Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Affixes in Esperanto

Is it only me or does anybody else think Esperanto's affixes are cool most of the times? I mean, I know as well as the next guy the pros and cons about Esperanto, but some of the affixes, those you use to modify the root and make new words, are really interesting. I like it how they are very ambiguous; for instance, you have 'ad' or 'aĵ', which literally mean "a lasting or repeated action" and "concrete thing", I like this last one in relation to 'uj' "something that contains the thing indicated by the root". I say this is very interesting because it is very flexible to use, it can mean either something that contains but it is also mostly used for nations or trees, as they contain citizens and fruits. So for instance you have:

pomo. Apple > pomujo. Apple-tree.
hispana. Spanish > Hispanujo. Spain.

It's noteworthy that it lets you make a pair with 'ar' an infix that means "a group of", so you can have:

libro. Book > libraro & librujo

The first would mean "a group of books" as in a collection, the latter would mean the thing holding your books, a bibliotheque or a book-shelf. When you look at your own collection of books comfortably sitting in your book-shelves they can both be called either libraro or librujo, but the first would mean the books in themselves, while the latter would mean the furniture which contains them.

And that's not all, my favorite must be 'ing' which means "something that is partially introduced in what is expressed by the root". So with it you can have:

fingro. Finger > fingringo. Thimble.

I like this quite much, and the same infix could be also used in more flexible ways in conlangs, thoughts anyone?


  1. Affixes are a double-edged sword, IMHO. They can make it much harder to find the meaning in a long, complicated word. Especially when the morphology is not self-seggregating (a learner of English for example could see the un- in unwilling also in university).

  2. I agree. Affixes can complicate a language a lot, but you can always limit them, for instance, not to use more than two or three affixes in one word. In Spanish we have something like this, we have many suffixes, but there's a limit of intelligibility to them. Also, as you point out, affixes don't need to all be as freely productive. You could make some affixes more productive than others and thus preventing this problem.

    In any case I think it's an useful tool and also interesting when the meaning is more open or ambiguous than when it's very specific.

  3. I definitely agree with that. I occasionally illustrate how handy affixes are by the German word Un-ab(-)steig-bar-keit. It is not officially in the dictionaries, but it can immediately understood from its stem absteigen (actually probably steigen, but ab- as affix is a bit difficult). I do wonder how the term would look like in Esperanto. How do you express the ability of a soccer club not to be relegated?

    In English 'Intolerability' might be a similar example.

  4. Well, in Spanish the opposite happens, you have the suffixes and all, but sometimes there is a limit as to how many of them can appear and also some are not as productive as others, meaning they can appear in certain 'fosilized' words and not in any other words. For instance, sometimes you'll be able to use up to 2 diminutives if the first has become very common. You can say 'amiguillo' meaning 'little friend' as endearment and if you call someone like that all the time and want to show more endearment you can use 'amiguillito' but using another diminutive and '*amiguillitincito' would just be ridiculous and hard to follow, while using two times the same diminutive would just be cacophonic.