One Word – Many Words
Copyight © 2002 Sylvan Zaft. This is the 13th chapter of Esperanto: A Language for the Global Village. You may make electronic copies and paper copies for your personal use, and you may freely distribute verbatim copies which include this notice provided that you do not charge for these copies. You may not post this material to any site. You are invited to insert links to any of these sites. For any other use, including publication, you must first get my permission. I welcome any suggestions about how to improve this work. My address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am now going to learn a new Esperanto root. Please excuse me for a moment while I go and read something in Esperanto. When I find a root the meaning of which I do not know, I will look it up in the dictionary and come right back. Please wait.
There! That didn’t take too long, I hope. The new root I just learned is ljam, Esperanto for that long-necked four-footed animal known in English and Spanish as “llama.” Now I only need to add the noun ending –o, and there is a new Esperanto word I have learned, ljamo, meaning “llama” or “a llama.”
In fact, as an experienced Esperantist, I have learned twenty-two new words, because I am free to combine the root ljam with other common morphemes, such as prefixes and suffixes, which I already know. Thus, I already know, without having to look them up, what the young of the llama are called, what the males are called, what the females are called, what the place where they are kept is called, what the people who keep them are called and so on. Here are the twenty-two new words I know automatically once I have learned the new root ljam.
|3.||ljamido||=||a young llama|
|4.||ljamejo||=||place where llamas are kept|
|5.||ljamisto||=||someone who takes care of llamas|
|6.||ljame||=||like a llama, as in the sentence “Ŝi kraĉas ljame” which means “She spits like a llama.”|
|7.||ljama||=||(the adjective form) llama, as in”ljama nutraĵo” which means “llama food.”|
|8.||ljami||=||to act like a llama as in “Tiu ulo ljamas marŝante.” This means “That guy acts like a llama when he walks” or, in more concise English, “That guy walks like a llama.”|
|13.||ljamolando||=||the land of the llamas (This could be a name for the country they come from or a name for their country in a children’s story or a fable.)|
|14.||ljamreĝo||=||king of the llamas (in a story)|
|15.||ljamreĝidoj||=||the children of the llama king|
|17.||ljamego||=||a giant llama|
|18.||ljamegino||=||a giant female llama|
|19.||ljameto||=||a dwarf llama|
|20.||ljamaĉe||=||like a rotten llama|
|21.||ljamigi||=||to turn (someone) into a llama, as in “La malbonega sorĉisto ljamigis sian malamikon.” This means “The evil wizard turned his enemy into a llama.”|
|22.||ljamiganto||=||someone who turns someone into a llama or who creates a llama (as Dr. Frankenstein created the famous monster)|
|23.||ljamiĝi||=||to become a llama, as in “Antaŭ multege da jaroj la praljamoj finfine ljamiĝis.” This means “An enormous number of years ago the ancestors of the llamas finally became llamas.”|
|24.||ljameco||=||the quality of being a llama|
Whoops! I went too far. I did not stop at number twenty-two. It appears that I do not just know twenty-two words automatically but twenty-four. I will have to be careful or I will start thinking up more words.
Actually there is no definite limit to the number of new words I automatically know every time I learn a new Esperanto root. This is one of the main reasons why Esperanto is such a powerful language even for those who only know, say, 1000 morphemes. Whenever they learn a new morpheme, they are automatically able to produce ten or twenty or thirty or however many new words. That is why there can be no definite answer to the question, “How many words are there in Esperanto?”
Some of my ljamovortoj (llama words) are of use only to someone making up a fable about llamas. However, in practice, many of these words are very useful, such as the words for the male, the female, the young, the place for keeping the animals and, perhaps, meat from the animal.
Foreign students of English are not always so lucky. They have to separately learn these various words. They have to learn that the young of a horse is called a “colt” and the young of a chicken is called a “chick” and so on.
Let us look at tables for some terms in English and then for the same terms in Esperanto which list the male of animals, the female of animals, the young of animals, and so forth.
Before I do this, I want to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with English because it has so many individual words to learn. It is not a big problem for native speakers of English to learn these words. Distinctive words, such as those which we will find on the table below, provide a sense of individuality and a richness of vocabulary which certainly gives a particular texture to the language. However, if someone has only a limited amount of time in which to learn an international auxiliary language, this kind of rich unpatterned vocabulary makes for a big overload. It is similar to the overload which the foreign student of Indonesian experiences having to learn all of the fascinating and rich nuances of the you-system or the overload which the student of Cantonese experiences in learning the different tones in which words are spoken.
Here is the table, first in English and then in Esperanto:
|4.||sheep||ram||ewe||lamb||sheepcote, sheepfold||mutton, lamb|
|5.||goat||billy goat||nanny goat||kid||???||goat meat|
|6.||dog||male dog||bitch||puppy||kennel||dog meat|
|7.||cat||tomcat||???||kitten||???|| meat from
Please take a moment to go down the columns of terms from top to bottom in both charts.
Thank you. No doubt you noticed a big difference between an Esperanto column and its English counterpart. Which columns do you think a student could learn more easily?
If the regularity of Esperanto were confined merely to one or two features of the language, perhaps it would have a limited importance. However, since regularities are found very commonly in Esperanto and since this kind of patterning is so inconsistent in English and similar tongues, this means that a good working knowledge of Esperanto can be acquired in a year or two, depending on students’ linguistic background, whereas after the same period of time, foreign students of English or other languages are still very much in the introductory stage of learning. Already after a year or two, reasonably diligent students of Esperanto can read, write and speak in a normal way. The main problem that remains is adding vocabulary as needed. Students of English are still coping with the irregularities and the idioms of the language. Five years later they will still be coping with the irregularities and the idioms of the language.
In constructing the English table I had to check out some terms even though I am a native speaker of English with three college degrees and even though I have taught English professionally. I did not have to check out any of the terms in Esperanto. I wrote them down as fast as my fingers could move.
Once I learned, as a beginning student, the meanings of the following prefixes and suffixes, I could apply them to any new root I came across, including “ljam.” Here are the prefixes and suffixes used to create the Esperanto table:
|–aĵ||=||something made out of something else, such as food that comes from a certain source|
There are synonyms for a few of the terms on the Esperanto table. For instance “taŭro” is another word which means “virbovo.” Instead of “ĉevalejo” you can say “stalo” which means “stable.” However, if you do not know “stalo” you are not out of luck. If you know “ĉeval” and “ejo” you can simply put them together and come up with a fine, literate, perfectly acceptable word. Students of English are not permitted to do that and come up with “horseplace” or “horsebuilding” even though people would know what they were saying.
A process similiar to that which I applied to ljam can be applied to any new root. The only requirement is that the resulting words make sense.