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Does the simplicity of Esperanto verb tenses make its verbs too imprecise?

by MarcDiaz, September 6, 2016

Messages: 88

Language: English

Bergeton (User's profile) January 20, 2019, 9:01:08 PM



From what little I know of Mandarin, the grammar seems to be fairly simplistic, but the language makes up for that simplicity with a tonal system and a complex (although beautiful) writing system. So it all balances out.

Someone once told me that the advantage of English, is that you can speak it badly and still be understood. No idea if this is the case with Esperanto, but I doubt it is with Mandarin.
I think you're spot on for English, but I would chalk it more down to experience with foreigners mangling the language than any inherent quality of the language. I would expect Esperanto to be similar in that regard, although perhaps less forgiving of grammar mistakes given its regularity.

For Mandarin, I was once in a beginners' class where we were reading out a short text about our family or something that we wrote as homework. Even with a vocabulary of 40-60 words, the teacher was struggling to understand us well enough to correct pronunciation. Here I think we are dealing with an inherent quality of the language, namely that there's so many similar sounding words that the number of plausible interpretations of bad Mandarin becomes unmanageable.

To bring the discussion back on topic, it's worth noting that complexity in Chinese pronunciation actually decreased a lot from old Chinese if you consider consonants, but the tonal system and combining words to disambiguate has proliferated.

Redundancy certainly has its place in all languages, but for a con-lang I guess the real questions are what level of redundancy is helpful to promote understanding in speech and what kind of redundancy is the easiest to learn? Here I'm inclined to posit that a tense system that forces speakers to be very specific is not all that meaningful, since that level of specificity is likely only needed at a later stage of language acquisition, notwithstanding the dissonance of being ambiguous in a context where you would be specific in your mother tongue.

amigueo (User's profile) January 21, 2019, 10:42:22 AM

Hello Bergeton, mkj1887, Turfalko, sergejm, Metsis, Vestitor, Miville and?

About this topic (precision and easiness of verb system), i remember a proposal from a...

[Hmm, do you remember that this forum section is to use esperanto and even not English, nor Mandarin?]

...a proposal from "ĉevino". Ri (oops: ey) was very angry and slammed goodbye when ey realised that eys brilliant alternative/complementary simplification of esperanto verb system received more hostility than comprehension or linguistical attention.

Ey suggested more or less that the verb system of esperanto was too complex and redundant for a very simple and very easy language from the beginning of learning. (Of course, if i were ĉevino, i would be very cross with amigueo because of this clumsy deformation of eys doctrine).

The example of Marc Diaz about the redundance of English verb in comparison with a more irredundant (when avoiding the heavy style) Esperanto verb is approaching of ĉevino's argument.

Do you remember Marc Diaz's example?

" When i joint UEA, i had already been studying Esperanto for 6 months.
" Kiam mi aliĝis UEA, mi jam studis Esperanto dum 6 monatoj.

Summary: JAM and DUM make ESTINTis STUDANTA innecessary, then Esperanto uses only STUDIS. Oh, more concise in verb, and compensated by some other words if necessary (JAM and DUM).

ĉevino pushed that Esperanto feature a little further: "-IS is also superfluous for a simple language, at least for the beginners".

In eys proposal: studis, studas, studos ---> studi.
"Kiam mi aliĝi UEA en 2002, mi jam studi Esperanto dum 6 monatoj".

I found it reasonable to consider a more contextual variant of Esperanto, resulting a simpler verb system when necessary.

amigueo (User's profile) January 21, 2019, 11:19:48 AM

nornen:Do compound tenses in Esperanto actually add more precision, or do they just sow more misunderstandings?

The basic problem is, that there is no real consensus what the compound tenses mean. The first question is whether the participles express aspect or relative tense. There have been lengthy discussion about this on lernu. (For instance, Bertilo Wennergren interprets the participles as both temporal and aspectual in the lernu grammar, while Kirilo argued that they show relative tense. Kirilo please correct me if I misquoted you.)

The more important aspect however is, whether the reader (or listener) is able to decode the fine meaning the writer (or speaker) put into the compound tenses.

Several languages have compound tenses, for example one compound tense formed by an auxiliary verb (mostly something like esti or havi) and a nominal form of a verb (participle, infinitive, other):

I saw. - I have seen.
Ich sah. - Ich habe gesehen.
Je vis. - J'ai vu.
Vidi. - Ho visto.
Vi. - He visto.
Vidi (classical). - Habeo vistum (vulgaris).
Mi vidis. - Mi estas vidinta.

Now the problem is that the compound forms don't necessarily mean the same in the different languages. In German, Italian, French and Latin the only difference is either the register of the speech or the region of the speaker. In these languages both forms can be used almost interchangeably. However in English and Spanish there is a strict difference in meaning between the two forms; you cannot replace one with the other. Even worse: the English "I have seen" cannot be mapped exactly onto the Spanish "he visto", or vice versa.

And this is what I fear can give rise to misunderstanding.


Or translating "I realised, that I had been being watched" as "Mi eksciis, ke mi estis estanta/inta rigardata/ita." might not have the desired effect.

Whenever someone tried to put information about aspect or aktionsart into compound tenses, in my opinion, they should double-check whether an arbitrary reader will be able to get the intended meaning. If there is even a minuscule doubt that the reader might not get this information, it might be better to stick to simple tenses and adverbs or to rephrase the whole sentence. Just my two cents.

Are there occasions where the usage of compound tenses is indispensable in Esperanto?
I agree with most of your text, nornen.

YES. We are mixing (in Esperanto compound verbs) time, aspect and relative time. But are they so different things?
YES. The signification mapping of "same" compound verbs from language to language is not coincident.

NO. "I realised, that I had been being watched" = "Mi eksciis, ke mi estis estanta/inta rigardata/ita."

In my opinion:
"I realised, that I had been being watched" = "Mi eksciis, ke mi rigardatintis aŭ estis estinta estanta (antintis) rigardej."

Adiizola (User's profile) January 28, 2019, 4:47:45 AM

One only has to use a compound verb, formed by the verb "esti" and the participle which refers to the subject in the present (-ant- form).


Metsis (User's profile) January 28, 2019, 12:11:07 PM

"I realised, that I had been being watched"

Kiam ajn eblas, uzi "onin" anstataŭ pasivon. Do, "Mi eksciis, ke oni rigardadis min".

sudanglo (User's profile) January 28, 2019, 2:22:59 PM

Mi konstatis ke mi estis antaŭe observata

amigueo (User's profile) February 2, 2019, 6:29:57 PM

Atentindas ke participo povas plurvorta.

kantanta = anta kanti
amata = ata ami
observatinta = inta ata observi

Ruslan3737 (User's profile) February 11, 2019, 12:28:23 PM


I know that in the end it all boils down to a matter of simplicity vs accuracy. Esperanto favors simplicity. My question is: Is simplicity really the best choice for a language that is meant to be used worlwide for all subjects and areas of life? If we want to talk about philosophy, science, cuisine or any other subject that exists in this world, wouldn't maybe a greater degree of accuracy be desirable over simplicity?
Complex tenses are not that needed to talk about science, philosophy or for simply communication. There are many languages that don't have complex tenses and it does not make any problem to communicate for their speakers. Russian language has three tenses as well as Esperanto and doesn't have different simple and continuous tenses, when you say in Russian "Ya rabotayu" it can mean both "I work" and "I am working" and also "I have been working" depending on the context.
Ya rabotayu kazhdiy den - I work every day
Ya rabotayu seychas - I am working now
Ya rabotayu uzhe dwa chasa- I have been working for two hours (and still working).
So you can see Russian uses one present tense where English uses three different present tenses.

Japanese and Arabic have two tenses, past and non-past. For example, when you say in Arabic Ana azhabu it can mean both I go/I am going and I will go, and also has no different simple and continuous tenses.
Ana azhabu ila albayt alana - I am going to home now
Ana azhabu ila albayt ghadan - I will go to home tomorrow
Although future tense can be marked in Arabic by prefixes sa and sawfa (We can say Ana saazhabu which definitely means I will go), these prefixes are not used always and without them future and present can be distinguished only by the context.
There are languages that even don't have past, present and future tenses (read about tenseless languages on Wikipedia) as Chinese or Malay. In Chinese tense can be known also by the context, while verbs don't change their form.
But does lack of complex tenses make Arabs, Russians, Chinese, Japanese and other people whose languages don't have such tenses anable to talk about science, philosophy and other things that exist in the world? Of course no. So you are not right that Esperanto is too imprecise.

Metsis (User's profile) February 12, 2019, 10:28:39 AM


To be precise English has only two simple tenses, past and present, but it also has three compound tenses and two aspects. Together they form ten verb forms (if I counted correctly), that are confusing for those who are accustomed to other forms.

You might take a look at the posting by Miville on page 6 in this thread, where they explain how Polish and Russian actually have five verb forms. These originate from three tenses and two aspects, thus making Polish and Russian harder than you let suggest.

E-o originally had those Polish/Russian five forms, but since these are also hard to understand for those who are accustomed to other forms, E-o has evolved (yes, it does evolve) and therefore we currently have only three (simple) forms.

My bet is on, that E-o will keep evolving, and perhaps we get rid of the future tense, since you must be a real dumb, if you don't understand, that Mi aĉetas pomojn morgaŭ denotes future. Just like in Arabic and... and...

thyrolf (User's profile) February 12, 2019, 12:43:56 PM

three simple forms?



Do, ses, ĉu ne?

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