6

If I'm not mistaken, the two distinct English questions

(a) How many workers need that much work?

and

(b) How many workers does that much work need?

would in Esperanto both be rendered as

Kiom da laboristoj bezonas tiom da laboro?

which is thus ambiguous: Either "Kiom da laboristoj" could be the subject and "tiom da laboro" the object or vice versa. As "kiom" and "tiom" both don't take the accusative ending "-n" and as "da" is a preposition and thus neither it, nor the noun phrases following it take an accusative marker, there seems to be no way to tell the difference.

Although this is a constructed example, I imagine that (probably rarely, but still) this can occur in cases and situations, where context alone doesn't sufficiently help to distinguish which the intended meaning is.

Thus my questions:

  1. Is that ambiguity actually there, or am I missing something?
  2. What is the recommended way to avoid this ambiguity? (If possible without completely rephrasing the question.)
  3. Is there a deeper reason why the Fundamento doesn't allow for an accusative marker for the "...iom" tabelvortoj, in contrast to the "...io" tabelvortoj, which all have corresponding "...ion" variants? (Other than "...iomn" being hard to pronounce for some and even harder for probably most to auditorily distinguish from "...iom" or "...ion".)

For avoiding the ambiguity without too much rephrasing, should the "na" preposition be used here as an accusative marker, albeit being unofficial? If so, would the following be the right way to phrase the questions?

(a) Kiom da laboristoj bezonas na tiom da laboro?

(b) Na kiom da laboristoj bezonas tiom da laboro?


La du malsamaj demandoj

(a) Kiom da laboristoj bezonas na tiom da laboro?

kaj

(b) Na kiom da laboristoj bezonas tiom da laboro?

sen la neoficiala prepozicio "na" ambaŭ iĝus

Kiom da laboristoj bezonas tiom da laboro?

kio konsekvence estas ambigua: Aŭ "Kiom da laboristoj" estas la subjekto kaj "tiom da laboro" la objekto, aŭ inverse "Kiom da laboristoj" la objekto kaj "tiom da laboro" la subjekto. Ĉar kaj "kiom" kaj "tiom" ne ricevu la akuzativan markilon "-n" kaj ĉar "da" estas propozicio kaj do nek ĝi, nek la frazpartoj post ĝi ricevu la akuzativan markilon, ŝajnas ne esti eblo distingi inter la du sencoj.

Kvankam tio estas konstruita ekzemplo, mi imagas ke (verŝajne malofte, sed tamen ja) tio povas okazi en okazoj kaj situacioj, en kiuj nur kunteksto ne sufiĉe helpas determini, kiu estus la intencata senco.

Do jen miaj demandoj:

  1. Ĉu tio vere estas ambiguo aŭ ĉu mi malpravas?
  2. Kiel eviti tiun ambiguon? (Se eblas, sen tute reformuli la demandon.)
  3. Ĉu estas profunda kialo, kial la Fundamento de Esperanto ne enhavas akuzativan markilon por la "...iom"-aj tabelvortoj? Ĝi ja havas por ĉiuj la "...io"-aj tabelvortoj laŭajn "...ion"-ajn tabelvortojn. (Kompreneble, "-n" ne tre taŭgus, ĉar "...iomn" estus al iuj malfacile prononci kaj al la plejmultaj malfacile aŭde distingi de "...ion" kaj "...iom".)

Ĉu, por eviti la ambiguon, la prepozicio "na" estas uzema kiel akuzativa markilo, kvankam esti neoficiala? Se jes, ĉu la formulaĵo supre ĝustas?

1

7 Answers 7

2
  1. Yes, the ambiguity of accusative is there. The ambiguity of the subject and object is not exclusive to kiom/tiom. PMEG writes

Sufiĉe ofte la rekta objekto de frazo estas io, kio ne povas havi N-finaĵon, ekz. ne-Esperantigita nomo aŭ alia fremda vorto, citaĵo, kvanta vorteto, kvanta E-vorto, ambaŭ, I-verbo, ke-frazo aŭ demanda subfrazo. En tiaj okazoj oni devas el la kunteksto kompreni, kio estas objekto.

The solution (as indicated by PMEG) is to only construct sentences where the ambiguity is not there for the recipient.

  1. To avoid ambiguity without changing the meaning, I recommend substituting the "tiom/kiom" with kiu(n) kvanto(n) or kiu(n) amaso(n) or whatever fits the situation. Here, for example:

Kiom da laboristoj bezonas tiun amason da laboro?

Kiun kvanton da laboristoj bezonas tiom da laboro?

I would only use na as a last resort.

  1. Actually the tiom/kiom words used to accept the n-ending; Hence you could say "Kiom laboristojn bezonas tiom da laboro?". However it is no longer used and people now use the da-format (kiom da laboristoj). I think it changed because it was confusing that the modifier kiom didn't have the n-ending. One could theoretically find a way to add the n-ending to kiom, but I am not sure it is worth it, because it is so easy to say kiu(n) kvanto(n), which can substitute most uses of kiom.
3
  • Thank you! I assume with "Actually the tiom/kiom words used to accept the n-ending" you're referring to the third section Malnova A-vorteca uzo de OM-vortoj of that grammar chapter?
    – das-g
    Oct 8, 2019 at 17:11
  • 1
    Aliaj ebloj por la senco (a): Kiom da laboristoj bezonas tioman laboron? Al kiom da laboristoj necesas tiom da laboro?
    – Vidamuzo
    Oct 8, 2019 at 18:32
  • @das-g, yes exactly!
    – svendvn
    Oct 8, 2019 at 21:59
3

I agree with the other answers that the question seems very unnatural in both Esperanto and English and it would probably be better to just rephrase it. However, assuming you do want to use those words for some reason, there are two rules that come in to play and conflict a little:

  1. When the accusative can’t be marked, stick to the default SVO order to make the meaning clear.
  2. Always put the question part of the sentence at the beginning.

I think to translate (a) from your English example the two rules don’t conflict and you would indeed end up with your suggested translation.

However, to translate (b), if you try to stick to SVO as closely as possible without disobeying rule 2, you would end up with the order OSV whereas you have chosen OVS. I think this might be due to influence from the word order in English which has an extra rule that the subject and the verb are inverted in a question. This rule doesn’t exist in Esperanto, so perhaps the more natural formulation of (b) would be:

Kiom da laboristoj tiom da laboro bezonas?

If you follow that convention then there isn’t actually any ambiguity.

I think that answers parts 1 and 2 of your question. For part 3, I think the reason is that the -iom correlatives work more like adverbs than nouns and adverbs don’t take the accusative. They take the same place in a sentence as multe, so trying to add the accusative to them would be like saying “li havas multen da terpomoj”. I think in practice apart from contrived examples like this one, the ambiguity really doesn’t cause a problem.

I would avoid using the unofficial preposition na unless you are very sure that the person you are speaking to understands it, because it is not very well known and is likely to just cause confusion.

2
  • SVO is not the default word order just because it is in English. The PMEG people seem to think that English is the measure of all things. There is no rule for word order in the Internacia Lingvo. There are rules for marking the object. Word order is none of it. Die Katze frisst die Maus. Wen frisst die Katze? Die Maus frisst die Katze. Meaning through word order doesn't work in German, doesn't work in any none-SVO-language and it doesn't work in Esperanto.
    – Olafant
    Oct 9, 2019 at 13:13
  • 1
    Although SVO is the most common word order in Esperanto, it is not suffcient to show subject and object, as it serves for the expression of topic, comment, or focus. Oct 13, 2019 at 19:52
1

I'm not sure, whether I understand your sentences correctly. English is known for lack of role marking (which word is subject, object and so on) by other means than word order. It seems to me, that the Esperanto translation suffers from that.

If you are asking, how many workers are needed for a certain amount of work, then an unambiguous translations could be:

  • Kiom da laboristoj oni bezonas por tiom da laboro?
3
  • 1
    Actually, the English questions here are (supposed to be) completely unambiguous, despite the lack of role markings and despite questions in English tending towards a word order that puts the question word ("how") first, regardless of whether it is part of the object or subject. Because of number agreement between subject and verb, "how much workers" is must be subject of question (a), and "that much work" must be subject of question (b).
    – das-g
    Oct 7, 2019 at 18:59
  • (Also, I first constructed the ambiguous Esperanto question and then tried to translate the two possible meanings unambiguously to English, not the other way around. So the Esperanto question shouldn't suffer from being being a translation of maybe poorly worded English. Rather it was deliberately constructed to be ambiguous for the sake of serving as a specific example within this grammar question.)
    – das-g
    Oct 7, 2019 at 21:07
  • Bone, while the Esperanto sentence might technically be correct (I'm not skilled enough to judge that), I have a gut feeling, that something is off in it. Since Esperanto is aimed to ease communication between people, one should avoid such ambiguities and make roles visible. Oct 8, 2019 at 7:02
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La ekzemplo estas iom stranga. Oni ne povas trudi kaj vortojn kaj strukturon al frazo kaj peti klarigon pri la rezulto. Kion vi volas demandi, esperantlingve, mi demandus jene:

kiom da laboristoj bezonatas por tiom da/tia/tiel multe da laboro?

aŭ ion kiel

kiom da ni bezonatas por tiom da laboro?

La amplekso de la laboro devus esti iel evidenta/jam konata/videbla. Mi imagas kelkajn personojn, kiuj staras antaŭ rekonstruota afero, ekzemple.

Oni ĉiam povas konstrui laboratoriajn frazojn plursencajn. Tio povas esti interesa afero, trovi kaj ilin kaj la unusencigajn solvojn: did you see her dress?iom da akvo kostas iom da vino. Tamen, kelkfoje indas esplori, ĉu iu ajn dirus tion tiel, ĉar vivantaj lingvoj kutime jam trovis elturniĝojn el tiuj situacioj, kiam kunteksto ne sufiĉas.

1
  • All forms of the passive are rendered by the respective forms of the verb est (to be) and the participle passive of the required verb; fundamento
    – Olafant
    Oct 13, 2019 at 19:20
1

The Conundrum

Basically, what you're saying is that these sentences:

  • How many workers need that much work?
  • How many workers does that much work need?

both translate to:

  • Kiom da laboristoj bezonas tiom da laboro?

So if you read that Esperanto translation, how would you know which English sentence is its translation, if both English sentences translate to it?


Interestingly, I had come up with the same question back in 2017, with the following example sentence:

  • Kiom da hundoj vidas tiom da infanoj?

This could mean either:

  • How many dogs see so many children? ("children" is the accusative)
  • How many dogs do so many children see? ("dogs" is the accusative)

I also came up with a question that uses "iom da" twice:

  • Ĉu iom da virinoj ŝatas iom da viroj?

making it unclear which of the following is meant:

  • Do some women like some men?
  • Do some men like some women?

When I publicly asked how to resolve this ambiguity, I basically received three distinct answers:

  1. Rephrase the question to eliminate the ambiguity.
  2. You can use "-ioma(n)" as a synonym for "-iom da".
  3. You can use the neologism "na" to mark the accusative.

There was no widely-agreed upon single response.

So imagine my surprise when, four years later in 2021, I discovered that Zamenhof himself claimed that the following sentences were equally good:

  • Mi konas tiom da homoj. (GOOD)
  • Mi konas tiom homojn. (GOOD)

However, he makes sure to mention that this one is not correct:

  • Mi konas tiom da homojn. (BAD, because "da" never takes the accusative.)

Zamenhof's exact explanation was:

La formoj "multe da laboro" kaj "multa laboro" estas egale bonaj. Egale bonaj ankaŭ estas la esprimoj "mi konas tiom homojn" kaj "mi konas tiom da homoj", sed ne bene estus diri "mi konas tiom da homojn", ĉar en la lasta esprimo la formo "homojn" dependas ne de la vorto "konas", sed de la prepozicio "da", kiu ne postulas la akuzativon.


If the fact that Zamenhof condoned the use of "tiom o-vorto(j)(n)" is good enough for you to use that form, then you can ambiguously translate this sentence:

  • How many workers need that much work?

as:

  • Kiom laboristoj bezonas tiom laboron?

and this sentence:

  • How many workers does that much work need?

as:

  • Kiom laboristojn bezonas tiom laboro?

Admittedly, this form promoted by Zamenhof (that is, "-ion nomo(j)(n)") seemed strange to me at first, mainly because I was never taught it (before seeing it mentioned by Zamenhof). But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me -- especially since that form naturally matches the "-ies" set of correlatives.

Consider these sentences:

  • Mi trovis ies librojn. (I found someone's books.)
  • Kies librojn vi trovis? (Whose books did you find?)
  • Kies libroj estas sur la tablo? (Whose books are on the table?)

(When I first learned about "-ies", I was unsure how to decline it to match accusatives and plurals. Eventually I learned that "kies" is invariable, much like the article "la".)

The above sentences match up quite well with the following:

  • Mi trovis iom librojn. (I found some books.)
  • Kiom librojn vi trovis? (How many books did you find?)
  • Kiom libroj estas sur la tablo? (How many books are on the table?)

Once I saw the same patters shared between these sets of sentences, using "-ion o-vorto(j)(n)" no longer looked strange to me. In fact, it made quite a lot of sense -- at least as much sense as it does with "-ies".


So if "-iom nomo(j)(n)" is grammtically correct Esperanto (according to its creator), why then did it fall out of fashion? Why did Esperantists increasingly favor "-iom da nomo(j)" to the point of all but rejecting "-iom nomo(j)(n)"?

According to this stackexchange post, the reason "-iom nomo(j)(n)" fell out of fashion is because it is not very coherent with the rest of the language -- namely, where you would expect the adjective to agree with the noun.

In other words, one form of "kiom" is "kioma", which feels strange to some speeakers, as it is used as an adjective ("kioma") in one context, and without any ending ("kiom") in another.

However, I disagree with the idea that it lacks coherence with the rest of the language. Instead, I believe that it's quite coherent with correlatives in general. Consider this:

When you ask a question with "kio" (notice that it ends in "-o"), you're expecting an answer that ends in "-o":

Ekzemplo: Kio estas en la skatolo? Libro. (Libro estas en la skatolo.)

When you ask a question with "kia" (notice that it ends in "-a"), you're expecting answers that end in "-a":

Ekzemplo: Kia estas la libro? Granda kaj malnova. (La libro estas granda kaj malnova.)

The word "kioma" works the same way in that it expects a number ending with the "-a" suffix:

Ekzemplo: Kioma horo estas? La sepa. (Nun estas la sepa horo.)

Ekzemplo: Kioma en la vico de trumpetistoj estas via infano? Tria. (Mia infano estas la tria trumpetisto en la vico.)

In addition, the suffix-less word "kiom" works the same way in that it expects a number without a suffix:

Ekzemplo: Kiom librojn vi vidas? Tri. (Mi vidas tri librojn.)

Given this pattern of thought, I personally find "kiom librojn" to be no more strange than "tri librojn" -- just as "kioma infano" fits perfectly with "tria infano". So "kiom librojn" here makes a lot of sense to me. (I won't be surprised if many people disagree with me, however.)


So, going back to your original sentence:

Kiom da laboristoj bezonas tiom da laboro?

let's address your trio of questions:

  1. Is that ambiguity actually there, or am I missing something?

I personally believe that grammatical ambiguity absolutely exists there. The ambiguity may very well be resolved with context, but given that Esperanto's rules makes great effort to identify the accusative noun from the nominative noun, I believe that that ambiguity is not just an unfortunate accident that we have to live with but rather, it's one that can be easily fixed.

  1. What is the recommended way to avoid this ambiguity? (If possible without completely rephrasing the question.)

According to Zamenhof, it would be acceptable to use "kiom laboristoj(n)" and "tiom laboro(n)". As he said, it is "equally good" to use "tiom laboro(n)" in place of "tiom da laboro".

  1. Is there a deeper reason why the Fundamento doesn't allow for an accusative marker for the "...iom" tabelvortoj?

As demonstrated in the "kies" examples above, "kiom" (asking for a number/quantity) is invariable. On the other hand, "kioma(n)" (asking for a position, or "n-th" place in an order) is not invariable -- it can be either "kioma" or "kioman", just as numerical positions can be "una/dua/tria/..." or "unan/duan/trian/...".


My Final Thoughts

So given that L. L. Zamenhof himself condoned the use of "tiom homojn", should we use it today? Depending on who you ask, you'll get a different answer.

  1. Some will say, "No! It doesn't fit with the rest of Esperanto!"

  2. Others will say, "It is grammatically correct Esperanto and it clarifies ambiguities, so why not use it?"

  3. Still others will say, "It may be gramatically correct, but nobody uses it anymore, which means you shouldn't use it, either."

As for myself, I don't agree with points 1 and 3. As for point 3 ("it's rarely used so you shouldn't use it"), Zamenhof said that the rarity/unusualness of a usage is not a reason as to why it shouldn't be used -- even if Zamenhof himself didn't use it -- as it is neither against the rules nor against the spirit of Esperanto. (In that quote, Zamenhof was talking specifically about the words "onin" and "onia", but if he condones the use of these word forms he personally does not use, how much more would he condone the forms of words that he does use?)

So should you use sentences like the following?

  • Mi konas tiom homojn.
  • Kiom laboristoj bezonas tiom laboron?
  • Kiom laboristojn bezonas tiom laboro?
  • Kiom hundon vidas tiom infanojn?
  • Kiom hundojn vidas tiom infanoj?
  • Ĉu iom virinoj ŝatas iom virojn?
  • Ĉu iom virinojn ŝatas iom viroj?

Honestly, it's up to you if you want to use them or not. But if you do use them, be prepared to be told by other Esperantists that you're wrong to use them.

Personally, I'd rather not contradict Zamenhof by forbidding their use, especially since they make so much sense to me. But to others, it doesn't make sense, so they may not appreciate their use (especially if they were specifically taught never to use "kiom" in that way).

So if you use forms like "kiom laboristoj(n)", I won't have a problem with it, and I don't think Zamenhof will either. But I can't guarantee that anybody else won't. For whatever reason, it's taken for granted that it's to be avoided nowadays.

0

It is ambiguous (hello Ido), though the multiple correlative usage is arguable. Positional (subject-verb) stress or reformulation may disambiguate.

Kiom da laboristoj bezonas tiom da laboro?             --> SVO positional
Kiom da laboristoj tiu kvanto de laboro bezonas?       --> OSV positional
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  • 1
    Ĉu ne estus pli senambigue: Kiom da laboristoj bezonas tiun kvanton de laboro ?
    – Vidamuzo
    Oct 7, 2019 at 11:08
  • 1
    @Vidamuzo Tute senambiguigi eblas, tamen tute senpozicia E-o fakte ne estas (multe da homoj manĝas multe da bestoj).
    – Joop Eggen
    Oct 7, 2019 at 11:25
  • 1
    Mi preteratentis la rimarkon pri OSV en via dua frazo. Ĉar tiu kvanto ne havas N-finaĵon, oni logike pensus ke Kiom da laboristoj estas la objekto. Mi tamen emas eviti tiajn frazojn ĉar ili facile konfuzas min, aparte se ili ne sekvas la SVO-modelon kaj nek la subjekto nek la objekto havas N-finaĵon.
    – Vidamuzo
    Oct 7, 2019 at 18:22
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    @das-g If the question starts with the object, subject+verb follows. kiom mi devas pagi? and not verb+subject. Customary though not formally regulated in the language.
    – Joop Eggen
    Oct 8, 2019 at 9:20
  • 1
    @das-g I did not express myself clear enough, Subject-Verb is customary, but not formally prescribed by the language. There is some freedom to say Tagon bonan deziras al vi mi. Which actually stresses mi as opposed to say ili.
    – Joop Eggen
    Oct 8, 2019 at 14:06
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Your example is already poorly constructed in English and has also poor word choice. Work doesn't need anything. So we see already: that's what passive is for.

De kiom da laboristoj estas tiom da laboro bezonata?

Kiom da laboristoj estas necesaj por tiom da laboro?

Multe da homoj manĝas multe da bestoj.

Multe da bestoj estas manĝataj de multe da homoj.

5
  • 1
    Can someone please edit that ugly gx? I'm on my phone.
    – Olafant
    Oct 7, 2019 at 13:15
  • I think "estas necesaj" is the right way to use "necesa". You need the passive voice with bezoni, not with necesa (they are not equivalent, necesa is an adjective first and bezoni as a verb first).
    – marcus
    Oct 7, 2019 at 15:19
  • @marcus Yeah, I think you're right. Little over the top with making everything passive. 🤔
    – Olafant
    Oct 7, 2019 at 15:31
  • The poor word choice might be because I'm not a native speaker of English. In German "Wieviele Arbeiter braucht diese Arbeit?" would probably be an unusual way to phrase the question of how many workers are needed for the work (i.e. to complete the work), but still AFAIK completely correct.
    – das-g
    Oct 7, 2019 at 21:00
  • 1
    @das-g Maybe poor word choice is also poor word choice. I didn't mean to be unpolite. It's just extremely constructed. In German you would say Wieviele Arbeiter brauchen wir... or something like that. What I want to say is: there is no need for na to get rid of a problem that doesn't exist.
    – Olafant
    Oct 8, 2019 at 2:32

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