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I was asked to translate the English sentence

He does not find the lamp in the box.

into Esperanto.

I wrote

Li ne trovas la lampon en la kesto.

as an answer and it was accepted but another sentence

La lampon en la kesto li ne trovas.

was suggested as another correct answer.

Do these two answers have exactly same meaning, or are they slightly different?

2 Answers 2

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This simple question is harder to answer than one might expect.

Your sentence

There's two ways to interpret / parse the sentence

Li ne trovas la lampon en la kesto.

lamp not found in the box

"en la kesto" could be the location where "li" doesn't find the lamp. (So the sentence wouldn't making a statement about whether the lamp actually is in the box and he just overlooks it while looking in there, or whether it can't be found in the box because it's actually somewhere else, nor whether he finds it at that other place.)

lamp in the box not found

"en la kesto" could also be a part of the direct object, i.e., the sentence implies that the lamp indeed is in the box, but "li" doesn't find it. (In this case, the sentence wouldn't make any statement about whether he even looks in the box, or maybe doesn't find the lamp because he's searching elsewhere.)

(Note that the English sentence

He does not find the lamp in the box.

suffers from the same ambiguity.)

Their sentence

So one might be tempted to re-arrange the sentence to make it less ambiguos, and come up with

La lampon en la kesto li ne trovas.

This gives a strong hint, that "en la kesto" belongs to "la lampon" rather than to "ne trovas" or to the whole sentence, i.e., that the lamp indeed is in the box, but he doesn't find it. (Again without any implication about where he's even looking for it, if at all.)

Though, even in this order, the sentence can be interpreted / parsed in both ways:

lamp in the box not found (likely)

"la kesto" being the location of the lamp:

lamp not found in the box (unlikely, but possible)

"la kesto" being the location of the not-finding:

Not all interpretations equally likely

However, while in the standard word order "Li ne trovas la lampon en la kesto.", both interpretations seem similarly plausible to me, my feeling about this word order is that it's much more likely that the intended meaning is that "en la kesto" is indeed part of the object and thus the location of the lamp, rather than the location of the not-finding.

Subtlety: Thema—Rhema

Even if we subscribe to the same parsing for both sentences (no matter, which one of the two options), there can be a very slight difference in meaning, because a non-default word order can imply that the beginning of the sentence is the "theme" ("topic"; something assumed to be known) while the remainder/ending is the "rheme" ("focus"; something new communicated by the sentence). Thus, the non-default word order with the object at the beginning might imply that the lamp (and maybe also its location in the box, depending on the parsing) was already talked about, and that him not finding it is the new information added by this sentence.

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  • There is a circular letter by AdE reminding us of the important of clear theme-rheme order. Thus "Li ne trovas la lampon en la kesto" speaks about his (unsuccessful) action and "La lampon en la kesto li ne trovas." about the lamp. Das-g points out the ambiguity in Esperanto, in a language that strives to have as little ambiquity as possible. I have come to understand a description like "en la kesto" always are taken to refer to the just preceeding entity, thereby making the word order less free. Oct 9, 2023 at 11:31
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Ambaŭ frazoj havas la saman kernan signifon sed malsaman emfazon.

Li / ne trovas / la lampon / en la kesto.

Tiu estus la "kutima" ordo. La oblikvaj strekoj apartigas frazpartojn.

La lampon li ne trovas en la kesto.

Emfazita estas la lampon. Ebla kunteksto: li serĉis plurajn aferojn en la kesto kaj trovis ĉiujn krom la lampon.

En la kesto li ne trovas la lampon.

Emfazita estas en la kesto. Ebla kunteksto: li pretas serĉi la lampon en pluraj ejoj, komencis serĉon en la kesto kaj iu raportas lian progreson, eble la lampo estos trovita en alia ejo, poste.

La lampon en la kesto li ne trovas

Emfazita estas denove la lampon, sed ankaŭ en la kesto troviĝas en nekutima loko kaj iel elstaras, eltiras la atenton. Do, oni povus konsideri tion duaranga emfazo.

PMEG klarigas tion jene (kun pluraj ekzemploj):

La baza ordo de frazpartoj sekvas la ĉi-postan modelon:

subjekto – ĉefverbo – objekto – aliaj frazpartoj

Se oni uzas alian vortordon, oni ne ŝanĝas la bazan signifon, sed nur kreas diversajn emfazojn:

Estas aparta reordigo, nome antaŭmetado, klarigita ĉi tie.

Frazparton, kiu kutime ne aperas unue en frazo, oni povas emfazi per tio, ke oni ĝin metas ĝuste en tian komencan pozicion

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    Miakomprene la kerna ideo en la respondo de Das-g estas, ke Esperanto malhavas unusencan montrilon, ĉu la parto "en la kesto" priskribas la lokon de la subjekto aŭ objekto. Estas nur kutimo, ke ni asocias la lokon al ĵus antaŭa substantivo, kaj ĉi-tial esprimo, en kiu la loko estas en la komenco "En la kesto li ne…", ne estas tiel unusenca. Oct 12, 2023 at 9:38
  • Ekzakte, @JuhaMetsäkallas. Se necese oni povus verŝajne unusence esprimi deziratan signifon per aldona subfrazo.
    – das-g
    Oct 12, 2023 at 14:30
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    @JuhaMetsäkallas mia respondo memstaras, ĝi ne rilatas tiun de das-g nek mencias ĝin, kaj mi pensas ke fakte la du povus kunprav(et)i, do mi ne tro komprenas la komenton. Oct 13, 2023 at 20:43

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