Book Review: Being Colloquial In Esperanto

Being Colloquial In Esperanto:  A Reference Guide For Americans, by David K. Jordan

This was one of the books I borrowed at a recent meeting with fellow Esperantists [1] from part of the host’s extensive library on the subject, which is likely to be reviewed piecemeal here as well.  As someone whose reading on the subject of Esperanto is at least at a reasonable level [2], I can say that this book is quite entertaining and very demonstrative of a rich and vibrant Esperanto culture when it comes to the use of language.  The author, as a knowledgeable and gracious Esperantist himself with a wide understanding of the diverse cultural background of language speakers and the possible second and third languages of polyglot Americans or other samideanoj, is well equipped here to write a book that is both deeply thoughtful and scholarly as well as filled with gracious humor about how people can tease each other and engage in witty colloquial banter in a language still in the early states of evolution.  The author even shows the reader an outsider’s look at some of the serious disputes among Esperanto speakers over ita/ata as well as the “container theory” of nations, subjects likely to be of interest only to those who know something about the history of Esperanto and the problems of nationalism and its implications on grammar anyway [3].

The slightly more than 250 pages of this book are divided mostly into two parts.  After a brief preface, the first part of the book is made up of a detailed discussion of Esperanto grammar, divided thematically with discussions of pronunciation, alternative spellings, roots and stems, a section on nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs, sections on prepositions, capitalizations, questions, the article, numbers and measurement, correlatives (a unique feature in Esperanto that provides much of its logical nature in parsing sentences), correlatives, forms in T-K and Ch-K, verbs, affixes, reduplication, writing letters, speed of speech, abbreviations, and verbal play.  Aside from the technical material in grammar, there are humorous footnotes that discuss substandard usage of Esperanto as well as some of the debates about what grammar to recommend and special hazards for Americans.  The second part of the book, which takes up a bit more than 100 pages, discusses various amikoj falsaj, or false friends, which I learned of in Spanish as false cognates, with more humorous discussion about which words and phrases beginners need to be careful of so that they do not unintentionally show themselves to be rude or offensive to others.  The book then concludes with a short discussion of participles in brief and then in more full detail which shows some of the politics of Esperanto linguistics in an intriguing way.

This book has a fairly well-targeted audience, American speakers and writers of Esperanto.  I am definitely far on the novice end of this particular market, but at least from my perspective this book definitely hits the target of being both sufficiently technical to provide real stylistic guidance for a serious speaker/writer as well as enough humor and personal touches to make it genuinely colloquial.  This book has a difficult challenge in its goals of being scholarly as well as informal and is a challenging book to read and apply, but it is a worthwhile book that ought to be of considerable interest to those within its target audience.  I happen to think that this is a book I may want for my own library after returning it to where it belongs, and that is saying something given the large number of books a voracious reader like me has to deal with.  Consider this book to be like the intelligent but insightful commentary of a wise amiko looking to help a fellow lernajo of the language.


[2] See, for example:

[3] As an aside, when at a meeting with fellow Esperantists, I asked about the grammatical form of Kurdistan given that it is a clear geographic region on an ethno-linguistic basis but has no internationally recognized statehood as of yet.  The facilitator of the meeting did not know, but this book gave the term as Kurdujo, just like any other “container” country would have.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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