Book Review: Esperanto Dictionary

Teach Yourself Esperanto Dictionary, by J.C. Wells

Obviously, this is not the kind of book one reads for pleasure.  This fact will likely be clear to most of my audience, but I feel it necessary given the substantial amount of reading I have devoted to foreign languages [1] to point out that I am aware of this fact as well.  More importantly than that, though, the author is aware of the fact and so this book is a no frills but helpful guide to Esperanto for English speakers.  Of course, I do not think this is the sort of book that would be most useful to teach someone the language, which we’ll get to shortly, but there is clearly a place for a book like this on someone’s bookshelf.  It is neither the first nor the last reference book I will read and review, a book purely devoted to providing facts with a certain degree of elegance but without a great deal of attention to pleasures not associated with the pure acquisition of knowledge.  If you are the sort of person that likes to acquire knowledge in reference books, and admittedly I am, and you have a fondness for foreign languages, this is going to be an easy book to appreciate.

The contents of this book are almost, but not entirely, superfluous.  This book manages to be more than just an ordinary dictionary because of its approach.  The book has a foreword where the author discusses how he researched other dictionaries for helpful approaches and words that may not be familiar in other resources.  The author gives some advice to students of Esperanto on subjects like pronunciation, grammatical points like the morphology of the language, correlatives, participles and compound verbs, questions, placement of prepositional phrases, subject and object, noun-adjective agreement, transitivity and intransitivity of verbs, impersonal verbs, tenses, and word order.  The author also discusses in this section the sixteen rules of Esperanto grammar and gives notes on letters, formulaic expressions in mathematics, abbreviations, and affixes and endings.  After this comes a guide on how to use the dictionary, and some notes on its own abbreviations (mallongigoj).  The next 130 pages are devoted to an alphabetically organized by root collection of Esperanto words (over 9,000 of them) with their English translation, and then the following 260 or so pages are made up of an alphabetically organized collection of almost 20,000 words in English with their Esperanto equivalent.  This book is small in size but manages to pack a large enough punch to make it worthwhile as a desk resource or to take when one cannot rely on an internet translator to help one out.

This book does what it sets out to do.  Not every book is designed to be fun to read.  This book is well organized and includes a lot of useful information in a compact format that makes it an easy choice to earn a spot on a shelf devoted to Esperanto language materials.  While I am not sure that this book is writen in such a way that its initial 40 or so pages of grammatical helps would actually teach someone the language of Esperanto, it is a worthwhile go-to source for those who are looking for the right word to convey what they are trying to say.  That is what one tends to use a dictionary for, and this one gives more than the usual information to help readers.  Admittedly, few people will read more than a little bit of this dictionary at a time, but it has been a trusted resource for decades and looking at the book it is easy to see why this is the case.  If you are the sort of the person who would like a book like this, this is worth obtaining used and adding to one’s reference materials.

[1] See, for example:

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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