I'm giving up on Duolingo Korean lessons. I'm going to have to learn hangul before that will make any sense. Those blocks are not only constructed on a logical basis, but the shapes of the consonant pieces are meant to represent the shape your mouth makes when saying them. It takes a lot of effort to make a system like that confusing and evil, but Duolingo has managed it. They really do want you to memorize the han like they were kanji, and... no. Everyone I have showed this to thinks this is the dumbest possible way to do it, including the Japanese lady who has personal experience with memorizing a bazillion kanji in order to read things, and the actual Korean lady who works at the desk on weekends.

The Esperanto lessons, on the other hand, are working out fairly well. For starters, the software will accept, or at least overlook, the ASCII-X convention if you don't have an Esperanto keyboard, which is nice. Esperanto involves circumflexes -- aka 'hats' -- on a lot of consonants. Other languages don't do this, and esperantists are generally nerds, so back in the Paleolithic Era, they decided that cx = ĉ, gx = ĝ. jx = ĵ, etc, for the purposes of typing things into Usenet. There is no quicker way to get me to stop taking recreational quizzes than making it goddamn difficult for me to give you the answer I already know, so I appreciate this a lot.

The Esperanto lessons also tend to be quirky. At one point it asked me to translate the sentence, "Kiam vi havos krokodilon?" ("When will you have a crocodile?") This is a consistent feature of Esperanto lessons, in my personal experience. I'm pretty sure Zamenhof's original grammar was the last time anyone ever wrote an Esperanto textbook that took itself completely seriously. Very few people speak Esperanto by accident of birth, and people who set out to learn a constructed language tend to be the same kind of people who like to misuse grammar for comedic purposes.

Verbs, for example, can be very amusing. You make a lot of words in Esperanto by slapping a prefix or a suffix onto a root, and a very common one is mal-, which means "the opposite of". Fermi is "to close"; malfermi is "to open". If trinki is "to drink", then maltrinki, when you are feeling especially hilarious, is "to take a piss".

You can verb just about anything. The various declensions are planned out such that none of them collide, so there's no ambiguity about whether something is a noun (-o), an adjective (-a), an adverb (-e), or a verb (-as, -os, -is, -i, -u, plus a bunch of infixes for transitive and perfect stuff). As a consequence, when you're using a simple adjective + to be construction, you can fold the copula right into the adjective. La flago estas blua, or La flago bluas. Almost, but not quite, the same thing. It gives the impression that blue is not a quality the flag has, but a manner in which the flag exists. It takes all verb tenses as well. You can say the flag had blued (La flago bluis); or will blue tomorrow (La flago bluos morgaŭ); or is sitting there, bluing, in the corner (La flago sidis, bluante, en la angulo); or perhaps would blue if it really tried (La flago bluus se ĝi vere provis).

You can adjectivize anything as well, so if you wish to express that the flag existed bluely, you can always go with La flago estas blue. Or, to express that the flag was, itself, a manifestation of the color blue, you can use the copula + nominative form of the noun: La flago estas bluo. If the flag is simply an entity that performs the act of bluing, then La flago estas bluindo. Or La flago estas bluindino, if it happens to be female.

Most of these are more recent features introduced by spritely young things who observed that there was no rule against them. More ossified grammarians are trying to make one, but they've made about as much headway as the teachers who insist you can't split infinitives in English, which is in fact one of the few languages where you can. (Most other languages of my acquaintance pack the entire infinitive into one word.) They've also introduced a singular, informal second-person pronoun (ci) that was originally intended to make for accurate translations from languages that retain the T-V divide, but which is now occasionally used by impish people wishing to imply quaintness or intimacy.

Profanity was unfortunately not a priority for Zamenhof, who had visions of his construction being used at important international gatherings. The Esperantistoj have taken care of this lacuna for him. While there are constructions that have taken on more profane connotations than their literal meaning, much of the current profanity is just lifted outright from common Indo-European roots. "Devil" is used much as it is in Scandinavian languages, either as an entity who can take or eat something unpleasant, or just as a noun to shout when you drop the hammer on your foot.

Esperanto made it almost a hundred years before someone officially published a verb for "to fuck" (fiki, for the record). I'm unsure what grammatical form you'd use when you accidentally destroy something, as the mode d'emploi seems to be analogous to English, and the English is notoriously ambiguous. Inasmuch as you are allowed to delete endings for purposes of rhyme and scansion in poetry or music, however, I suspect that one can just shout Fik'! and let the listener fill in whatever declension is most appropriate for the situation.


  1. This is the first time anyone has made me want to learn Esperanto! I've got duolingo, maybe I should add it to my list. Thanks!


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