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Esperanto X?

Can someone explain to me the reason why many Esperanto speakers use X instead of the accents?

Povas iu diru al mi kialo, kial multaj Esperantistojn uzo X, anstataŭ de aksentojn?

June 5, 2015



Zamenhof proposed using an h when people could not use the accented letters (and, after all, ĉ is the ch sound, ŝ is the sh sound). One early French Esperantist worried that the accented letters would cause eyestrain, which he believed would lead to blindness (for the record, there are 18 accented letter in French), so Zamenhof wrote him a letter using h-notation.

Then came the computer age. An inserted h isn't going to sort properly, and "stelo" wold end up after "shteli" instead of before (stelo - a star, ŝteli - to steal). So, people working with computers came up with x-notation, so that lists of Esperanto words would sort properly.

Subsequently, the argument was made that, since x doesn't appear in Esperanto, it's better than using an h. Me, I use the accents.

What started as a workaround, has fixed in some people's minds as the "right way," even though it's really not. I've encountered a person online who complains about what he sees as non-Fundamental usage (often complaining about words that were used by Zamenhof), but he always uses the non-Fundamental x-system.

It's 2015. Let's all learn how to type Esperanto properly! With accents.


It's 2015. Let's all learn how to type Esperanto properly! With accents.

Not everyone has that choice/ability on their device. The X system is a workable compromise.


Why not the h-system, which comes from the Fundamento? Zamenhof knew the letter x, but chose a different one.


Why didn't he choose X? Isn't it obvious? Seriously, I'm wondering if you're joking here. I'm not trying to be rude, this just seems like a totally bizarre question to me.

Zamnehof died in 1917, well over a decade before people were building even the precursors to machines that could conceivably do what Duolingo does. The man was clever, possibly even a genius, but he couldn't predict the future. He had no way of knowing the limitations of the H system versus the X system in machines that were barely conceivable in his day.

Esperanto was not invented with computers in mind. When you put the two together, compromises have to be made. The X system works, works just fine, for both computer and human comprehension. The H system does not work well within a system like Duolingo. The X system is a good compromise and works well in this context. The H system does not.

As you clearly know, H is a legitimate letter on its own in Esperanto (unlike X) and as such, accepting it as a substitute is, for a computer, more complex and has inherent issues, particularly in that there are words in which sh or ch or whatever should not be read as ŝ or ĉ (eg bushaltejo).

Humans can fairly readily spot the times when sh means sh and when it means ŝ. Computers don't have the same ability to infer! they have to be taught.

The X system on the other hand is unambiguous; Chinio could be someone using the H system or it could be a typo. Cxinio does not have the same problem. CH could be read as "ĉ" OR as "c h" in Esperanto. CX cannot. For humans, that's not a big deal. For computers, it can be.

I believe there's a thread about Duolingo accepting cx, hx, sx etc elsewhere on this forum, where these points are discussed by people who know more than I do and can explain better. I suggest you go take a look.

I mean, if you want to spend time and effort figuring out a way to navigate the problems with the H system and computers, be my guest. If you have the programming knowledge, offer your expertise to Duolingo (I don't think they'll complain if you can solve the problem for them) or create your own site.

Honestly? I think it's a waste of time and effort. Use the H system for your own personal writing by all means, but I don't think Duolingo is going to spend time and resources trying to fix this when there are already two valid systems you can use on the site, AND it's actually possible to get away with using neither, as generally Duolingo accepts lack of diacritics as a typo; it'll warn you, but it won't penalise you, in my experience.

(Also you should know that it took Duolingo a while to actually implement the (relatively computer friendly) X system, hence the celebration when it was implemented. Doesn't seem like adding, essentially, a FOURTH system of input is going to be on their radar any time soon. In this case, I'm also being pragmatic. We have a system that works, and so I will use it. Also, these are just the problems I, as a fairly new Esperantist and not a computer programmer, am aware of being applicable to Duolingo. Wouldn't surprise me to discover there are other issues.)

In the meantime, I personally am not going to worry about whether or not the X system is acceptable in the Fundamento, recognising that Zamenhof didn't have access to a time machine to know how to make his language most amenable to computerisation almost a century after his death. It seems like making it more accessible to people is pretty in line with his aims. (And the X system is accepted by the Esperanto Academy, when the H system is not appropriate. This is one of those times.)

I'm going to go continue to use and practise the language, using either the diacritics or the X system depending what machine I'm on. I think, frankly, it's a better use of my time. The X system is a workable compromise, it's easy to understand, it's easy to use, and it's unambiguous. Those are all good things!


Have 5 lingots for your great comment here, thanks!


I was well established in Esperanto before the Internet. I'm one of those people. And I have to admit that the first time I saw Esperanto written with the x-system, it looked ugly and incomprehensible. The second time I saw Esperanto written with the x-system, it looked ugly and incomprehensible. Eventually, it only looked ugly.

I stand by my view that, wherever possible, people should be writing Esperanto with the accents. Clearly, programmers need to write sorting tables so that the accented letters sort properly (maybe we could even get back to Zamenhof's standards and treat them as accented letters, not as unique letters).

Look, I'm perfectly willing to see it a a workaround, but there are just too many people out there who have concluded it's "right" (it isn't) and "better" (certainly not) and sprinkle their Esperanto text with a lot of x's. Ick.

Go ahead, use the x-system. But don't use it unapologetically. Don't ever think it's a reasonable substitute for writing. After all, you seem to have expanded on what the Akademio de Esperanto actually said. From Wikipedia: >the Akademio de Esperanto has issued a general permission for the use of surrogate systems for the representation of the diacritical letters of Esperanto, under the condition that this is being done only when the circumstances do not permit the use of proper diacritics, and when due to a special need the h-system fixed in the Fundamento is not convenient.

People use the x-system way outside of those guidelines, so you can't say that the Akademio permits this. The original question was about use of the x-system in general, not about as an input system for these Duolingo lessons. I have no argument with it as an input system. Vortaro.net does this, but if you type "sxlosi," it shows you ŝlosi. These would all be within the parameters of what the Akademio said.

But people who write Facebook posts full of x's. Nope. As for bushaltejo, in the h-system, you would write "high mouth place" as bush-altejo, to prevent it from being read as bus stop.

The appropriate uses of the x-system are far narrower than the applied uses of the x-system. It's okay to type "busxo" in a Duolingo text entry box. I just hope people don't conclude it's okay to generally write Esperanto that way.


I would be the first to agree that the x-system is overused. I've even seen it written by hand in ink on actual paper before, which completely drove me crazy! :(

Having said that, this is one of those cases where the x-system is most appropriate. It's not made for the general public who will read the texts, it's made for people learning Esperanto on machines.

In the beginning of the Wikipedia, we used the x-system, because we dreamed of the day when all of it could be converted into proper letters. Then, thanks to excellent work of Brion Vibber, that day came and we enjoyed the right letters in Wikipedia. If we had used the h-system, everything would've been messed up and required hours to fix everything. Ugh.

If we accept the h-system in Duolingo, we'll have to accept all u's without breves as correct, which is highly detrimental to learning Esperanto. Developing a system around this would require a substantial amount of time, which cannot be justified considering all the other tasks this team has to do.

We should be grateful that Duolingo even supports Esperanto to begin with, and I'm sad every minute I spend defending the x-system (for those unable to install a proper Esperanto keyboard) instead of improving our course. :(


People use the x-system way outside of those guidelines, so you can't say that the Akademio permits this.

And indeed, I did not. My entire response was about the usage of the X system (and the lack of support for the H system) here on Duolingo. No more, no less :)

Personally, I only use it on my laptop because (currently) I don't have an easy way to type ŝ ĥ etc on there (I tried installing an add-on to my browser but so far it has entirely failed to play ball :().

In fact, reading back, I was quite specific about this - to quote myself:

The H system does not work well within a system like Duolingo. The X system is a good compromise and works well in this context. The H system does not.

(emphasis as in my original post)

(And the X system is accepted by the Esperanto Academy, when the H system is not appropriate. This is one of those times.)

(emphasis added on second quote)

Regarding using it generally, or "thinking it's better", you're arguing against points I simply never made.

(Though I do also think that arguing one workaround over another on the basis of what Zamenhof chose is ignoring the pretty enormous elephant in the room that he had no idea that 100 years later a computer program would be teaching his language, or indeed that people would be regularly learning, teaching and using his languages on sites like Duolingo, Memrise, Lernu.)

And like Chuck says, the EO team have way better things to be doing to improve the actual course. They've done a grand job, and the X system is a useful, workable compromise here on Duolingo. Can we all get back to learning/teaching/using the language, now? ;)


flootzavut, we seem to be in curt agreement with each other.

The original poster was asking about general use of the x-sytem, which Chuck notes he's seen done with pen and ink.

Clearly, your defense of the x-system was not as full-throated as I thought it was, but in response to the original poster it was a bit of a non-sequitur.

We both defend the use of the x-system for text entry (such as on Duolingo) but that's not wha the original poster was talking about.


It might have been a non sequitur if I'd been replying to the OP. However, I wasn't responding to the original poster, I was responding to you.

To be more precise, to the "let's write properly" (to which my response was (in summary) "not everyone has that available to them, the X system is a workable compromise within a computer based system") and to "why not use the H system/Zamenhof didn't chose X!" (to which my response was, essentially, "because it is decidedly not computer or Duolingo friendly, something Zamenhof could not possibly have predicted unless he had access to a time machine").

Neither response was a non sequitur to the OP. because they were not replies to the OP at all. That's how a discussion works! Someone speaks, someone else responds. The conversation does not always stay within the narrow bounds of the initial question, and not all responses to a thread are direct responses to the initial question - simple as that. Just as in real life, not all parts of a conversation are directly linked with how the conversation starts. Or at least, if that's how conversations happen in your life, you and your interlocutors must be much more conversationally organised than anyone I know! :-o which, I admit, is quite possible.

If it had been a reply to the OP, I would have posted it as such, and my posts would have addressed the OP's question directly, not your posts.

It's typically wise to assume that, if a person is responding to a specific post, they are responding to what has been said in that specific post (or given the limitations of the Duolingo fora, at least are responding to that specific person - the forums here are decidedly lacking when it comes to longer conversations), not to a post they haven't been near with the proverbial barge pole ;-)


Look, I'm not the one who picked out things to argue with that weren't even in my post.

Computer friendly: a computer, aka Duolingo, can recognise and differentiate words. Sure computers can type with the H system. So can typewriters. Doesn't mean they can actually recognise and reliably teach someone the difference. Duolingo is less able than a human being to differentiate and figure those things out. There's a vast difference between "a computer can be told how to reproduce these letters" and "a computer can be taught how to recognise these groups of letters, match them accurately with synonymous groups of letters in another language, and/or in the same language, figure out whether the groups have been combined properly, and then tell the end user whether they got the question right." THAT is what I meant by computer friendly.

You commented first off that people should "type properly, with accents". That's taking a pretty huge assumption (aka that everyone has the ability to do so) and implying that workarounds, even those accepted by the Academy, are somehow, I don't know, unworthy?

At that point, I responded directly to your point by saying not everyone is able. (and FYI, it isn't always easy to install the specific diacritics for Esperanto; I've tried several ways without success on my definitely not 25 year old laptop, and my iPad only works via an app because there's no native Esperanto keyboard and for reasons unknown, despite seemingly having every other diacritic known to man, the native keyboard lacks any of the ones I'd need for Esperanto. I have no idea why, it seems stupid, but there it is. I have shortcuts set up to produce the diacritics with the regular keyboard, but they only work to produce them in insulation ŝ ĉ etc which is pretty crap for actually using them in words). So... yeah, that was related to your comment.

You then said, why not use H? At which point I explained why H and Duolingo don't go, not to mention pointing out that Zamenhof couldn't have predicted such a thing.

THEN you started arguing about points I demonstrably had not made, at which point I ended up quoting myself for that very reason.

(And really, when we take proverbial barge poles to mean literal distances, we are getting a bit silly, don't you think?! I did not touch on the wider usage of X. You were the one who wrote "you can't say such and such about the use of X" when I demonstrably hadn't said such and such...)

You say you've been talking about the wider world, but hi, I responded directly to your points when I started talking about Duolingo. Like I say, conversations go off course! It ain't rocket science.

At no point have I argued for X to become the standard. At all points I have responded directly to comments to explain why, here on Duolingo, the X system makes more sense. People consider X as 'right'? That's a shame, but not my point. People argue for X being inherently better than H or diacritics? Again, seems silly, but not my point or anything I said. I'm just tired of being argued at about views I don't hold and haven't expressed. It's exhausting!

Honestly, I'm tiiiiiired of this conversation. There are clear and concise reasons why Duolingo (and several other sites, actually) uses the X system. There are similarly clear reasons why using the H system would be inherently more complicated. There is also the rather overwhelming point that Duolingo only very recently, after much badgering, provided a workaround for the X system, and it's a workaround that would not be easily applicable for the H system.

I'm not, and never have, pretended that those arguments hold in any, never mind all, other situations.

I really don't care. Personally, I find the X system, if anything, a little easier to read; there's a clear differentiation between what is replacing a diacritic and what is simply an H that happens to follow an S or a C or a... so it's unambiguous where the H system can be ambiguous (especially for a beginner like me) but neither of them is that hard to read.

Maybe it's 'cause I'm used to multifarious alphabets, but I don't really see the big deal. The X system makes Esperanto look kind of like a cross between Basque and Klingon. The H system makes it look weirdly lispy. The diacritics are fairly self explanatory. They all work. I love a pretty script as much as (probably more than...) the next person, but the most important thing is that it works, and it's not like we are taking some supremely beautiful script and making it painfully ugly. We are taking bog standard Latin letters and either sticking lil hats on their heads or combining them with other letters. That's really not something I will get hot and bothered about.

The diacritics are the ideal. I don't think I've argued against that, either.

Heck, let's be real, I've pretty much stopped arguing here except to defend myself from inference that I've made statements or hold beliefs that I haven't made and don't hold. I only happened to end up back on this thread because someone else responded to a different comment.

Zamenhof was brilliant, possibly a genius. He couldn't have predicted machines that would be trying to teach his language. He couldn't possibly have predicted that his workaround for diacritics wouldn't be feasible for the purpose. If he had half the sense he's credited with, I hope he would have rolled with the punches and been glad his language was surviving and thriving in a new milieu.

Beyond that I am exhausted and honestly past the point in caring here. I think I just heard the sloshing in my ears that said my brain cannot deal with more X H diacritic blathering about three systems that all work. I no longer care, I'm sorry. I am done. Feel free to argue some more, but you will be doing it by yourself. Part of the reason I spend so much time on Duolingo is 'cause I'm ill and it's something I can do even when I can't get out of bed, but I don't have enough energy to say the same things over and over and over any more. I am so very done. Good luck, please feel free to argue with anyone else but I am done arguing and I'm frankly done even defending myself. I'm gonna go back to learning something because banging my head against a brick wall is giving me a headache and I'd rather earn my headache by attempting to decipher some more Norwegian.


I think that the x-system looks strange in a good way and exotic—while the h-system looks generic.

I think that for formal writing (such as books or other things that are published officially), we should use the diacritic marks, and for slightly informal writing (such as text messages, notes, emails, or social media posts), we should use the x-system if need be.

We should keep in mind that not everyone has a keyboard that has Esperanto letters, so we should not be super picky if they choose to use the x-system or any other coherent alternative.


why not the -z system like Polish uses? Ĉ becomes Cz, Ŝ becomes Sz etc; The reason is h causes conflicts ĉashundo vs ĉaŝundo for example. There are no such conflicts with x because it's not even part of the alphabet. I wouldn't be one to disagree with Zamenhof or the Fundamento if it didn't cause clear problems to use -h. Esperanto is designed to REMOVE ambiguity, not add it.


If you use the chrome browser see: https://github.com/google/extra-keyboards-for-chrome-os . There is an Esperanto keyboard that replaces unused (in Esperanto) letters, like 'w' becomes 'ŝ', 'y' becomes 'ŭ' etc; & there's a composekey that works like the linux version. There's also a variety of other keyboards for different languages.



This says it covers:

Windows, Linux, Android Phones, iPhone, iPad, Chromebook, & Mac devices.

Windows Phone is the only common smart-device I know of, that I can't see covered here, unless one of the programs for a different device also works on Windows phones?

Oh, and someone mentioned that a later version of the Android phone did revert the keyboard :/

But, this might be a non-exhaustive list...


I actually didn't have a lot of trouble setting up my iPad to write diacritics; I installed a user created keyboard. I also have shortcut keys programmed in so I can ĉ ŝ ĝ without switching keyboards, but that only seems to work in isolation, not within words.

However, despite much attempted wrangling, I've yet to convince my laptop to help me out on this one. User error? Quite probably. But I have limited energy to fight with it when there's an alternate that works and is widely recognised.

I would add that plenty of people aren't confident enough to play around with their computers this way for the sake of a language they may just be trying for fun, and I honestly can't blame them. I'm reasonably computer savvy most of the time, but I'm no programmer. If I can't make something work when I've tried several times, then eventually I'm going to give it up as a bad loss, especially when there are easy to use alternatives. And I speak as one who plans to use Esperanto often. For those who are just dipping their toes, I can understand getting to a point of sigh this is no longer worth it!


That's not trŭe. Everyone ĉan ĝet Esperanto diacritics on any device. It only takes a few moments to get a keyboard app, or one that adds the diacritics to your desktop. Using x has been obsolete for many years. If you have the ability to learn a language and to use it online, you also know how to find a turorial for how to create the diacritics.


I just made a Chrome Extension that converts the x-system to accents as you type. You can find it here: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/esperaboard-esperanto-x-s/nkgbomaneihlabdhjihdhpdlehahahoc?hl=en. Hope you find it useful!


Re the 'h' system: Words such as flughaveno, chashundo. are ambiguous (that is how they are spelled, they do not have accents but the h system would 'create' them). The 'x' system does not have this problem. Like most Esperantists, I prefer the hats, but in a situation where one cannot access them the x system saves the day.


It's easier to type on a keyboard when your keyboard doesn't have an ĥ, for example.


They use it outside of Duolingo you mean?

Personally, I used Microsoft's app to program a custom keyboard layout when I started the Duolingo course, but not everyone on a Windows machine is going to bother with changing the layout even if it's just a download and done thing, much less customize one on their own. It really is a problem that Microsoft doesn't have an Esperanto layout available.

People use the 'x' because it gets the job done, I suppose.


I personally prefer using the actually letters for the same reason I would use any other foreign alphabet instead of a romanized version. However, on a tablet or phone, there isn't really anyway for me to type the special Esperanto characters, so I use the x-system when I'm not on my computer.


What phone do you have?


Well then it should be easy for you to be able to use the actual letters.


I know Android has an Esperanto keyboard but I don't think iOS has..


It has user created EO keyboards - unfortunately it doesn't have native ones, yet. However, the user created ones do work :)


I haven't seen any Esperantist so far using the "cx" system without a cause (Chuck has). Most people use "cx" only as very last (and worst) possibility, e.g. when on a foreign system. It should stay so, being a surrogate only.

I am always typing "cx" on my keyboard, but on my screen appears a nice "ĉ". "Cx" looks really ugly, (so does "ch",) but sometimes "cx" is the only/last possibility, e.g. when typing SMS on my cellphone. But, as Chuck wrote about Wikipedia, its main advantage is that it's possible to convert it 100% automatically, even back and forth as many times you need/want.


I've actually seen Esperantists defend the use of the use of the x-system when the accented letters are available, usually with the complaint that they find it too difficult to access the characters.


As a programmer, I use the x-system. Python 2.x, for example, throws "SyntaxError: Non-ASCII character '\xc4' in file" when attempting to define or reference any namespace containing a circumflex. The characters simply aren't supported by a lot of systems.

With that being said, I actually prefer the x-system, because I prefer the ISO Latin alphabet.


I knew we'd find an Esperantist who preferred the x-system.


This is a perfectly understandable niche use unforseen by Zamenhof because the Python programming language was decades off being invented.

& Of course, if you're using the x-system in your programming a lot, you'll probably be wanting to use it the rest of the time as well ;)


Because they're easier to type.

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