I saw a post somewhere where a person posted a text in Folksprak to see if people could make sense of it. This got me thinking; how recognizable is Esperanto? Yeah, its a posteriori, but so is Folksprak, and no one speaker of any Germanic language could make much sense of it. In fact, Esperanto's recognizability may be even worse since its derivation infamously renders some rather alien words. A common example I've seen is how the word for 'school' is 'lernejo', even though all the words for 'school' throughout Europe bear some resemblence to each other. If you weren't told before, why would you assume that 'lernejo' meant 'school'? Maybe someone would realize it had some relation to the word 'learn', but that doesn't help too much. Also, who on earth would assume 'malsunulejo' means 'hospital'? You get the idea. Even then, there are some seemingly a priori roots in it, such as famously 'edz-'. Those are rare granted, but they certainly wouldn't help.

Even the fact that its based on European languages may not be all that apparent. Given how so many non-IE languages have borrowed huge swaths of vocab from English, all the vaguely English-like roots may not be enough to give away that its even based on European languages. It may simply mean nothing to a casual observer.

Is there even anyway to test for this given Esperanto's fame? You find any material in it, its learning material. You're not going to run into a paragraph of Esperanto that doesn't explain to you what it means. Has anyone ever stumbled upon Esperanto text and not realized what it was? Maybe they didn't know Esperanto existed, but what might they make of the text?

  • 2
    This is not answerable. "Is Russian intelligible to someone that doesn't know it?". "Is X intelligible to someone that doesn't know it?" Commented May 2 at 22:40
  • If you know romance languages, especially French. you might be able to make out context from hearing verbs being repeated. Commented May 7 at 13:51

1 Answer 1


First on some choices in Esperanto. Hospital as malsanulejo (mal-san-ul-ej-o) is an often cited form of overengineering, making Esperanto systematic. It strangely enough is liked by Esperanto speakers, though there also exists hospitalo. And it is cited by both sides.

The same somewhat holds for lernejo and skolo. More for liva i.o. maldekstra and frida for malvarma.

However lernejo has one advantage: a Chinese for instance will recognize lernejo, and would even be able to invent lernejo for school, whereas skolo would be questionable. In fact active usage of the unknown lernejo means you are aware that the word is fully correct. Whereas skolo is euro-centric.

So one may conclude that beginners in Esperanto that have a basic grasp of the things like -ejo = place, are the main target. And those people have it easier.

Recognizability is also hindered by the systematic word construction:

  • The digit numbers avoid double consonants to make numbers of more digits being easier to speak: kvar (not *kvart), kvin (not *kvint), sep (not sept) and ok (not okt). This allows for an easy kvar-cent kvin-dek.
  • There are many word stems that are shorter (than for instance the Ido version) konstru-i = to construct, ben-i = bless (Ido konstruktar, benedikar). My guess is that the additional suffixes and endings were taken in consideration for shorter names. (I hope it was not Volapük influence.)

However what Esperanto make Esperanto more recognizable, is its phonetic spelling, and the choice of accented letters.

  • polico = police compare Polizei with its ts sound.
  • aĝo = age
  • ŝipo = ship
  • generalo = general (mil.)
  • ĝenerale = in general
  • ĵurnalisto = journalist

Then 65% romance, 30% germanic word stems (or whatever) makes for a limited (mixed) recognizability. The possible clash between romance and germanic stems is mostly taken care of.

Words with more than one meaning (homonyms) were avoided, which might effect possitively.

And the testing stone for readability the Christian Lord's Prayer (not my religion):

Patro nia, kiu estas en la ĉielo,          Our Father in heaven,
sanktigata estu via nomo.                  hallowed be your name,
Venu via regno,                            your kingdom come,
fariĝu via volo,                           your will be done,
kiel en la ĉielo, tiel ankaŭ sur la tero.  on earth as it is in heaven.
Nian panon ĉiutagan donu al ni hodiaŭ.     Give us today our daily bread.
Kaj pardonu al ni niajn ŝuldojn,           And forgive us our debts,
kiel ankaŭ ni pardonas al niaj ŝuldantoj.  as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Kaj ne konduku nin en tenton,              And lead us not into temptation,
sed liberigu nin de la malbono.            but deliver us from the evil.

As Esperanto is some 10 times easier to acquire, with more expressive active usage, a bit less naturalism is a small price.

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