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  5. "Does literature create cultu…

"Does literature create culture, or does culture create literature?"

Translation:Ĉu la literaturo kreas kulturon, aŭ ĉu la kulturo kreas literaturon?

September 14, 2015



Why doesn't "kulturo" also require the article "la", as well as "literaturo"?


Right, what's with the "la" preceding the subject noun in each semi-sentence? Why is "la" required?


How about "Ĉu literaturo kreas kulturon, aŭ ĉu literaturon kreas kulturo"?

It's not accepted :(


My answer, typed as

Cxu literaturo kreas kulturon, aux cxu kulturo kreas literaturon?

was accepted, but interestingly the typo marks only pointed out “Cxu → Ĉu”, not “aux”—it showed “aux” in the “corrected” sentence, so perhaps they didn’t deal with this case when you type all the diacritics. An oversight...


I think the algorithm isn't smart enough to parse every possibility. Also, I think your question would be more elegant if you changed the word order slightly to this with emphasis on the word 'kulturo':

... "au cxu literaturon kulturo kreas?"

I'm not basing that on any specific usage rule or anything. I just think it sounds nicer to shake it up a little bit.


"Shaking up" the word order has proved costly in my experience with Duolingo. I prefer to place the verb at the end too. However this has often been counted an error by Duolingo even though Duolingo frequently used this construction in questions.Ho veh! Kio oni farus?


I’ve been reading classic (i.e., mostly old) Esperanto literature and books, not so much forums and other informal contemporary Esperanto—is SOV word order common in what you’re reading? From what I’ve come upon, it seems like, outside of poetry and when making special effect, or when mixing up the word order allows one to avoid extraneous ke or prepositions or correlatives, Esperantists really tend to use SVO by default. Have you not found that the case, or is SOV just your personal style?

(Linguistics alert: I’d mention that SVO/SOV/etc. typology has shown us that the common properties of a language of a given order type go far beyond the common placement of the subject, object and verb of a transitive sentence, and govern many other aspects of the language such as placement of relative clauses, referent pronouns, placement of “of…” genitives, and more. And by that yardstick, Esperanto simply is an SVO language, though a relatively free-word-order one. Only about 14% of the world’s languages actually have a grammatically unfixed word order—but this is more common than any other ordering besides SOV (41%) and SVO (35%). (Dryer, 2013))

(edited p.s. I missed Hammarström (2016), who replicated Dryer’s study taking into account language family convergence (so as to avoid the question of how mutually intelligible two dialects must be to be one language, versus two, and to factor out some of the effects of a particular language family simply splintering more often than another), and he found that unfixed word order was more like 6.1%—behind SOV (57%), SVO (13%), and almost the same as VSO (6.3%).)


Upon returning to this sentence after many months, I wanted to point out something going on in the “specimen” translation above that’s worth noting:

Even though Duolingo will accept this sentence with or without la before literaturo, literaturon, kulturo, and kulturon (at least, in some combinations—I didn’t stop to try all sixteen possibilities!) the example’s «la literaturo kreas kulturon… la kulturo kreas literaturon» makes the most sense, with la in all four places in second place, and no la’s at all in a distant third (although, there’s also a special case to be made for treating la kulturo… la kulturon a bit differently).

The reason in psycholinguistic terms is because creation is “agentive”—definitionally, if a thing can create something, it has agency. «La literaturo» and «la kulturo» are agentive in a way that unadorned literaturo and (to a somewhat lesser extent) kulturo usually are not. The underlying question is asking: which comes first, Literature or Culture? (Written English sometimes uses non-obligatory capital letters in a similar way to this particular way Esperanto can use la—in spoken English, we use a Different Tone that Capital Letters are Sometimes Used (often humorously) to capture.)

Purely semantically, I think Ĉu (la) literaturo kreas la kulturon, aŭ ĉu la kulturo kreas literaturon? also could make sense, since capital-C “Culture” is often defined agentively—it’s not just the set of existing cultural artifacts, but the ongoing force creating new ones. If you say “culture moves me”, you’re probably not talking about particular works of culture, but the Gestalt; but if you say “literature moves me”—even if in the case of literature it’s the whole body of literature, including works you’ve never read—you’re still talking about that collection of works. Culture, on the other hand, isn’t so circumscribed. So la kulturon even in the accusative role may make sense.

I just wanted to point out that the sample translation’s use of la on the agents of creation and not their objects is entirely justified, and not just a whim of the contributor who wrote the sentence or used because the symmetry is aesthetically pleasing.

(p.s. I just noticed that in English, if you compare “a culture” whenever kulturo appears without la, versus “culture”, versus “Culture/the culture” with la, it captures a lot of what I’m talking about above. With no la’s: Does literature create culture, or does a culture create literature?)


If I follow what you're saying, it seems to me that the agent component isn't as important as the idea that the entity which can act as an agent (or possibly instrument) actually exists as a known or partially known entity whereas the patient or theme roles only come to exist once the agent has created them.

Am I understanding you correctly? If so, I find your argument convincing. But, again, not so much because the agent roles are agents as that they exist in the first place. And there's some support for this in the idea that a definite article is meant to specify a specific entity rather than some amorphous yet-to-exist thing. Do you care to comment on that?


While you posted this I had just added a p.s. that hit on the same idea—the difference in English between “a culture”, “culture”, and “Culture”. Due to this agentive connotation, we almost never say “the culture” in English except to limit it (e.g., “I think the culture nowadays has become too mean”), so I’d argue that la kulturo’s closest translation is “Culture” (perhaps usually not really capitalized, but still, thought of in that sense of something that exists and is known and is singular). But I think Esperanto tends towards this use of la when things like la naturo, la evolucio, la erozio, etc., are agentive. (I mean, as just one example of a way la is used, not its primary purpose!)

So I think you’re in the right bailiwick, but psycholinguistically, we tend to think of agency as something we reason about very deeply and subconsciously, in a way that may defy our own introspection.

There are languages that are absolutely, utterly obligatory in being explicit about agency, probably most like English cares about subject-verb agreement (or Esperanto cares about a-vorta o-vorto agreement). There are many, many of these languages that care about agency in a visible way—perhaps most, and it’s arguable that English is one, but I won’t bore you with why some argue that (and it’s arguable, anyway).

It isn’t like grammatical gender, because that’s like a “sticky note” in the mental lexicons of people who speak languages with grammatical gender marking various words with gender—rather, agency is a thing that’s applied by the speaker as needed at the semantic and syntactic levels—but still unconciously, and according to rules that are deterministic and may be obligatory.

(You’ve got an impressive array of languages under your name so you’ve certainly seen agency in action, but for those readers who haven’t, a language’s “caring about agency” may come in the form of restricting what action verbs or conjugations thereof can be used with non-agents, of certain preposition sets being used for agents and another for non-agents, or of agents using different declensional cases than non-agents. Or even—in one of the most profound forks in linguistics from Western culture’s most familiar “accusative” languages (including the accusative languages English and Esperanto!), the “ergative” languages—whether “intransitive” verbs with single unmarked “subject” nouns should be read as what we’d call “reflexive” or as “passive”. Indeed, I said I wouldn’t get into why some think English cares about agency, but we can say “the boy grows” but not “✗ the house builds” and “the house is being built” but not “✗ the boy is being grown”—yet, in many ergative languages, the exact opposite would be true. Agency gives linguistics the ability to show why this is the case.)

There are a small number of languages (I believe mostly Uto-Aztecan in extant examples) that care about whether a thing being stated as fact is from direct firsthand knowledge, from reasoning, from secondhand hearsay, or from opinion—and explicitly display this, by using different conjugations or markers. That may be an umbrella that extends over your idea. As far as I know (though you can never claim proof of a negative!), there aren’t any that deeply care specifically about the true “known or partially known” existence of something—it’s the speaker’s relationship to the subject that matters, not the subject itself. Does that help?

(p.s. Oh, and a meta point that may be unclear especially if you haven’t studied formal linguistics—we tend to think that, if a particular feature or characteristic comes up in a large number of the world’s languages, it’s very likely that this thing is something that the language-handling parts of our brains have evolved to be well-adapted for working with—and therefore, is very likely found in more languages than we think, perhaps just in subtler, less-explicit ways. For instance, if we found a language without overt nouns, we’d strongly suspect that something very noun-like must still be there at least at a subconscious level, because nouns seem to be near–universal. Whereas, if something is found very rarely in known languages, it’s possible it’s a quirk and less likely to be present “if you just look hard enough” at other languages. Agents (and, more importantly, explicit manifestations of linguistic agency) are found again, and again, and again, in disparate language families, so we assume that even languages without explicit agency very probably still deal with them “under-the-covers” in some way.)


Is my rendering of this question understandable? What is the reason for the repetition of 'Cxu"? It is a single question, requiring a single answer, after all.


We can't see your rendering of the question. Just a reminder :)

It's really two questions linked by the conjunction "or". I think that it sounds best with both cxus but is understandable with just the first.


I think it should have both.

Omitting the second sounds a bit as if you asked, "Does literature create culture, or culture create literature?", omitting the second "does". Understandable, I suppose, but sounds rather odd.

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