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Why does Esperanto have an article?

จาก Zhimstag, 23 พฤษภาคม 2019

ข้อความ 22

ภาษา: English

Zhimstag (แสดงโปรไฟล์) 23 พฤษภาคม 2019, 18:37:04

Esperanto was constructed to be an easy language. Then why does it have an article? Articles are hard for people whose first language has none. Russians who are learning English found English articles hard because it is a new concept for them, which they didn't know and use before in their language. And languages that have articles have different rules of using them, for example, in Portuguese they can be used with proper names but in English you cannot say "the Mary", "the John", or in Arabic it can be used with demonstrative pronouns ("This the house") but in English you cannot say "This the house". So absence of them would make Esperanto easier. Also they're not that necessary for communication. I don't say that they're completely useless, they have a certain function, but they're not that needed, since speakers of Russian, Turkish, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese and other languages can communicate with each other without them. Articles are not more needed than noun genders, dual number, evidentiality, inclusive and exclusive first person plural pronouns and other things found in many languages and absent in English and Esperanto

Miono (แสดงโปรไฟล์) 24 พฤษภาคม 2019, 03:07:03

Well...It's basically Zamenhof's fault.
If he had taken enough time for examining the structure of Esperanto, then most of the problem we have today hadn't existed from the beginning, including the article, gender-neutral pronoun ideas, and so on.
But anyways, I don't think he was too lazy to create this language. He rather, "couldn't."
Since he was merely an eye doctor, not a linguist, he didn't notice the calamity he put into his language.

Metsis (แสดงโปรไฟล์) 24 พฤษภาคม 2019, 07:06:52

As Miono said, it Z's fault. They had some less bright moments. In no particular order:

pronouns
Why not T-V distinction? Why make singular third person pronouns gender-bound? (While elegant in their written forms distinguishing li and ni can be hard in a noisy environment.)

country names
The infamous two category system with -ujo and a total mixing of citizenship and ethnicity. Z themself was a prime of this. Certainly not a российский but a россиянин.

article
Being a native speaker of both Polish and Russian Z should have realised, that an/the/whatever (pun intended) article is superfluous. For the most part it's obvious which object you are referring to: Mi vidas katon. Kato estas nigra. Who spontaneously thinks, that another, unspecified cat appears? Or you can use the demonstrative pronouns to specify – and those you have anyway: Mi vidas katon. Ĉi tiu kato estas nigra.

Z had a hunch, that the article could cause trouble and therefore allowed it to be left away initially. What this "initially" means, remains unclear at least to me. And this allowance has actively toned down by those, whose native languages have them.

the future tense
Again there are languages, which do just fine without a future tense. Who doesn't understand, that Mi aĉetas pomojn morgaŭ happens in a/the future?

too many buzzing sounds
All those c, ĉ, ĝ, ĵ, z, which some (like me) depending on their native language can't distinguish.


But yes, Miono has right: Z couldn't. Besides being an eye doctor Z was a white European in a completely Indo-European environment (yes, also Yiddish is Indo-European). Unfortunately Z neither came to contact with speakers of languages from other primary language families.

kaŝperanto (แสดงโปรไฟล์) 25 พฤษภาคม 2019, 02:23:03

Miono:Well...It's basically Zamenhof's fault.
If he had taken enough time for examining the structure of Esperanto, then most of the problem we have today hadn't existed from the beginning, including the article, gender-neutral pronoun ideas, and so on.
But anyways, I don't think he was too lazy to create this language. He rather, "couldn't."
Since he was merely an eye doctor, not a linguist, he didn't notice the calamity he put into his language.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that he was careless or unable. He left out the indefinite article, which is fairly awkward for English/French/etc. natives who are used to them. I think he made the right choice there, since the indefinite article is very inconsistent and doesn't convey much information.

The definite article does serve more of a purpose, though. Even in languages without it you still see some construct that fills its role. Perhaps "tiu" could cover much of this function, but it would be too specific as it is. There is a meaningful difference between the definite and indefinite senses. "Take a boy with you" is quite different from "Take the boy with you". Yeah, this is easy to extract from context alone (hopefully you will not take a random boy), but do you really intend to rely more on context in Esperanto?

Also, know that Zamenhof did have a note in the fundamento that permits/justifies omission of the definite article by those who find it difficult. I think it was a "while learning" rule, but it shows that he knew of the challenge and still chose to include the definite article.

Also, the argument Metsis put forward about the future tense is favoring context over clear and logical distinction. Does it really matter if the concept of tense is tied to a separate word via context instead of an explicit ending? The concept of a future action exists and is conveyed by a modification to the words used to convey it. I, for one, am in favor of having an explicit way to convey a concept instead of an implicit/contextual way.

For all of the gender-specific pronouns you have to consider the period in which the language was coming up. It is easy to think of the idea in our time, but even today this concept only applies to a small set of people. I think a gender-neutral pronoun would be a nice addition to the language from a functional standpoint, but not having gendered pronouns at all would have been ammunition for those claiming that Esperanto is unexpressive. It is perfectly logical to have a pronoun that you can use for anyone, but would this be any more international than gendered pronouns?

Miono (แสดงโปรไฟล์) 25 พฤษภาคม 2019, 07:58:38

kaŝperanto:
Miono:Well...It's basically Zamenhof's fault.
If he had taken enough time for examining the structure of Esperanto, then most of the problem we have today hadn't existed from the beginning, including the article, gender-neutral pronoun ideas, and so on.
But anyways, I don't think he was too lazy to create this language. He rather, "couldn't."
Since he was merely an eye doctor, not a linguist, he didn't notice the calamity he put into his language.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that he was careless or unable. He left out the indefinite article, which is fairly awkward for English/French/etc. natives who are used to them. I think he made the right choice there, since the indefinite article is very inconsistent and doesn't convey much information.

The definite article does serve more of a purpose, though. Even in languages without it you still see some construct that fills its role. Perhaps "tiu" could cover much of this function, but it would be too specific as it is. There is a meaningful difference between the definite and indefinite senses. "Take a boy with you" is quite different from "Take the boy with you". Yeah, this is easy to extract from context alone (hopefully you will not take a random boy), but do you really intend to rely more on context in Esperanto?

Also, know that Zamenhof did have a note in the fundamento that permits/justifies omission of the definite article by those who find it difficult. I think it was a "while learning" rule, but it shows that he knew of the challenge and still chose to include the definite article.

Also, the argument Metsis put forward about the future tense is favoring context over clear and logical distinction. Does it really matter if the concept of tense is tied to a separate word via context instead of an explicit ending? The concept of a future action exists and is conveyed by a modification to the words used to convey it. I, for one, am in favor of having an explicit way to convey a concept instead of an implicit/contextual way.

For all of the gender-specific pronouns you have to consider the period in which the language was coming up. It is easy to think of the idea in our time, but even today this concept only applies to a small set of people. I think a gender-neutral pronoun would be a nice addition to the language from a functional standpoint, but not having gendered pronouns at all would have been ammunition for those claiming that Esperanto is unexpressive. It is perfectly logical to have a pronoun that you can use for anyone, but would this be any more international than gendered pronouns?
Thank you for your response.

Considering the ambiguity, indeed, Zamenhof could add the definitive article in Esperanto. But in that case, he at least should have defined its meaning, so precisely that no one can argue its usage, including the difference to other possible alternative like "ĉi tiu."
About the omission of difinitive article, I think it does more harm than good. Because of this system,it became even harder to tell the difference between "the," "ĉi tiu," and no article.

Also, yes, the history of Z's generation is somewhat I was missing, which is my fault.
However, I have to mention, that having no gendered pronoun doesn't make a language unexpressive.
If one really want to specify someone's gender, then he/she can use "la viro" or "la ino" instead.
Lastly, gender-neutral pronoun is not too rare, especially in Non-Indoeuropiane languages. Two big examples are Mandarin and Bahasa Indonesia, although formet has a distinction in writing only.

Zhimstag (แสดงโปรไฟล์) 25 พฤษภาคม 2019, 08:22:09

According to this map https://wals.info/feature/44A#1/-37/101 most languages of the world don't have gendered pronouns including Chinese (distinction only in writing), Malay, Turkish, Finnish, Hindi, Hungarian. There are languages that have gendered second person and plural pronouns as Arabic and Hebrew. If we say that lack of difference between "she" and "he" makes a language unexpressive, then we have to say lack of difference between "you" for male/males and "you" for female/females and between "they" for males and "they" for females also makes English and Esperanto unexpressive

kaŝperanto (แสดงโปรไฟล์) 26 พฤษภาคม 2019, 01:51:19

Yes, there is certainly a lot left to be desired in the end product, but I think it is easy to see the language out of context of the time. Leaning on my experience with programming languages it is sometimes easy to think "features X, Y, and Z are so obvious, how did they not do this in language N?", but we have the benefit of seeing the results of work done by those who came before us. I'm sure that his decisions also had a lot to do with selling the language to Europeans who would expect a language to have the features they are familiar with.

I actually discovered Esperanto after I stumbled upon Lojban doing some googling many years ago about machine voice recognition. Lojban seems like it addresses many of the criticisms of Esperanto, but (effectively) zero speakers made it unappealing compared to Esperanto (and I also valued the large shared vocab/grammar with Spanish that I studied in school). I've not actually studied Lojban to know if it is better, but once again comparing to programming languages the objectively best or most elegant solution doesn't always win the race.

Thanks for the info, Zhimstag, I was not aware of that fact. I agree with your argument. My comment was that the critics of Esperanto at the time would likely have seen that omission as ammunition to say that Esperanto is unexpressive. It certainly makes sense to have a generic pronoun in the context of Esperanto's purpose.

One thing I recently learned is that during one period of uncertainty Zamenhof proposed some major reforms to the language, but was opposed by other Esperantists.

There is a saying that "the perfect is the enemy of the good", and I think Esperanto fits squarely in the "good" camp.

Metsis (แสดงโปรไฟล์) 27 พฤษภาคม 2019, 07:49:10

Zhimstag,

That's an interesting site. Thank you. I made a query about the definite article and it shows
  • No definite, but indefinite article: 45 languages
  • No definite or indefinite article: 198
  • Demonstrative word used as definite article: 69
  • Definite word distinct from demonstrative: 216
  • Definite affix: 92
I made two observations. Z spoke Yiddish, Polish and Russian natively. While Yiddish has both the indefinite and definite articles (I googled), to my knowledge Polish and Russian have not. Z lived in present day Poland, and west and south of it one speaks languages with some kind of article. Kaŝperanto's point of having something for those people might be valid.

My other observations has to do with Africa. South of Sahara is a rim of languages with all varieties of article use represented. Note, that the East African lingua franca, Swahili, uses a demonstrative word as definite article. To my eyes this means, that of two following phrases

Mi vidas katon. La kato estas nigra.
Mi vidas katon. (Ĉi) tiu kato estas nigra.

the later is way more widespreadly understood than the former.

PS. You can combine multiple criteria on that wals.info site. If you combine definite articles and gendered pronouns, you see that west-European Indo-European way of having both really plummets.

nornen (แสดงโปรไฟล์) 27 พฤษภาคม 2019, 15:47:36

kaŝperanto:There is a saying that "the perfect is the enemy of the good", and I think Esperanto fits squarely in the "good" camp.
I second this and your whole post.

I don't think it is fair to say, that the existence of an (the?) definite article in Esperanto is Zamenhof's "fault". I would say, it was his "decision" without any judgment of fault or merit. It was a design choice.

We all might find feature we find superfluous or even counterproductive in Esperanto, and find other features which we miss, depending on the languages we grew up with and which we speak. Zamenhof took a certain set of features and now those are the features of Esperanto. And it seems to work. After all, we all manage to communicate in Esperanto.

I don't go around complaining that Japanese generally doesn't mark plural. That Russian has no articles. That Spanish has way too many tenses and that German has way too few. That Chinese has tones. That English spelling is a nightmare. That Esperanto has some weird features and lacks some others. Languages are just like that. And actually those differences between them and the very peculiar quirks of each are, what make languages and language learning fascinating for me.

nornen (แสดงโปรไฟล์) 28 พฤษภาคม 2019, 15:43:47

Metsis:Zhimstag,

That's an interesting site. Thank you. I made a query about the definite article and it shows
  • No definite, but indefinite article: 45 languages
  • No definite or indefinite article: 198
  • Demonstrative word used as definite article: 69
  • Definite word distinct from demonstrative: 216
  • Definite affix: 92
That sites lists Japanese, Mam, Jakalteko as "No definite, but indefinite article" which to my knowledge is not true.

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