In Defense of the Accusative Posted by Chuck Smith on Jun 15, 2011 in Uncategorized
Amelie Ambrus hits us again with another interesting post about Esperanto literature. This time she wants to share her love of the accusative with the world. Enjoy!
Is there any point to that pesky -n ending? People disagree – English-speaking learners often dislike it, and some people go so far as to propose reforms to get rid of it.
I admit the accusative is not the easiest part of Esperanto. However, it allows Esperanto to have a fairly free word order. That might not sound like much, but it allows translations into Esperanto to be more flexible and natural, and also makes poetry sparkle.
Free word order allows you to emphasize what is most important in a sentence. In English, you can say “the dog bit the cat”. If someone doesn’t hear you and asks “the dog did what to the cat?”, you can change your intonation patterns and say “the dog BIT the cat”. In writing, you need to rely on typographical conventions, or adding extra words. In Esperanto, though, you can change the word order to get a similar effect, putting the most important part first. “La hundo mordas la katon” and “mordas la hundo la katon” mean the same thing, but the second one emphasizes the biting. Similarly, to emphasize that it is the cat being bitten, you could write “La katon mordas la hundo”. This flexibility also gives speakers and authors freedom in when to reveal information, so it has the most impact, as the following poem shows.
Vilaĝeto ĉe rivero,verda monto, flora bord’,
sonoril-son’ de l’ vespero,
benko ĉe la doma pord’,
ligas min al vi memoro:
gaja ludo de infan’,
la sekret’ de juna koro,
kiso de l’ unua am’…
Vilaĝeto ĉe rivero,
vin revidi vanas rev’,
tenas min en mallibero
urba vivo, zorgoj, dev’.
Little village by the river,green mountain, flowery shore,
bell-sound of the evening,
bench at the home’s door
memory ties me to you:
merry games of a child,
the secret of a young heart,
a kiss from ones’ first love…
Little village by the river,
to see you again is a vain dream,
I’m held in a prison
(by) urban life, worries, duty.
“Ĉe fenestro de vagonaro” by Julio Baghy, translation by Amelie Ambrus
(used with permission from Vojaĝo en Esperanto-lando)
I can’t find a way to get English to render “ligas min al vi memoro” as powerfully as in the Esperanto original, which is fundamentally about the tie; more striking near-synonyms such as bond still aren’t quite satisfactory at conveying this nuance. Similarly, the last couple of lines of the original poem are in a powerful, active form; to put them into English, one either needs to change the word order (negating the suspense about what is keeping the poet in a ‘prison’, and that the prison is metaphorical), or use a passive form, which loses most of the vigor.
Flexible word order takes a while to get used to. However, once you are used to it, it is such a powerful, graceful tool that it becomes hard not to miss it in English.
Postscript: The above translation tries to be quite close to the original, while remaining readable English. The trade-off involves both slightly strained English, and slight inaccuracies, unfortunately.
About the Author: Chuck Smith
I was born in the US, but Esperanto has led me all over the world. I started teaching myself Esperanto on a whim in 2001, not knowing how it would change my life. The timing couldn’t have been better; around that same time I discovered Wikipedia in it’s very early stages and launched the Esperanto version. When I decided to backpack through Europe, I found Esperanto speakers to host me. These connections led me to the Esperanto Youth Organization in Rotterdam, where I worked for a year, using Esperanto as my primary language. Though in recent years I’ve moved on to other endeavors like iOS development, I remain deeply engrained in the Esperanto community, and love keeping you informed of the latest news. The best thing that came from learning Esperanto has been the opportunity to connect with fellow speakers around the globe, so feel free to join in the conversation with a comment! I am now the founder and CTO of the social app Amikumu.