Word-building in Esperanto

Esperanto vocabulary learning has been greatly reduced as many thousands of words are formed from a relatively small number of vocabulary items (stand alone words, roots of words, prefixes, suffixes and grammatical endings – collectively known as morphemes). Studies have found that 95% of spoken Esperanto can be understood after mastering less than 500 morphemes. 

English does a little of this, for example: friendly, friendliness, unfriend, unfriendly, unfriendliness, friendship, friendless, friendlessness, befriend, boyfriend, and girlfriend, are all formed from the root word friend. But English does this word-building inconsistently.

  • The suffix morpheme “ly” in English is usually added to an adjective to form an adverb, (quick, quickly, bad, badly, etc) but, in the above example “ly” is added to a noun “friend”, to make an adjective “friendly”.
  • The prefix morpheme “un”, and about ten others, are used to make opposites in English. In addition to needing to learn ten prefixes (instead of one in Esperanto), you need to learn which prefix goes on which words, and there is very little logic involved. The word “unfriendly” is an adjective and the opposite of the adjective “friendly”, but the word “unfriend” is a verb and not the opposite of the noun “friend” (for the opposite of the noun “friend” you need to learn a new word “enemy” [interesting footnote below]). The opposites of stable, stability, and stabilize are unstable, instability, and destabilize respectively. Three different prefixes are used even though the three words have the same root. A student of English is also confronted with words like canny and uncanny which are not opposites, but unrelated words; as well as flammable and inflammable, which mean essentially the same thing (the illogic of this is potentially dangerous for new students of English).

 

Esperanto builds words logically and consistently with parts that never change their meaning. Here are a few Esperanto morphemes: 

  • an adjective root – “jun” (young),  {“j” is always pronounced like the English “y”, “u” is always pronounced like the “oo” in boot, so “ju” is pronounced  like the English word “you”}
  • an adjective root – “san” (healthy), {“a” is always pronounced like the “a” in “father”}
  • a noun root – “amik” (friend),
  • a verb root – “vend” (to sell),
  • an adjective ending – “a”,
  • a noun ending – “o”,
  • an infinitive verb ending – “i”, {“i” is always pronounced like the “ee” in “feet”}
  • a prefix used to make opposites – “mal”, {remember the pronunciation of “a”}
  • a suffix used to create words meaning a person with the properties of the preceding morphemes – “ul”, {remember the pronunciation of “u”}
  • a suffix used to make words meaning a place for the meaning of the preceding morphemes – “ej”, {“ej” is pronounced like the “ay” in “play”} 
  • a suffix used to create words meaning a collection of things described by the preceding morphemes – “ar”.

 

Using the above morphemes try building the following words: 

  • an adjective meaning young,
  • an adjective meaning old,
  • an adjective meaning healthy,
  • an adjective meaning unhealthy (sick, ill),
  • a noun meaning friend,
  • a noun meaning enemy,
  • a noun meaning a young person (youth),
  • a noun meaning a collection of young people (youth group),
  • noun meaning an old person (senior),
  • a noun meaning a healthy person,
  • a noun meaning a sick (unhealthy) person,
  • a verb meaning “to sell”,
  • a noun meaning a place for selling (store),
  • a noun meaning a collection of stores (e.g. a strip mall or shopping centre),
  • a noun meaning a place for sick people (e.g. a medical clinic or hospital).

 

Click on this link to check your answers.

Note: Studying the origins of words reveals that an “enemy” is the opposite of a “friend”. Students of French will know that “ami” (pronounced like the “emy” in “enemy”) is French for “friend”.