Book Review: Lingvistikaj Aspectoj De Esperanto

Lingvistikaj Aspectoj De Esperanto, by John Wells

This particular book is part of a long list of books I have read in and about Esperanto [1].  It should be fairly obvious from the title that this book is one about linguistics, and that it is written nearly entirely in Esperanto, except for comparisons with some other languages within like English and French.  Those who read this book will therefore need to be somewhat proficient in Esperanto and also interested in the larger subject of linguistics, specially as it relates to the properties of language.  Overall, this book is written with a pretty clear aim in mind, and that is showing Esperanto to be a “natural language” in that it meets the standards of natural languages despite having been constructed.  The fact that the book was published by the Center of Exploration and Documentation of the World Language Problem within the Universal Esperanto Association suggests the seriousness with which the author took his task.  The author, it should be noted, is a well-known figure among Esperantists for someone particularly concerned with the language of Esperanto, having been responsible for writing a dictionary, and is well-equipped to tackle his chosen subject.

The contents of this short book of about 75 pages or so are quite striking, as might be imagined.  The book opens with a foreword, a discussion of phonetic symbols, and a discussion of the book’s typographical conventions, a more necessary subject here than in many other books.  After that there is an introduction that looks at the classification of languages and the evolution of doctrine within linguistics during the twentieth century to the point of this book’s publication in 1978, then a look at the phonetic system of Esperanto in considerable detail, including the distinguishing traits of consonants and notes on good and bad pronunciation.  After this comes a chapter on the morphology of Esperanto, noting various technical matters including that of the language’s notable affixes.  A chapter on syntax follows, including a note on the free word order of the language that allows it to be easily learned by those who come from different word order conventions.  The final chapter looks at lexicons and semantics, after which the book finishes with a bibliography and an index of terms.  The book does not overstay its welcome, to be sure, but its material is of such a technical nature that it is a far more challenging read than its size would indicate.

Ultimately, this book has to be judged as a successful example of the somewhat political nature of linguistics.  In fairness, the author is writing to the converted, since those who can read Esperanto well enough to understand what the author is saying (which also requires a fair knowledge of linguistics) are likely already to have taken the language seriously enough to have studied and been interested and approve of its particular choices, which show a wide array of consonant sounds as well as a somewhat compact group of vowels where clarity and distinction is of the utmost importance.  The author notes that some native language speakers will struggle with certain letters because of an inability to distinguish between b and v, and it should be noted as well that English speakers struggle with a couple of the consonants because of the ts sound of all c’s and the absence in English of a glottal stop.  Those who know a bit of Scottish or, even better, Hebrew, will be at a considerable advantage in contrast.  Overall, this is an excellent book that demonstrates the high degree of original language material about scholarly subjects present in Esperanto and accessible to those who speak the language and are interested in matters of linguistics.

[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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6 Responses to Book Review: Lingvistikaj Aspectoj De Esperanto

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