Esperanto etymology

Esperanto etymology

Esperanto vocabulary and grammatical forms derive primarily from the Romance languages, with lesser contributions from Germanic. The language occupies a middle ground between "naturalistic" constructed languages such as Interlingua, which borrow words "en masse" from their source languages with little internal derivation, and "a priori" conlangs such as Solresol, in which the words have no historical connection to other languages. In Esperanto, root words are borrowed and retain much of the form of their source language, whether the phonetic form "(eks-" from "ex-)" or orthographic form "(teamo" from "team)." However, each root can then form dozens of derivations which may bear little resemblance to equivalent words in the source languages, such as "registaro" (government), which is derived from the Latinate root "reg" (to rule).

ource languages

Most Esperanto root words are taken from four languages of the Italic and Germanic families of Indo-European, namely Italian, French, German, and English. A large number are what might be called common European international vocabulary, or generic Romance: Roots common to several languages, such as "vir-" "man", found in English words such as "virile," and "okul-" "eye", found in "oculist." Some appear to be compromises between the primary languages, such as "tondri" (to thunder), per French "tonner," Italian "tonare," and English "thunder."

Romance and Germanic

The main languages contributing to Zamenhof's original vocabulary were Italian,
French, English,and German, the modern languages most widely learned in schools around the world at the time Esperanto was devised. The result was that about two thirds of this original vocabulary is Romance, and about one third Germanic, including a pair of roots from Swedish::Swedish: Comparative "the" (as in "the" more "the" merrier") "ju ... des". A couple words, "strato" (street) and "gisto" (yeast), are closer to Dutch than German, which has an "ŝ" rather than an "s" sound in these words, but this is within the range of variation found in other roots, and may be a compromise between German and English. A couple apparently Spanish or Portuguese roots, "ronki" (to snore) and "iri" (to go), were perhaps taken directly from Latin.

Latin and Greek

Only a few roots were taken directly from the classical languages:

:Latin: "sed" (but), "tamen" (however), "post" (after), "kvankam" (although), "dum" (during), "nek" (nor), "aŭ" (or), "hodiaŭ" (today), "abio" (fir), "iri" (to go—though this form survives in the French future), "ronki" (to snore), the adverbial suffix "-e," and perhaps the infinitive suffix "-i." Not all of the lexical affixes have clear sources, but some such as "-enda" (worthy of) and "-op-" (a number together) may be Latin.

:Classical Greek: "kaj" (and), "pri" (about), the plural suffix "-j," the accusative case suffix "-n," and perhaps the jussive mood suffix "-u" and the inceptive prefix "ek-."

lavic, Lithuanian and Hebrew

Surprisingly few roots appear to have come from other modern European languages, even those Zamenhof was most familiar with. What follows is a fairly comprehensive list of roots which do not occur in the principal languages:

:Russian and Polish: "barakti" (to flounder), "barĉo" (borscht), "bulko" (a bread roll), "celo" (an aim, goal), "ĉu" (whether), "eĉ" (even), "kaĉo" (porridge), "kartavi" (to pronounce a guttural R), "klopodi" (to take steps), "kolbaso" (a sausage), "krado" (a grating), "krom" (except), "luti" (to solder), " [via] moŝto" ( [your] highness), "nepre" (without fail), "nu" (well!), "ol" (than), "pilko" (a ball), "po" (per), "pra-" (proto-), "prava" (right [in opinion] ), "svati" (to matchmake), "ŝelko" (suspenders), "vosto" (a tail), the pet-name suffixes "-nj-" and "-ĉj-," and perhaps the collective suffix "-ar-" (if this is not Latin);

:Lithuanian: "tuj" (immediately);

:Hebrew: perhaps the jussive suffix "-u" (if not Greek)

Other languages

Other languages were only represented in so far as they were cognate with, or as their words had become widespread in, Esperanto's source languages. However, since that time many languages have contributed words for specialized or regional concepts, such as "haŝio" (chopsticks) from Japanese and "boaco" (reindeer) from Saami.

Obscure roots

A few roots appear to be unique to Esperanto:

:"ĝi" (it, s/he), "-ujo" (suffix for containers).

A particularly obscure root is "edzo" (husband). Like another indirect German borrowing, "fraŭlo" (bachelor), which derives from "fraŭlino" (Miss: "fräulein") less the feminine suffix "-in-", "edzo" appears to be a back-formation of "edzino" (wife). Zamenhof said the latter derives from "kronprincedzino" (crown princess), borrowed from the German "Kronprinzessin," and then internally analyzed as "kron-" (crown) "princ-" (prince) "edzino" (wife). [] However, Vilborg's "Etimologia Vortaro" argues that "edzino" is more likely to have come from Yiddish "rebbetzin" "rabbi's wife", reanalysed as "rebb-etzin," and that Zamenhof made up the German etymology after the fact to avoid anti-Semitic prejudice against Esperanto. That would mean that "edz-" ultimately derives from the Slavic feminine suffix "-its(a)." Regardless, few words have histories this convoluted.

The correlatives, although clearly cognate with European languages (for example, "kiel, tiel" with French "quel" "which", "tel" "that"; "ĉiu" with Italian "ciascuno" "everyone", and "-es" with the German genitive "-es," etc.), have been analogically leveled to the point that they are often given as examples of Esperanto innovations. This is especially true for the indefinite forms like "io" (something), which were devised by iconically removing the consonant of the "ki-" and "ti-" forms. Likewise, the restriction of the Italian and Greek masculine noun and adjective ending "-o" to nouns, and the feminine noun and adjective ending "-a" to adjectives and the article "la," is an Esperanto innovation using existing forms.

Some smaller words have been modified to the extent that they're difficult to recognize. For example, Italian "a, ad" (to) became "al" (to) under the influence of the contraction "al" (to the), to better fit the phonotactics of the language, and in a parallel change, Latin "ex" (out of) and Slavic "od" (by, than) may have became "el" (out of) and "ol" (than).


The Greek origin of the nominal inflections can be seen in the Greek "a"-declension nouns such as the word for "muse": "musa," plural "musai," accusative "musan," which in Esperanto is "muzo, muzoj, muzon." Greek "o"-declension words such as "logos, logoi, logon" (word) are similar, as are adjectival declensions such as "aksia, aksiai, aksian" (worthy). Greek was perhaps also the model of stressed "i" in Esperanto words like "familío" (family), which follows the common Greek pattern of "aksía" (worthy) and "ojkíaj" (houses).

Esperanto also has an "a-i-o" ablaut for present/past/future tense which has partial parallels in Latin present "amat," perfect "amavit," and the corresponding infinitives "amare, amavisse." Otto Jespersen said of the ablaut that,

:This play of vowels is not an original idea of Zamenhof's: "-as, -is, -os" are found for the three tenses of the infinitive in Faiguet's system of 1765; "-a, -i, -o" without a consonant are used like Z's "-as, -is, -os" by Rudelle (1858); Courtonne in 1885 had "-am, -im, -om" in the same values, and the similarity with Esperanto is here even more perfect than in the other projects, as "-um" corresponds to Z's "-us." — [ An International Language (1928)]

The infinitive suffix "-i" may perhaps derive from Latin deponent verbs, such as "loqui" (to speak). With elements like these that are only one or two letters long, it is difficult to know whether resemblances are due to the forms being related, or just coincidence. For example, it is speculated that the jussive "-u" is from the Hebrew imperative "-û," but it could also be from the Greek [u] imperative of deponent verbs such as "dekhou" (receive!); or perhaps it was inspired by [u] being found in both Hebrew and Greek. Similarly, adverbial "-e" is found in Latin and Italian "(bene)" as well as in Russian (after a palatalized consonant); the participle bases "-t-" and "-nt-" are found in Latin, Italian, Greek, and German; and the pronominal base "-i" is found in Italian and English.

Technical vocabulary

Modern international vocabulary, much of it Latin or Greek in origin, is of course used as well, but frequently for a family of related words only the root will be borrowed directly, and the rest will be derived from it using Esperanto means of word formation. For example, the computer term 'bit' was borrowed directly as "bito", but 'byte' was then derived by compounding "bito" with the numeral "ok" (eight), for the uniquely Esperanto word "bitoko" ('an octet of bits'). Although not a familiar form to speakers of European languages, the transparency of its formation is helpful to those who do not have this advantage.

With the exception of perhaps a hundred common or generic plant and animal names, Esperanto adopts the international binomial nomenclature of living organisms, using suitable orthography, and changing the nominal and adjectival grammatical endings to "-o" and "-a". For example, the binomial for the guineafowl is "Numida meleagris". In Esperanto, therefore, a "numido" would be any bird of the genus "Numida", and a "meleagra numido" the helmeted guineafowl specifically. Likewise, a "numidedo" is any bird in the guineafowl family Numididæ.

Competing root forms

There is some question over which inflection to use when assimilating Latin and Greek words. Zamenhof generally avoided the bare stem of the nominative singular when this differed from other inflections, as in "reĝo" (king), which follows the Latin plural "reges" and English "regicide," or "floro" (flower) as in "floral," rather than singular "rex" and "flos." However, European national standards differ in this regard, resulting in debate over the form of later "international" borrowings, such as whether the asteroid Pallas should be "Palaso" in Esperanto, parallel to French and English names "Pallas," or "Palado," as in Italian "Pallade," Russian "Паллада" ("Palláda"), and the English adjective "Palladian." In some cases there are three possibilities, as can be seen in the English noun "helix," its plural "helices" ("c" = [s] ), and its adjective "helical" ("c" = [k] ). Although the resulting potential for conflict is frequently criticized, it does present an opportunity to disambiguate what would otherwise be homonyms based on culturally specific and often fossilized metaphors. For example, all three of the forms of Latin "helix" are found as Esperanto roots, one with the original meaning, and the other two representing old metaphors: "helico" (a spiral), "heliko" (a snail), "helikso" (the incurved rim of the ear).

Normally the Latin or Greek inflectional ending is replaced with the Esperanto inflectional ending "−o." However, the original inflection will occasionally be retained, as if it were part of the root, in order to disambiguate from a more common word. For example, a virus (from Latin "vir-us)" is redundant "virus-o" instead of the expected "*vir-o" in order to avoid confusion with "vir-o" (a man), and the Latin root "corp-us" is the source of both "korp-o" (a living body) and "korpus-o" (a military corps). Similarly, when the sound "ĥ" is replaced with "k," as it commonly is (see Esperanto phonology), the word "ĥoro" (a chorus) is replaced with the redundant form "koruso" to avoid creating a homonym with "koro" (a heart). The redundant inflection may have been inspired by Lithuanian, which otherwise contributed relatively little to Esperanto: compare "fokuso" (focus), "kokoso" (coconut), "lotuso" (lotus), "patoso" (pathos), "radiuso" (radius), "sinuso" (sine), "viruso" (virus), with Lithuanian "fokusas, kokosas, lotosas, patosas, radiusas, sinusas, virusas."


External links

* [ Etymological Dictionary of the Esperanto Language] by Andras Rajki Note: This dictionary should be used with caution. For example, "amelo" (starch) is given as a rare example of a Greek word which does not occur in Latin. However, it is not only a Latin derivation (from "amyl-um)," but more directly derives from German "amel-."

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