Ranto Appendix – N


Faced with the charge that the design of Esperanto's grammar is parochial, the nearest thing Zamenhof's apologists have to counter‐evidence is the fact that Esperanto's morphology was avowedly influenced by “agglutinative” languages such as Turkish rather than the “fusional” model dominant in Europe.  What this means is that where for instance Spanish verbs go through various unpredictable mutations to mark different related senses (hacer = “to make”, hago = “I make”, hacen = “they make”), the Turkish equivalents are completely regular, with one affix marking tense and another to indicate the subject agreement (yap‐mak = “to make”, yap‐ıyor‑um = “I make”, yap‐ıyor‑lar = “they make”).  To switch to past tense, Spanish comes up with another random‐looking form (hicieron = “they made”) while Turkish just changes the marker in the tense slot (yap‐ti‑lar = “they made”).  It was recognised well before Zamenhof came along that the Turkish approach makes a better groundplan for the morphology of a constructed international auxiliary language, since it avoids the need to memorise combinatorial tables of conjugations.  In Zamenhof's neighbourhood this groundplan was represented by the non‐Indo‐European languages Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian – all predominantly agglutinative, though they look very europeanised when put alongside other examples such as Korean, Luganda, or Quechua.*

Zamenhof eagerly adopted the concept of discrete invariable building‐blocks; but he didn't recognise the distinction between derivational and inflectional morphology.  It's the derivational system that allows Esperanto morphemes to link together in long German‐style chains like the compound noun te‑kruĉo‐mufo‐kolekt‐ist‐ar‑ej‑o = “tea‐pot‐cosy collectors' club‐house”.  Inflectional morphemes don't get much beyond ekzil‐it‑o‑j‑n = “exiles” – and even there, the ‑it is a composite tense/aspect/mood/voice marker which is thoroughly fusional, while the ‑ojn is modelled on the declension patterns of Ancient Greek and would hardly be any more trouble to learn if the suffixes really were a single fusional blob.  Esperanto is more like a version of German with better organised inflectional endings than it is like a paradigm­atically agglutinative language.  A genuinely Turkish‐style Esperanto would handle all the various modal, reflexive, conditional, or aspectual forms of verbs by stacking verb endings, so that (for instance) mi ne estos vidita = “I won't have been seen” would use perfect, passive, future, negative, and subject‐agreement endings to form something like, say, vid‐iv‐at‐ur‑en‑im.

The third major option (which has influenced Esperanto's verbal system there) is the “analytic” groundplan, which consists of avoiding inflectional morphology, like subject‐agreement affixes, in favour of separate words, like explicit subject pronouns.  (When it eliminates derivational morphology as well, that's the fully “isolating” groundplan.)  It turns out that a case can easily be made for thoroughly analytic solutions being more convenient for more people:

The natural equivalent of the artificial auxiliary language is the “creole” (which is what a sub‐linguistic pidgin turns into once children start growing up together as a community of native‐speakers); they are “designed” by the innate preference babies have for a complete but easily learnable grammar, and they tend overwhelmingly to use analytic rather than heavily inflecting groundplans.

(And for the sake of completeness I should also mention the fourth basic groundplan: “polysynthetic” grammars are exemplified by the West Greenlandic one‐word sentence nalunaarasuartaa­tilioqatigiiffis­sualiulersaalera­luallaraminngooq = “it seems that they were well into the process of talking about founding an association for the establishment of a telegraph station”… but this is rarely proposed as a model for an auxiliary language!)