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In the English language, there are a lot of words that describe a wide variety of situations, qualities, actions, etc. That causes the English lexicon to be extraordinarily large.

In the English StackExchange community there's a tag dedicated for word requests, and just by looking at questions and answers of that tag (here) we can see that there are words for almost everything.

Does Esperanto have a variety of special and even rare words as large as the English language? Or does it inherit words from the English language in any way (like a lot of other languages do)?

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    I like the analogy to the computer programming language C++: C++ is a “small” language, but a very powerful one. One could take the same perspective on Esperanto. – Mike Jones Oct 28 '16 at 23:21
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Esperanto relies heavily on word creation. Everyone has the right to create a word and to use it, even if nobody used it before. If this word follows the rules of word creation, then it is valid and Esperanto speakers should be able to grasp the meaning of it.

This feature makes it very hard to compare with English. Maybe more Esperanto words were created and used than there are words in the English lexicon. We just don't put these words in dictionnaries because we don't need to. Some are in dictionnaries because they are/were common, but we can not compare that with English dictionnaries that are full of uncommon words.

  • Interesting, thank you! Are there strict word creation rules (apart from part of speech suffixes, prefixes), or is there any room for creativity while making up new words? – Yotam Salmon Aug 23 '16 at 19:39
  • There are strict but simple rules. This document "Word formation in Esperanto" is very valuable. cindymckee.com/librejo/Word_formation_in_Esperanto.pdf It is very possible to create many different words to express the same concept. – Vanege Aug 23 '16 at 19:44
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    @YotamSalmon organizitaj – Lyubomir Vasilev Aug 26 '16 at 12:28
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Even though is hard to establish the exact size of the English lexicon, this is probably not the case. The main reason is that Esperanto is a relatively young language, while English is much older and has absorbed influences from French (from Old French after the Norman Conquest, but also from more recent varieties of French), Latin, Greek, Dutch, Italian, and from several languages spoken in the former colonies. There have been claims about the English about the English language having a million words.

For comparison, this Q&A document from Esperanto USA says that the Plena Ilustrita Vortaro contains 16,000 root words and that Esperanto's word formation techniques allow this number to be expanded to around 160,000 words. However, I don't know how you would come up with Esperanto translations for malapropism or sciolist, though I certainly hope so.

  • How about malgxustvortelekto? Sciolist is a bit more complicated. But then, when did you last use that word in a conversation? – Oliver Mason Aug 23 '16 at 20:19
  • @OliverMason Thanks for malgxustvortelekto. I have never used sciolist; it is just an example from the word request tag on ELU SE that Yotam Salmon in his question. After all, the question is about the lexicon of English and Esperanto, not my own active or passive vocabulary ;-) – Christophe Strobbe Aug 23 '16 at 20:26
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    Sure :) But just like you can create a German word for anything, thanks to compounding the same should work for Esperanto! – Oliver Mason Aug 23 '16 at 20:28
  • malapropism-> misŝajntaŭga (mis- ŝajn/ taŭg/ -a) sciolist -> spertpretendulo (spert/ pretend/ -ul- -o) Of course I just "invented" this words, but they came really easily to my mind, and I think any fluent Esperantist would understand them. – psychoslave Feb 1 '17 at 9:25
  • I don't know where the 160,000 words come from if you take 16,000 as the number of root words. There are eleven endings (-a, -as, -e, -i, -is, -j, -n, -o, -os, -u, -us), so you should at least – grossly – count 1760,00 "base word". Now by just combining two roots, you already have a 256,000,000 lexem base, that is 2,816,000,000 words. With three roots, you can build 45,056,000,000,000 words (45 trillions in short scale) . Would you be able to tell a new word every second for 100 year, you would pronounce 3,153,600,000 words (4 billions). – psychoslave Feb 1 '17 at 9:46
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With its strong reliance on suffixes, Esperanto is quite similar to Greek and Latin, which are the main contributors to the huge vocabulary of English. Therefore, in principle Esperanto could have a similarly large vocabulary.

In practice, Esperanto is generally not used for the kind of scientific and technical discourse that would cause it to actually extend its vocabulary significantly in this way. Esperanto speakers are of course free to make up words on the spot, with well established words such as malsanulejo showing what is possible. But (as in Latin and Greek) these words also tend to be ambiguous unless/until they become used generally. E.g., the normal meaning of malsanulejo is hospital, but it could just as well be a generalisation of sick room / sick tent / ....

Note that Interlingua, a naturalistic auxiliary language that is essentially the 'average' of the major Romance languages and English, has such a huge vocabulary. In fact, it is well known for having the largest dictionaries of all constructed and auxiliary languages. This is because Interlingua words aren't so much invented when needed as extracted from the relevant natural languages using a well defined process.

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