You say what?!

By EVA WOLCHOVER  |  January 9, 2009

For example, direct objects end in -on, allowing speakers to arrange sentences in a manner corresponding to their native language(s), without compromising meaning.

Take the sentence: "The dog (subject) chewed (verb) the bone (object)." When object and subject are interchanged, you get: "The bone chewed the dog," which is very different.

But in Esperanto, the speaker brands the direct object with the "–on" suffix, no matter where it lies in the sentence. So the above sentence can be translated as "La hundo macxis la oston" or "La oston macxis la hundo." Either is correct, according to Brewer.

"It's an endeavor of a lifetime, mastering a language," Brewer says. "But you can learn to use Esperanto quite quickly — in online chat environments, local groups. I've met with people, and after having a conversation with them for 15 or 20 minutes, ask them when they learned and they'll say 'last week.' The grammar is not an obstacle."

"I felt like I had the same kind of level of fluency in Esperanto after a few months that I had after studying Spanish for years and years," Brewer says. "But I never felt that comfortable in Spanish. National languages are like that. Half the purpose of language is to communicate, the other is to distinguish who's in-group and who's out-group; who's a foreigner."

By nature, Esperanto is exempt from subtle and not-so-subtle cultural and language barriers — accent, colloquial slang, axioms — that make it so difficult to truly master a national language.

Brewer gained command of Esperanto by writing and exchanging haiku with his brother. "In Esperanto, there are all these tricks you can use to adjust syllable counts and create emphasis," he says. "And haiku have all these rules for subjects and syllables."

By manipulating the rules of Esperanto to meet the rigid rules of the haiku, Brewer quickly achieved a subtle and nuanced understanding of the language — the sort of understanding that in other languages follows years of study and immersion. Plus, you sometimes get your haiku published. This one, by Brewer, ran in the December 2008 issue of the Taj Mahal, an international arts journal.

Januaro: Estonteco (Future)

nur kontraŭ arbar'

la neĝeroj videblas

sennombre falas

(against the forest, the snowflakes are visible, countlessly falling)

Eva Wolchover knows how to say "Estu bonegaj unu al la aliaj!" like she means it. She can be reached by retpoŝto

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  •   YOU SAY WHAT?!  |  January 09, 2009
    When Professor Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof created the language called Esperanto in late-19th-century Poland, he envisioned a world unified under a lingua franca.
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