I really like Esperanto's system of prefixes and suffixes, being able to add all of them together to get the perfect word without needed to know specific vocabulary, but I don't exactly understand how and why they were choosen. For example, there is the suffix "-aĉ-", which means "of a bad quality", so "domo" means house and "domaĉo" means shack, or shed, a small house. However, there is no suffix that means "of a good quality". Why is this?

Also, there is the prefix "ek-" which means "start", as in "ekiri", "start going". Why not a prefix that means "stop"?

Also, how did Zamenhoff figure out that certain suffixes would be useful? Did he choose them randomly? Or just try speaking and see what he thought was needed?

I am curious to know anything about how and why the current system of affixes came to be.

  • 1
    Interesting question! I wonder how much about that is actually known.
    – das-g
    Jan 1 at 22:45

My educated guess is…

From what I understand most affixes come from the languages Zamenhof knew. These were, at least to some degree, Yiddish, Russian, German, French, Hebrew, Polish, Belarussian, Latin, Greek, Aramaic, English, Lithuanian and Italian.

If several of those languages had a certain affix, it certainly was a good candidate to be taken into Esperanto. Such common affixes in many cases had their roots in Latin and Classical Greek.

If I remember correctly, there is a study made in the University of Tel Aviv about frequency of the "positive" as the norm and the "negative" shown with an affix. In other words, why bela and malbela instead of, say, malmoŝa and moŝa (← [fr] moche).

An explanation I have heard a couple of times, is that the norm should also be unambiguous. For instance fermi, to close, since the state being closed (ferma) is unambiguous compared to being open (malferma) which can mean anything from being ajar to wide open.

What also must have influenced, is the phonology Zamenhof chose, how Esperanto should sound. The language does not have four, five consonant clusters (like Polish has), and it lacks the vowels y, ä and ö found for instance in Germanic languages.

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