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  5. Where do new words come from?


Where do new words come from?

I'm sorry if this is a silly question, but I'm curious where new Esperanto words came/come from.

When Zamenhof developed Esperanto, I am assuming he was only able to make a limited number of words due to just time constraints. But obviously it is now possible to write/talk about anything in Esperanto (Esperanto Wikipedia is proof).

Where do new words come from? After Zamenhof, who developed additional vocabulary to talk about specialized subjects in Esperanto? It seems that any new language would be short on words for many things. Without using loan words from other languages, how are new Esperanto words created?

June 21, 2015



Theoretically the creation process is the following: when a new concept appears, try to find if there is a combination of existing roots and suffixes having this meaning. If not, let's take the most international word, and introduce it in the language while being careful to not have the same spelling than an existing word. But of course, at the end, it's the usage of the speakers which will determine which words are used.

For example at the beginning of computer 2 words where used komputero (komputer/o), a brand new root based on the english computer and komputilo (komput/il/o) a created word based on existing roots komputi (to compute) and ilo (a tool). As far as I know it's the last one who ultimately succeeded


Zamenhof provided 16 rules for Esperanto grammar in La Fundamento de Esperanto. They aren't sufficient to fully specify the grammar, nor are they all grammatical rules. Rule 15 states:

<pre>"La tiel nomataj vortoj fremdaj, t. e. tiuj, kiujn la plimulto de la lingvoj prenis el unu fonto, estas uzataj en la lingvo Esperanto sen ŝanĝo, ricevante nur la ortografion de tiu ĉi lingvo; sed ĉe diversaj vortoj de unu radiko estas pli bone uzi senŝanĝe nur la vorton fundamentan kaj la ceterajn formi el tiu ĉi lasta laŭ la reguloj de la lingvo Esperanto." </pre>

That is, "The so called foreign words, that is, those which the majority of languages take from one source, are used in Esperanto without change, receiving only the orthography of this language; but for various words from one root it is better to use only the fundamental word without change and form the others from the latter according to the rules of Esperanto."

While that doesn't explicitly say, "go borrow words from other languages", it clearly states a plan for how to do it.

In the example balou67 gives below, I would argue that "futbalo" is treated as a single root rather than constructing it from foot and ball as English did. In the majority of languages that use the word, if they constructed it as a compound, their word wouldn't be football. Of course the choice to use "futbalo" rather than "piedpilko" is not so much one of logic and it is one of matching international usage more closely.


"futbal/o" certainly is a root in its own right, unrelated to "fut/o" and "bal/o".

Both of those words to exist, but "futo" means "a foot" only in the sense of "12 inches", and "balo" is "a ball" in the sense of "Cinderalla, you shall go to the ball!"

So if you try to analyse the word as "fut/bal/o", it ends up meaning some kind of dancing party that fits in a shoebox!


On the contrary, a world like piedpilko (football-soccer) is the original Esperanto one, but one hear "fulbalo" quite often. Both are used, the first because of its official root, the second because of its internationality, which makes it official. The Akademio can recommend one over an other, but generally observes the medias (books, songs, internet, meetings) and the parolantaro takes care of their beloved f*ingtastic tool/toy/thing/hobby/addiction… language.


There are the following possibilities:

1) The idea can be expressed by combining word roots that are already "Fundamentaj" or "oficialigitaj". Example: "ret'posht'o" for e-mail (system).

2) The word is international. Examples: "diode", "smartphone". As per Rule 15 of the "Fundamenta Gramatiko", they are used in Esperanto - only the spelling and grammatical endings are adaptated: "diod'o", "smartfon'o".

3) Neither 1) nor 2) applies: Then you may create a new root ("nova vorto", new word). Example: "tajd'o" = tide. You could say, as per 1): "al'flu'-re'flu'-cikl"o" (flood ebb cycle), however, this is not very practicable, and maybe also not clear enough, in this case. Note that "new" does not relate to the age of the word but to its status. "Tajd'o" is very old; already Zamenhof used it. But it has not yet been officialised.

4) The Esperanto Academy approves a new form ("formo nova"), as a synonyme to a root that is already "Fundamenta" or "oficialigita". Example: "prolet'", as a new form of the already official "proletari'". Note: The "old" form never will loose its validity.

Attention with respect to 4): Without any approval of the Esperanto Academy, you should not use new forms - unless they are international (so that 2) is applicable). Background: Otherwise you risk to change the kernel of the language!

Furthermore: In many discussions within the Esperanto community, people do not strictly differentiate between 1) to 4) - unfortunately.

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