Sat, 14 May 2005

Mi lernas Esperanton

Here's something I've been meaning to blog about for a while: I've started teaching myself to speak Esperanto. I've heard so many good things about learning a language that I just had to give it a try - the forced-learning of Italian I did in school doesnt count, because it was forced.

If you've never heard of Esperanto, it's a constructed language with the explicit purpose of being a second language for the entire world. While it technically exists in the same linguistic category ("made-up languages") as Elvish and Klingon, it is actually remarkably powerful and easy to learn. Indeed, it was designed to be so.

Why Esperanto? There are many good discussions on the web, but here's my own quick list:

  • A language with a social conscience - Esperanto has been described as a linguistic handshake
  • Completely regular, which appeals to my computer-science brain
  • Anecdotally, at least four times easier to learn than the easiest of other languages (e.g. Spanish)
  • An increadible amount of free learning material available on the web. Start at lernu, Kurso de Esperanto or the Australian Esperanto Association
  • Enough words with similar roots to English that I dont feel completely lost
  • Different enough from English that I'm stretching my brain with new ideas

I was actually quite surprised how different some aspects of Esperanto were to English. In particular, the flexible way that words can be combined and modified to produce new words. Have a look at this page on Esperanto word-building for an example.

So, still interested? Let me whet your appetite by translating the title of this post back into English so you can see how much fun this is:

  • "Mi" means "Me" or "I"
  • Present-tense verbs always end in "as", while verb roots always end in "i". So "lernas" is the present-tense of the verb "lerni", meaning "to learn".
  • Nouns always end in "o", such as "Esperanto" which names the language.
  • The accusative ending "n" identifies the direct object of the sentence - the thing that the verb acts on. Thus, "Mi lernas Esperanton" translates roughly to "I learn Esperanto".

I'm a little fascinated by the accusative ending as its role in English seems to be performed exclusively using word order. One more quick example: "Mi amas vin" means "I love you" while "Min amas Vi" means "You love me". The idea is that you can use whatever word order is most comfortable for you (based on your native language) and it's still valid Esperanto.

Currently I'm only spending a few hours a week on this, but hopefully I'll be able to put aside some time on a regular basis. Dont ask me to hold a conversation in it just yet...