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My understanding is, Esperanto has no definitive word order regarding subject, object, and verb.

And I also know one never uses -n for estas, example:

Urso estas besto. A bear is an animal.

However, there are larger categories, for example:

Besto estas organismo. An animal is an organism.

Without the word order like in English, it seems we would have a problem of ambiguity: One could say "A estas B" or "B estas A" to mean the same thing, while they don't.

Is this true? If it is, how to reduce ambiguity in such situations where a something could be an animal, and an animal could be another thing? If not, how do we know?

8

What you are asking about is called the predicative. In fact this is one of the cases where word order matters in Esperanto. The predicative always follows the subject and never* (even as an object) takes the n-ending (3rd example):

Leono estas besto - OK

Besto estas leono - wrong

Mi nomas lin amiko 'I call him a friend'

The word order in Esperanto is much more flexible and free than e.g. in English, but it is an exaggeration (found sometimes in propagandistic texts) to claim that it is absolutely free.

*This is a rule of the thumb, you can read about slight nuances/exceptions in PMEG.

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  • 1
    For the third example, you're saying "A friend calls him me" would be a different sentence like "Amiko nomas lin mi"? – Zuoanqh May 16 '18 at 12:59
  • 1
    Yes, this would be the correct translation of this sentence - whatever it may mean. – Cyril Robert Brosch May 16 '18 at 13:07
  • There are languages, that explicitly mark the predicative in sentences like Mi nomas lin amiko and thereby permit even more free word order than the one of Esperanto. See translative. – Juha Metsäkallas Nov 4 '19 at 10:34
  • The principle that the predicative follows the subject is not an absolute rule, but rather a pragmatic principle generally adhered to in order to avoid ambiguity. Exceptions can appear when the subject is or contains a subclause, because subjects with a subclause are generally placed at the end of the sentence (especially if this subject is much longer than any other phrase in the main clause). Here an examples of this phenomenon from the Tekstaro de Esperanto: "Estas iluzio la kredo, ke forta politika unuiĝo povas esti konstruata sur malforta lojaleco rezultinta de riproĉeblaj traktatoj." – Marcos Cramer Nov 15 '19 at 10:37
  • Here two further examples of this phenomenon from the Tekstaro de Esperanto: "Estus malspritulo tiu, kiu ĝin akceptus." ––– "Fariĝis infanludo diveni, kia eksceso mobilizos la atenton de la komunikiloj, kaŝi informon, kiu postulus de la leganto pli ol “Tion mi ŝatas” ĉe la piedo de kolerema blogo." – Marcos Cramer Nov 15 '19 at 10:40
0

Since you are talking about larger categories, you can free yourself from the necessity of word order in (at least some of) that cases by being extremely logical.

If you want to say

Leono estas besto.

you could say The lion is an element of the set of animals instead. Sounds a little complicated but actually that's what the sentence says.

The Fundamento defines

ar- as a collection of objects

and

er- as one of many objects of the same kind.

So bestaro would be the set of animals and one element of that set would be bestarero. Now make that a verb meaning being one of the animals: bestareri.

And there you go:

Leono bestareras.

That might not be the most common thing to say and I have no idea, if anybody will understand what you are talking about. But unless I'm very much mistaken, you have a predicative phrase that doesn't depent on word order.

Note that you can't just use bestero since not all animals are of the same kind and particularly not all animals are lions. On top of this it wouldn't be clear that you are talking about one (part) of (the group of) bestoj and not about parts of one besto. But every animal is a member of the group of all animals and thus one of many objects of the kind animal.

Does that make sense? I think yes. But maybe it's better just to stick with word order sometimes. When worse comes to worse there is always context. ;)

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  • Maybe an alternative word could be “bestarano”. The suffix “-arano” is probably easier to understand because of known words like “estrarano”. Combining it into a verb like “bestareras” is probably at best a fun mental exercise but in practice I doubt it would be understood without further explanation because the information is too dense. – Neil Roberts Nov 9 '19 at 10:53
  • Bestarano reminds me of the children's book Konferenz der Tiere (Animals United) by Erich Kästner. I think that wouldn't make it easier to understand. While I think, that ar- (arbaro) and er- (panero) are known affixes, I absolutely agree that in combination plus being a verb it's very dense and certainly hard to catch. Then again it's very clear from the start that you are talking about abstraction and selection (what you might expect in the context). Not least I think the real fun starts when using affixes. So yes, maybe more a fun mental exercise. But at best? I don't agree on that. – Olafant Nov 9 '19 at 11:36

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