I mentioned what's
easy about Esperanto... now here's a rundown of its problems.
The main issue is that Esperanto is underdesigned. The
original [pamphlet? textbook?] promoting it contained only 16
grammar rules and 925 roots. These were simply not enough for
a complete language, and so the initial followers, mostly
Europeans, filled in the blanks, solidifying the grammar rules
and adding new root words, leading to inconsistency and
Euro-centrism in certain respects.
This is perhaps the only problem on this list that is rare among
natural ("national") languages. Esperanto is long-winded,
needing two syllables for some of the most
common words. It really bugs me! Many common ideas like bad
short (mallonga), fast (rapida), nice (afabla), need (bezoni), and
this (tiu cxi) are
three syllables, while others like mean (i.e. unkind,
malafabla), like (i.e.
similar to, simile al), hard (i.e. difficult, malfacila), and slow
(malrapida) are four syllables. Many other common words are at least two syllables, including "is" (estas), "as" (kiel/kiom), "so" (tiel/tiom) and "that" (tio/tiu).
Numbers are somewhat long, although
never longer than English long number forms (which are too long also).
- Its phonetic alphabet includes the difficult-to-type
letters ĉ ĝ ĥ ĵ ŝ and ŭ. (there are two substitute conventions: the
x-convention, cx, gx, hx, jx, sx and ux., and the h-convention, ch, gh,
hh, jh, sh, and u. So, instead of ĉu we would write cxu or chu.)
- In contrast to later constructed languages, some
combinations of sounds in Esperanto are difficult or cumbersome for
many people. (combos you'll see include -aktse-,
shto-, -ertsa-, -iuy, stsii, ...) You should be able to handle all the
combinations--I could--but it takes practise, and some non-English folk
have particular trouble with some combinations.
accusative ending, which allows the subject, verb and object to be
in any order because the subject, verb and object have different
endings. Though effective, the accusative is hard to get used
especially since one must apply it to the adjectives as well as the
noun. Because SVO (subject verb object) is the most common word order
among world languages, other constructed languages typically allow you
to use the same form for the subject and object when you use SVO
- Its plural adjectives: adjectives must "agree" with the
nouns they modify.
has a substantial number of adverbs that do not follow the grammatical
conventions. It can be difficult for a beginner to tell the
difference between prepositions, conjunctions and irregular
- Esperanto has a "correlative table" which, while not too
difficult to learn IMO, generally doesn't use the grammatical endings.
named months and weekdays. They should have been numbered or otherwise
named so as to be easy to remember. The month names all resemble those
in English but the weekdays do not. Further, they are not marked in any
particular way, so if you see a noun for an unknown weekday, you won't realize you're looking at a weekday. Even English beats Esperanto here, since the weekdays are all immediately identifiable as days.
idioms: although there are few multi-word idioms, there are many
compound words whose meaning is slightly or very
different from what its component morphemes suggest. For
al-igx-il-o, apparently meaning "a tool for becoming to" (when
I saw it, I thought perhaps it meant "a tool for transportation") means
"application form". A more typical example is "kompreneble", which literally means "understandably", but as best I can tell, actually means "of course". Such nuances mean that you can easily think you understood something perfectly, when in fact you've just encountered an idiom and did not realise it.
Sometimes, these idioms are a necessity, because the language lacks any other means of expression. For example, Esperanto has no word for "should", so instead people use the conditional form of "must", namely "devus", which literally means "would have to", and, indeed, can mean that in some cases.
is unpredictable. Some verbs are transitive
and others intransitive, with an affix required to transform one to the
other. For example "movi" ("move") is transitive so you
add the igx suffix in the intransitive sentence "I move"; on
other hand, "flugi" ("fly") is intransitive, so you should use the ig
suffix to make it transitive in "I fly the plane". On the other hand,
if you use the transitive suffix on a verb that is already transitive
or the intransitive suffix on a verb that is already intransitive, you
get different results. "movigi" means "to cause to be moved"; "havi"
means "to have", so havigi means "to cause to be had", e.g. "mono
havigas felicxecon" = "money causes hapiness to be had".
"flugigxas" means "to become flying", slightly
different from "flugi",
- Unpredictable relationship between different parts of
speech. In Esperanto, you change the part of speech by
changing the ending. So if I have the adjective blua (blue) and change
it to the noun bluo,
then what does the noun mean? Does it mean 'something that is
blue'? 'the color blue' itself? Who knows! There
are no hard-and-fast rules. Mangxi means "to eat",
while the noun mangxo
means "eating" (not e.g. food);
on the other hand, rajto
means "a right" (i.e. a freedom) while rajti means "to have a right" or "to
have the right". rakonti
means "to tell" (typically, to tell a story, but not necessarily),
means "a story". Strecxi
means "to stretch" while strecxo
means "stress" (including mental stress). The meanings of
different parts of speech
are always related, but not very predictable.
speakers, luckily, the meaning very often matches English.
For example, crono
means "a crown" and croni
means "to crown", which means the same in English as
in Esperanto: to
An extra problem comes
when forming adjectives, compound words, or adding
affixes; it is not always clear immediately whether a morpheme is
intended to have its noun meaning or its verb meaning. Does "konata"
mean "known" (participle of the verb koni) or "an acquaintance" (from
the noun konato, a person who is known)?
of this confusion, it seems to me that Esperanto speakers tend
to be careless in their word formation, making Esperanto
more difficult to read than to write. It's not so
much that you can't
figure out what something means, just that you have to think about it
for a minute, and interpret words according
- Vagueness: Esperanto tends to be imprecise
in various ways. For example, one cannot differentiate different kinds
of adjectives. For example, "ethics debate" and "ethical debate" both translate to "etika debato".
Another issue is that some words
many meanings. For example, de means from, of OR by. Thus
"gxi estis sxtelita de mi" could mean "it was stolen from me" or "it was
me" (however, the latter is unlikely, simply because passive voice is rare in Esperanto when expressing an idea that has both a subject and an object). Lasi
[apparently] means either "to leave" or "to allow", depending
on context. There are many other examples.
to careless speakers importing words from their languages, Esperanto
has a substantially larger vocabularly than it needs: there are now
over 9,000 roots considered "official", and many more are actually in use, although a less than
2,000 is needed for most speech.
- There are various other minor issues, often concerning individual words in the language. For example, the term "English" as in "English is wacky" cannot be a noun in Esperanto! Only the adjective "angla" refers to the English language; the corresponding noun "anglo" refers only to English people.
- Lastly, no one seems to know of a good English-Esperanto dictionary! At least not one accessible on the internet. It's not Esperanto's fault, really, but it can't be good for the movement.
An older thing I wrote a while ago...