7

In the Fundamento de Esperanto, Zamonhof provides notes on the pronunciation of each of the Esperanto characters, comparing them to sounds in French, English, German, Russian, and Polish. Unfortunately, the pronunciations provided in each language don't match 1:1 with each other. For example, the letter e is compared to English "e" and Russian "э", but these aren't really pronounced the same way. I'm sure the same could be said of the other three languages, but I don't know enough of them to make a fair comparison. I've seen IPA representations of the Esperanto alphabet, but none which clarify things such as vowel nuance.

This all begs the question: does Esperanto have a phonology which could be considered "standard"? Did Zamenhof even intend this, or did he intend people to approximate sounds based on the phonology of their mother tongue?

6

Zamenhof did not explicitly define a standard pronunciation in detail. Nevertheless, a detailed pronunciation norm naturally emerged as Esperanto became a language used in speech for international communication.

This is described very well by the article Prononco de Esperanto in the Esperanto Wikipedia. The claims in the article are backed up by citations of scientific sources. Let me cite and translate the relevant paragraphs:

Konsiderante ke la prezento de la prononco en la Fundamento de Esperanto ellasas multajn detalojn kaj ke oni povas renkonti sufiĉe vastan variadon en la efektiva prononco de Esperanto, eĉ se oni konsideras nur homojn, kiuj gramatike kaj vortprovize bone regas Esperanton, oni povus dubi pri la ekzisto de prononca normo, kiu detale determinas kio estas bona Esperanta prononco kaj kio ne. Tamen diversaj studoj, precipe la tre sistemeca studo, kiun Oksana Burkina faris por sia doktoriĝo,[4] montras ke Esperanto-parolantoj havas tre unuecan opinion pri bona prononco, kaj ke sekve la prononca normo ekzistas kiel socia fenomeno en la komuna konscio de la Esperanto-parolantoj.

Ĉi tiu prononca normo estiĝis sen lingva planado surbaze de internacia parola uzado de Esperanto.[5] En la estiĝo de ĉi tiu normo aparte rolis unuflanke la strebadoj al bona interkompreno, al la Zamenhofa idealo "por unu sono unu litero" kaj al la forigo de nacilingva influo, kaj aliflanke kelkaj malimplicite transdonataj opinioj pri boneco kaj malboneco de diversaj prononcoj.[6][7] Unu ekzemplo de parto de la prononca normo kiu firmiĝis pro tia malimplicite transdonataj opinioj estas la norma prononco de la fonemo /r/ kiel langopinta vibro [r].[8] La Fundamento de Esperanto samtempe egaligis la Esperantan /r/ kun la sufiĉe diversaj /r/-oj de la lingvoj angla, franca, germana, pola kaj rusa, kaj sekve lasis pli da libereco por la prononco de /r/; sed jam baldaŭ aperis la opinio ke nur la vibra langopinta [r] (kiel en la rusa kaj pola, kaj aldone ankaŭ en la itala) estas bona prononco, kaj tiu opinio iĝis parto de la nun firmiĝinta prononca normo.

English translation:

Considering that the presentation of the pronunciation in the Fundamento de Esperanto leaves out many details and that one can encounter a rather large variation in the actual pronunciation of Esperanto, even if one only considers people who have a good command of Esperanto grammar and lexicon, one could doubt about the existence of a pronunciation norm which determines in detail what is good Esperanto pronunciation and what isn't. However, various studies, in particular the very systematic study which Oxana Burkina did for her PhD, show that Esperanto speakers that a very uniform opinion about good pronunciation, and that therefore a pronunciation norm exists as a social phenomenon in the collective consciousness of the Esperanto speakers.

This pronunciation norm came about, without language planning, on the basis of the international spoken usage of Esperanto. The formation of this norm was driven on the one hand by the pursuit of good mutual understanding, of Zamenhof's ideal "one letter for one sound" and of the suppression of the influence of national languages, and on the other hand by some explicitly passed-on opinions about the goodness and badness of various pronunciations. One example of a part of the pronunciation norm which consolidated due to such an explicitly passed-on opinion is the standard pronunciation of the phoneme /r/ as a an alveolar trill [r]. The Fundamento de Esperanto simultaneously equated the Esperanto /r/ with the quite distinct /r/-s of English, French, German, Polish and Russian, and therefore left more freedom for the pronunciation of /r/; but already soon the opinion emerged that only the alveolar trill /r/ (as in Russian and Polish, and additionally also in Italian) is a good pronunciation, and this opinion became part of the now consolidated pronunciation norm.

The vowel pronunciation is discussed in the section "Alofona variado":

Aparte vaste pridiskutata estis la alofona variado ĉe vokaloj. La Plena Analiza Gramatiko preskribis regulojn por la vasteco de /e/ kaj /o/ depende de la kunteksto: Por silaboj sen fina konsonanto ĝi preskribis la pli malvastajn prononcojn [e] kaj [o], dum por silaboj kun fina konsonanto ĝi preskribis la pli vastajn prononcojn [ɛ] kaj [ɔ]. Tiuj preskriboj tamen ne iĝis parto de la ĝenerale akceptata prononca normo.[12][15] Anstataŭe oni sen laŭkuntekstaj reguloj akceptas por /e/ kaj /o/ ĉiujn prononcojn inter [e] kaj [ɛ] kaj inter [o] kaj [ɔ], kaj la tute mezaj prononcoj [e̞] kaj [o̞] estas rigardataj kiel plej modelaj.

Translation:

Allophonic variation was discussed especially extensively with respect to the vowels. The Plena Analiza Gramatiko prescribed rules about the height of /e/ and /o/ depending on context: For syllables without a final consonant, it prescriped the more closed pronunciations [e] and [o], while for syllables with a final consonant, it prescribed the more open pronunciations [ɛ] and [ɔ]. However, these prescriptions did not become part of the generally accepted pronunciation norm. Instead all pronunciation between [e] and [ɛ] and between [o] and [ɔ] are accepted for /e/ and /o/ without context-specific rules, and the mid pronunciations [e̞] and [o̞] are considered the ideal.

4

Although the phonology can be stretched depending on the user's native language (for instance the ‘r’ varies widely: [r], [ɾ], [ʀ], [ʁ], [ɹ] are all used and there are more), I do have an old Fundamento de Esperanto from 1938 that actually contains a table with the international phonetic alphabet symbols for pronunciation. This is what is provided:

a [a]
b [b]
c [ts]
ĉ [tʃ]
d [d]
e [ɛ]
f [f]
g [ɡ]
ĝ [dʒ]
h [h]
ĥ [x]
i [i]
j [j]
ĵ [ʒ]
k [k]
l [l]
m [m]
n [n]
o [ɔ]
p [p]
r [r]
s [s]
ŝ [ʃ]
t [t]
u [u]
ŭ [w]
v [v]
z [z]

As you can see, most is pretty standard. Notice in particular that it suggests o and e be short and that r be an alveolar trill.
I should note however that this is a Dutch version of the Fundamento (from the Belga Esperanto-Instituto), but that should not matter too much, considering they used the IPA symbols (along with Dutch/French/German/Spanish/Italian example words where these appear).

  • Translation of the Fundamento de Esperanto are not official. In the original Fundamento de Esperanto, no IPA symbols appear. – Marcos Cramer Oct 10 '16 at 11:19
  • But wouldn't someone in charge have given permission for the translation to be published, wherefore these pronunciations would be accepted officially somehow? Because, as far as I know, you cannot just start translating a book and publish it without the autor's or publisher's consent. – Joffysloffy Oct 10 '16 at 11:22
  • The preface of the Fundamento de Esperanto makes it very clear that the only way that something can be added to the Fundamento is through an official decision by some authoritative central institution ("aŭtoritata centra institucio"). It is generally agreed that this authoritative central institution is the Akademio de Esperanto; before World War II it was the Lingva Komiatato. Neither the Akademio de Esperanto nor the Lingva Komitato ever officially added this list of IPA symbols to the Fundamento. – Marcos Cramer Oct 10 '16 at 13:02
  • Aha, interesting! I did not know that. Then I wonder why they let this get published thusly. – Joffysloffy Oct 10 '16 at 14:16

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