equivalent of French cas, English case (as
in in most cases, not with the 'box' sense). In a bilingual
circular from the World Association for Cybernetics, Communication
Sciences and Systems Analysis (6), we find
the word jeskaze 'if you agree' (jes 'yes',
kaz- 'case', -e morpheme indicating circumstance
or manner, literally 'in case of yes'). It is likely that
before 1914 such a word would not have been understood. People
would have said en okazo de konsento or se vi konsentas,
phrases which are still part of present-day Esperanto.
- Structural evolution
The example just quoted illustrates one of the tendencies that
can be observed in the evolution of Esperanto: the increasing
frequency of -e forms in cases in which, formerly, a
prepositional formula would have been adopted.
Apart from a few words such as prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions
and the like, Esperanto words consist of at least one root marked
with an ending that defines their grammatical function in the
sentence. If the root parol- is used with the ending
-o, it functions like a noun: parolo 'speech';
if with an -a, as an adjective: parola 'oral';
if with an
-e, as (more or less) an adverb: parole 'orally';
if with an -i, as a verb in the infinitive: paroli
'to speak'; if with -as, as a verb in the present tense:
parolas 'speak(s)', 'is (am, are) speaking'; if with
-is, as a verb in the past tense: parolis 'spoke',
An analysis of texts reveals that the -e ending has
been more and more in use. It was already common for a number
of notions at the beginnings of the language - matene
'in the morning', sabate 'on Saturdays', komence
'at the beginning' - but, curiously enough, it was not used
for places except in a few words already used by Zamenhof himself,
such as hejme 'at home' or aliloke 'elsewhere'.
The use of -e gradually extended to other time phrases.
I have been observing the Esperanto press and making notes on
the spoken usage of the language for a long time, wondering
why, while it was so common to say mi revenos somere
'I'll come back during the summer', nobody ever said or wrote
mi venos julie 'I'll come in July'; everybody said en
julio. In the documents I have scanned the -e form
of a month appeared for the first time in 1983. Since then,
I have noticed it in many texts and letters, as well as in conversations.
My feeling is that this form is spreading quite rapidly.
It might be objected that there has been no evolution, since
such words have been correct since 1887. But the fact is that
they were never used. "Correct" language should not
be confused with actual language, which can only be known through
studying documents and observing in the field.
What happened with -e occurred with other endings, though
to a slightly lesser extent as far as -a is concerned.
Indeed, with verbal endings it has reached such a proportion
that it deserves a special section (see 3 hereunder).
The reason might well be that the obligation to mark the function
by an ending makes Esperanto words longer than their equivalent
in languages with many monosyllabic words, such as those belonging
to the Germanic (English, in particular) and the Slavic families.
A wider use of the endings enhances concision without causing
comprehension problems, at the same time making speech phonetically
less monotonous. A beginner in Esperanto will express the idea
'I'll go to the convention by train' saying Mi iros al la
kongreso per trajno, when a more mature Esperantist will
say Trajne mi alkongresos or Mi iros kongresen trajne.
The slogan of the Italian Esperanto Youth Kie paski? Italuje!
'Where spend the Easter vacation? In Italy!' would perhaps not
have been immediately clear to Zamenhof. Such a wording was
not in use before World War II, except in poetry.
Why was tutmonde 'in the whole world' quite common already
in the twenties, whereas vilaĝe 'in the village' seems
to be only just now entering usage? This is not easy to understand.
The fact that such forms do not exist in most substratum languages
is not a valid explanation, since in expressions indicating
manner or means the -e form was already more frequent
than prepositional phrases before World War II: krajone
'in pencil', buse 'by bus', skribe 'in written
form' have no such concise equivalents in the mother tongues
of most Esperanto speakers. Why was such a long time necessary
for people to extend the one-word expression to the names of
months and of many places? There is no ready answer to that
- The verbal use of usually non-verbal morphemes
Using statistically nonverbal morphemes with a verb ending
is one of the liveliest traits of present day Esperanto, which
was not in use in the first decades of the language. All kinds
of morphemes are used verbally, and although it would be difficult
to clarify the implicit rules governing their usage, the fact
is that they pose no problem to understanding. Here are a few
examples taken from my long collection of expressions noted
or recorded on the spot (-as indicates that the concept
is used as a verb in the present tense, -i marks the
Kiel bluas la lago! 'what an impression of lively
blue does the lake give out!' (a Slovakian).
Li konstante ĉuas 'he constantly asks questions'(a
Brazilian) (ĉu, pronounced /choo/, is a question marker
corresponding to French est-ce que, Polish czy,
Bona profesoro ne profesoras 'a good professor
does not behave in a professorial manner' (A Japanese, professor
La UK-a partopreno de la samurba Sandesh Pradhar donis al
la anglalingva Indian Express la okazon artikoli pri
Esperanto 'The fact that Sandesh Pradhar, who lives in the
same city, took part in the Universal (Esperanto) Convention
gave to the English language Indian Express the opportunity
to publish an article on Esperanto' ("Informado - Ni legis
en novembraj revuoj", Esperanto, 88, 1067
(2), February 95, p. 37).
Ili povas pseude aktivi 'They can make
a pretense of being active' (a French speaking Swiss).
Unesko denove rezolucias favore al Esperanto
'UNESCO adopts again a resolution favorable to Esperanto' (La
Mondo - a magazine published in Beijing - 1986, 8, p.2)
La fervojistoj kongresas 'The railway
workers hold a convention' (Heroldo de Esperanto, March
23, 1987, p.5)
A number of roots have practically disappeared from the language.
Such is the case, for instance, of gento 'ethnic community',
'family' (in a very broad sense), 'race' (in the narrowest sense),
quite frequent in Zamehof's texts and in works of certain authors
in the beginning of the twentieth century, like Privat's. This
term has been replaced by such words as popolo, etno, nacio
or raso, but these have different connotations and their
semantic field is not identical.
Another example of obsolescence is the -iĝadi forms
as in transformiĝadi 'to experience a gradual transformation'
which Zamenhof and the first Esperanto writers very often used.
They do not belong any more to spoken Esperanto and are extremely
scarce in texts. True, if somebody uses such a form, he is immediately
understood, but this usage cannot fail to be noticed as somewhat
archaic. The form has not disappeared from the theoretical model
of the language, but it as disappeared from a statistical point
- Increase in the number of semantemes
A very large number of concepts are now expressed by morphemes
that did not exist in Zamenhof's time. Here are three examples,
taken among thousands: teko 'briefcase', novelo
'short story', bunta 'multicolored', 'variegated', When
did these words enter the language? Where? Through whose agency?
Answering those questions would require a good deal of research
and it may well be that no answer can be found altogether. Contrary
to a widespread opinion, Esperanto results from a collective,
anonymous, largely unconscious transformation of Zamenhof's
project through everyday use, which prevents the researcher
from elucidating many points relating to the evolution of the
A team of Croatian researchers has submitted to computerized
statistical treatment a corpus consisting of tapes recorded
in various international settings among speakers of Esperanto:
coffee shop conversations, formal meetings, family discussions,
etc. This research reveals that a number of morphemes quite
common in today's spoken Esperanto did not belong to Zamenhof's
vocabulary (meaning, not only the 1887 booklet, but all his
writings). This is the case, e.g., of eventual- 'possible',
which is the 179th word in the frequency list, with
a frequency of 11/10,000, as well as of ofert- 'to offer',
'to propose' and of minimum-, which both have a frequency
In some cases, the introduction of a neologism brings about
readjustments in the language. When computers appeared, they
were first designated by such expressions as elektrona kalkulilo
'electronic calculator' or informtraktilo 'a device to
treat information', but the words komputoro and komputero
were soon in use besides them. However, the suffix -ilo
is so common for that kind of concept that the average Esperanto
speaker quite naturally substituted komputilo for those
words which were competing between themselves, neither appearing
more likely to win. In fact the word komputilo already
existed, at least in dictionaries, with the meaning '(gas, water)
meter'. Today, the language obviously hesitates about the word
to use for rendering the latter. Some say adiciilo, others
sumilo or nombrilo, somebody proposed sumadilo
(-ad- is a morpheme emphasizing duration or repetition:
sumadilo means 'a device that is constantly calculating
the sum'). But there is no doubt that komputilo has already
definitely replaced both komputoro and komputero.
As a consequence, due to the language structure, the verb komputi
now suggests the utilization of a computer.
A similar situation arose when radar came into use. Radaro
(< rad- 'wheel', -ar- 'an integrated collection
of', -o word used as a noun) meant 'wheelwork'. Since
radaro with the sense 'radar' clashed with the traditional
meaning, an adjustment had to take place. It took the form of
the word radoaro, 'wheelwork', in which the noun ending
-o was introduced to underscore the separation of the
morphemes rad and ar. Some people solve the problem
in another way: while speaking, they insert a slight but audible
pause after rad, and, in writing, they use a hyphen:
- Slang and vulgar uses
I recorded the word krokodili with the meaning 'to speak
a national language in a setting where you should use Esperanto'
(for instance when, in the presence of a foreign Esperantist,
people switch from Esperanto to their mother tongue, which he
does not understand) in Brazil in 1973 and in Japan in 1977.
In both cases, my informants told me that the word had been
in use in their respective countries for a very long time. Another
informant, met in France, told me he had heard it for the first
time at the convention of the World Esperanto Youth in Konstanz,
Germany, in 1948. Nobody has been able to elucidate for me the
origin of that word or to throw some light on the mental processes
that gave birth to it.
Among the words whose place and date of introduction into the
language are unknown, a special mention must be made of vulgar
words such as pisi 'to urinate', fiki 'to have
sex with', kaco (pron.: /katso/) 'penis' and the like,
which, as can be readily ascertained, are understood by young
Esperanto speakers in Asia and America as well as in Europe,
both Western and Eastern.
- Autonomous use of former prefixes and suffixes
On page 91 of the May 1987 issue of the magazine Esperanto
you can read the title Endas racia diskutado 'a rational
discussion is necessary'. The word endas is the verbal
form of the suffix -end- 'which has to be...', most often
used with the adjective ending -a: tajpenda raporto
'a report that has to be typed'. That sentence illustrates the
current inclination to use affixes as full-fledged words. Nowadays,
it is practically impossible to read Esperanto texts without
encountering such words as emas 'has a tendency to',
ulo 'an individual', igi 'make, render such or
such', eta 'small', etc. With the addition of the ending
that defines their function, those are morphemes which, in Zamenhof's
time, were real suffixes, i.e. where always bound to another
semanteme. The structure of the language, characterized by the
absolute invariability of morphemes, as in Chinese, and by an
unlimited possibility of combining them, was bound to encourage
their use as independent units. This developed essentially from
the twenties on, and the trend has been going on more and more.
Today, a sentence like la estraro ree kaj ree emas igi tiun
etan aĵon tro grava 'again and again the Board tends to
exaggerate this small thing', in which most elements were only
affixes at the turn of the century (i.e. in the 1900s), is not
even perceived by the average Esperanto speaker as essentially
composed of a particular type of morpheme (viz. -estr-
'leader', 'chief'; -ar- 'group', re- 'again',
-em- 'inclined to', -ig- 'make', -aĵ- 'thing').
Since prepositions can be used as prefixes (aliri 'to
approach' < al 'toward', iri 'to go'), this
might be the place to record a similar use of prepositions,
which developed essentially in the last three decades. In cases
in which, before World War II, everybody would say interne
'inside', many people now say ene (< en 'in'),
also referring to time: ene de unu semajno 'within one
- Incorrect forms betraying the underlying action of structural
When recording samples of spontaneous Esperanto speech, I have
noted many deviations from the theoretical standard which consisted
in applying a conventional Esperanto pattern in cases where
this was incorrect according to grammars and dictionaries. Thus,
a university professor once said fakultejo 'a university
department', whereas the dictionary term is fakultato
and there exists no morpheme fakult- from which his term
might be formed (-ejo is a morpheme used to derive words
of places and institutions). Similarly, the official program
of the World Esperanto Convention held in Beijing, China, in
1986, constantly designates the Chinese Theater, where a number
of Esperanto events took place, as Ĉina Teatrejo, although
the standard word is teatro without the suffix. Another
example is medikaĵo, for medikamento; the morpheme
medik- does not exist officially.
A somewhat different case (since the form is "correct")
is presented by tajpilo (taj is pronounced like
ty in type) 'typewriter', which I often heard
in different countries. Formerly, 'to type' was rendered as
maŝinskribi (< maŝin 'machine', skribi
'to write'), but somebody, some day, said tajpi and that
convenient word was rapidly adopted everywhere in the Esperanto
diaspora, as often happens when a term is in harmony with the
spirit of the language. From tajpi people derived tajpilo,
but that word cannot be found in any dictionary. I have never
seen it written and I assume that it exists only in spoken Esperanto.
Similarly, spoken Esperanto often uses surbendigilo
(< sur 'on', bend- 'tape', -ig- 'to
cause to be', ilo 'instrument', 'apparatus', 'device'
> surbendigilo 'a device that causes something to
be on tape', 'a tape recorder') or sonbenda maŝino, literally
'sound-tape machine', whereas the official term is magnetofono.
- Form modifications
A number of forms have appeared besides already existing ones,
usually to shorten a word which has a longer form than the spirit
of the language warranted.
The official word aŭtentika 'authentic' is nowadays
less frequent than aŭtenta, and the Zamenhofian komentarii
'to comment' is very often replaced by komenti. The
officially correct form spontanea 'spontaneous' and the
more modern spontana, registered in dictionaries with
the mention "neologism", appear to be equally frequent
in current usage.
The tendency to shorten roots ending in a vowel + -ci-
(corresponding to Latin words ending in -tio) deserves
also to be mentioned under this heading. Whereas the official
translation of 'pollution' is polucio, most speakers
of Esperanto use poluo, and polui 'to pollute'
is definitely more frequent than the dictionary form polucii.
A semantic differentiation is occurring in this respect: poluo
means 'pollution' of the environment, whereas the older form
polucio is still used with the sense 'an involuntary
emission of sperm'.
Civilizo often occurs in the sense in which civilizacio
should theoretically be preferred. According to dictionaries,
civilizo should mean 'the action of civilizing' and civilizacio
'such or such a culture', 'an established civilization', but
this distinction is not observed in practice. Recently, I heard
twice situo in cases where situacio was theoretically
required: en tia situo 'in such a situation' (said by
a Frenchman), and la nuna politika situo 'the present
political situation' (an Argentine). Neither of the speakers,
both fluent, seemed to be aware that situo really means
'the place where somebody or something is situated'. Since in
both mother tongues the corresponding word is closer to the
official Esperanto form, this is a case in which the general
structures of the intercultural language proved stronger than
the influence of the speaker's native tongue.
In 1999, for the first time, I noted the words referi
in the sense of 'to refer to' and diferi 'to differ',
'to be different'. In official, dictionary Esperanto, the words
should have been referenci and diferenci. Both
forms, used by three different persons, appeared in e-mails
or in messages sent to Internet discussion groups.
- New compound words
Morphemes dating back to the beginning of the language can
be combined into new words with a precise meaning. Such is the
case, for example, of petveturi 'to hitchhike', 'to thumb
a ride', from pet- 'to ask for' and veturi 'to
travel in a vehicle' (equivalent of the German fahren).
Other examples are veltabulo 'windsurf board' (< vel-
'sail', tabulo 'board') and promenskii 'Nordic
skiing' (promen- 'walk', skii 'to ski').
Those are established words, that spread quickly from one part
of the diaspora to the other. But many new compounds are made
on the spur of the moment, for instance: ili buŝplenas pri
homrajtoj , which I heard in the mouth of a Dutch participant
to a meeting in Zagreb, Croatia, 'their mouth is full of speech
about human rights', 'they constantly pay lip service to human
rights' (buŝ, pronounced as Bush, 'mouth', plen-
'full', pri 'about', hom-rajtoj, 'human rights';
the pronunciation of rajt- 'right' is close to that of
its English translation).
- The suffix -umi
This strange suffix, which contrasts with all others in that
it has no precise meaning, is used to form words which, quite
often, are very expressive and difficult to translate. Zamenhof
introduced it to solve problems for which he found no other
solution. For instance, he used it to derive plenumi
'to fulfill (one's obligations)' from plen- 'full', thus
distinguishing that verb form plenigi 'to fill up', while
conserving the metaphorical link with fullness which helped
to remember it.
Quantitatively, that suffix is not very productive, but it
is qualitatively. While it does not give birth to many words,
those it creates usually have a particular flavor, which makes
them especially pleasing to the members of the Esperanto community.
To say kafumi (< kaf- 'coffee'), a rather frequent
word in sessions and conferences, is something quite different
from 'to have a cup of coffee'. It evokes an atmosphere of friendship,
of relaxation, of well-being which other phrases lack entirely.
If those connotations are absent, you will simply say trinki
kafon or kaftrinki. Kafi is also heard, but its atmosphere
is less friendly, less warm than kafumi.
Butikumi (< butik- 'shop') does not only mean
'to go shopping', it includes an idea of pleasure, of walking
through a shopping district just for the fun of it, that is
absent form the concept 'going shopping'.
Mi opinias ke Esperanto estas tiel grava fenomeno ke ne
indas nur klubumi 'I think Esperanto is such an important
phenomenon that it would not be worth using it just as a club
thing, just to meet in clubs', is a sentence found in a message
sent to an Internet Esperanto discussion group by a young Finnish
lady. But the above translation in not quite exact. Klubumi,
from klub-, 'a club', is too vague in concept to lend
itself to translation, but it is rich in atmosphere.
And how could one translate the following sentence, found in
a letter written by a Parisian user of Esperanto: Mi venas
al kongresoj nur por amikumi 'I come to conventions only
to enjoy friendly relationships, to meet friends, to experience
friendships'? It is difficult to explain why such words do not
create any problem of understanding, but this is a verifiable
fact. They are felt in the same way all over the world.
- The prefix mal- in spoken Esperanto
There is in Esperanto a prefix, mal-, which forms antonyms:
feliĉa 'happy', malfeliĉa 'unhappy', bona
'good', malbona 'bad'. Like other affixes, it can be
used independently, provided it takes on the ending that defines
its function: male 'on the contrary', malo 'the
opposite', mala 'contrary'. Field study reveals that
this prefix is extremely productive in spoken Esperanto. Quite
often, it implies a humorous connotation, but it is also found
when the speaker obviously does not find the right word. Here
are a few examples:
Tio estas tro malpoezia 'That is too prozaic' (an Italian-speaking
Kiam okazos la malinaŭguro? 'When will the closing session
take place?' (a British citizen).
Oni hodiaŭ malfestas la sovetiigon de Estonio 'Today
people mourn the sovietization of Estonia' (an Estonian, in
Tallinn, July 20, 1987, when Estonia was still a Soviet Republic).
Mi volus malmensoge klarigi al la lernantoj 'I'd like
to explain to the students, honestly (= the opposite of telling
lies)' (an Englishman).
Mia malgranda malĉemara landeto Ĉeĥio 'My small landlocked
country the Czech Republic' (a Czech, to the Internet discussion
group BJA; ĉe 'near', 'close to', mar- 'sea',
ĉe-mar-a 'which is near the sea', mal-ĉe-mar-a
, literally 'which is the opposite of being near the sea').
Nek tro nek maltro 'Neither too much nor too little'
(an American; this is becoming a common phrase nowadays).
The vitality of that prefix in spoken Esperanto is all the
more remarkable since writers seem, as a rule, to be prejudiced
against it. Many neologisms have been proposed in literature
to replace words formed with mal- but most of them are
not part of the living, spoken language, and they retain a kind
of artificial flavor. Trista 'sad' is one of the few
which seem to be really taking root in spoken language, although
its traditional synonyms malĝoja, malgaja, senĝoja, sengaja
are still very much in use.
Few changes seem to have appeared in the field of grammar. The
basic rules are respected - if not applied - by everybody. For instance, the
standard reaction of a speaker of Esperanto realizing that he just missed the
-n ending of the object is to correct himself immediately.
Perhaps the chief deviations from Zamenhof's grammatical usage
noticeable nowadays are:
- The use of -i forms (infinitives) after sen 'without' Sen
rimarki ĝin 'without noticing it' is at least as frequent as the
Zamenhofian participle construction ne rimarkante ĝin, literally 'not
- The use of an -a form (adjective) after aspekti 'to look
like'. Zamenhof always used an -e form (adverb): li aspektas june
'he looks young'. Today both -a and -e forms are accepted
alternatives: li aspektas juna doesn't shock the average Esperanto
- The use of far as a preposition to introduce the agent of a passive
form, especially after an -o ending: la mortigo de Palme far
nekonato 'the killing of Palme by an unknown person'. The standard form
would be la mortigo de Palme fare de nekonato. This standard form was
proposed in the twenties by Grosjean-Maupin, a Swiss Esperanto lexicologist, and
it immediately spread. Zamenhof's language had no equivalent; he would have
formulated his thought otherwise. For two decades many people would say
flanke de, more or less 'on the part of', but since this expression came
from the root flank- 'side', it also meant 'beside' and might be
ambiguous. It seems that the use of far as a preposition is less and less
in fashion, losing ground to the more traditional fare de. It is seldom
heard in conversations or lectures. However, it is quite frequent in the
magazine Monato, but not in other periodicals.
- The sporadic appearance of verbs whose first element is a noun which is
really the object of the action. This is an extension of an usage that existed
since the beginning of the language, but was restricted to a few words:
pardonpeti 'to ask for forgiveness', partopreni 'to take part' or
(although the grammatical analysis would be different) militservi 'to do
one's military service'. There is a subtle distinction between those compact
object-verb words and the expression consisting of two words, verb + object. The
first ones are more compact, not only in form, but, so to speak, in meaning,
although this is difficult to explain; it has to be felt. A novelist who, after
having a character say something, expresses 'he said' by li frazfinis
literally 'he sentence-ended', 'he ended his sentence' says something somewhat
different from what he would convey writing li finis la frazon.
Similarly, when a Portuguese participant in the Internet discussion group Denask
explains the way his little daughter uses Esperanto saying Ne supozu ke Sara
lingvokreas chiam lerte kaj virtuoze 'Don't suppose that Sara always
manifests skill and virtuosity in her linguistic creations', the word
lingvokreas refers to more than what would be expressed by kreas
lingvon 'creates a language'. It refers to a child's spontaneous linguistic
creativity, and this is felt by users of Esperanto although it is difficult to
determine how and why.
14. Plays on words
Although this is not a linguistic trait, it may be worth mentioning
a tendency among users of Esperanto to use phrases chosen for
their funny or expressive atmosphere rather than for enhancing
the precision of a statement. Those are very often made up of
words with similar phonetic structures: li rigardis lin atente
atende ‘he looked at him both with attention and expectation’.
Or, at the end of a letter in which the writer explained that
he replied in haste for he had little time at his disposal: kore,
kure via literally ‘cordially and racingly yours’ (kur-
means ‘to run’). A somewhat similar phrase in a letter I received
was Korege kaj kolege vin salutas ‘heartiest and colleaguely
greetings from…’. In the Internet chatting group Denask I noted
this phrase, by a Spanish member: Mi pretas kolekti kaj kokteli
la respondojn ‘I am ready to gather the answers and to make
a cocktail of them’.
The changes that everyday
use has introduced into Esperanto and is continuing to produce are
varied, but chiefly present two aspects: borrowing (such a tajpi
‘to type’, used parallell to the conventional word maŝinskribi);
and development of latent resources, such as the autonomous use
of affixes, and the more and more effective tapping of the great
potential afforded by the vowel endings. Grammar, including syntax,
remains largely untouched. Semantic changes are noticeable, but
not to a very large extent. As to phonetic evolution, we hardly
are in a position to evaluate it. Recordings appear to reveal that
the national accents are less marked nowadays than they used to
be three decades ago, and the only recording we have of Zamenhof’s
voice displays such a strong Russian accent – he pronounces estas
as /yestas/ - that he would be immediately classified today as a
beginner (which, after all, he was).
It is interesting that
very often authority decisions are not taken seriously. For instance,
the neologisms komputero ‘computer’ and dateno ‘data’
were officially agreed upon and recommended by the Computer Section
of ISAE, the International Association of Esperanto-Speaking Scientists.
But they did not last long. Today most computer specialists – even
the above-mentioned section of ISAE – use komputilo and the
older form datumo.
Most arbitrary decisions
of that kind had the same fate. Although the principal explanatory
Esperanto dictionary, Plena Ilustrita Vortaro, enjoys a considerable
prestige, a good many forms it recommends have never really been
accepted. While it recommends televizio for example, everybody
says televido. It appears that the speakers of Esperanto
have developed a sense of what can and what cannot be assimilated
into the language. They have a subtle feeling of how it should evolve,
even if they would be at a loss to define it.
The influence of the
substratum was very great in the first decades of the language,
but this has changed. It seems that today the principal factor of
evolution is the strength of the internal structures that find more
and more applications undreamed of at the beginning. A feeling of
marveling at the fact that an original form, produced on the spur
of the moment and quite distant from the structures of the speaker’s
mother tongue, is immediately understood by people from very remote
cultures, stimulates their production, which is very often humorous.
But whatever the
nature of the changes, the fact that they do occur constantly,
as will be readily established by anybody doing field research,
is evidence that Esperanto is a living language. That a living,
and, indeed, lively language developed on the basis of a small
booklet published by a young man at his own cost in a faraway
place one century ago is an astonishing fact which deserves
more attention on the part of sociolinguists.
in Emile Grosjean-Maupin, ed., Plena Vortaro de Esperanto
(Paris: Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda, 1953), p. 30.
Waringhien, ed., Plena Ilustrita Vortaro de Esperanto (Paris:
Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda, 1970), p. 36.
Waringhien, Grand Dictionnaire espéranto-français
(Paris: SAT-Amikaro, 1976), p. 29.
Zamenhof, Fundamento de Esperanto (Paris: Hachette, 1905),
this term, see Claude Piron "Who are the speakers of Esperanto?"
in Klaus Schubert, ed., Interlinguistics (Berlin,
New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1989), pp. 157-159.
Paderborner Novembertreffen 1984 / Paderborna novembra renikontigho
1984 (Paderborn: Tutmonda Asocio por Kibernetiko, Informadiko
kaj Sistemiko, October 8, 1984), p. 1.