In house language expert Tony Flanagan (well, he used to be an English Teacher), takes a look at a new package which aims to impart the rudiments of Esperanto....
Saluton readers! As you can vidas, mi estas lernanta Esperanto First Half, a computer audio cassette package. This has been produced for the Spectrum by Les Hartridge, a retired school master from Cro Croydon, who is one of two directors of LEZ PERANTO LTD. For those of you not fully conversant with the subject, Esperanto is an international language which was invented just under a century ago by a Polish chappy called Ludwik Zamenhof. It was his desire that Esperanto would become a lingua franca (just as Latin had been in the past) so that nations would be able to converse in a common tongue. This, he believed, would foster good relationships between countries and contribute to world peace.
Esperanto is a phonetic system but unique in that one letter always corresponds to one sound and one sound only. There are twenty eight letters in the alphabet, twenty-two of which are the same as ours. Most of the word roots are Latin-based (but don't be put of if you did Latin at school as there are millions of declensions to memorise).
Somewhat refreshingly, Esperanto contains none of the irritating idiosyncracies which make our own language and that of other nations so problematic. You won't find any silent consonants, irregular verbs or perverse grammatical constructions in Esperanto. The whole system is entirely logical. For example, all nouns end in 'o', all adjectives in 'a' and the present tense of all verbs in 'as'. Identical to English, the definite article,' la', remains the same whether the noun is masculine, feminine, singular or plural, which, if like moi, you hated French at school, has got to be a plus!
Esperanto First Half comprises three sections: Espotext, Espogram and Espoword, which are designed to educate the student to what in relative terms would be GCE 'O' level standard.
Espotext is a ten lesson course, which provides a thorough grammatical grounding in Esperanto. There is a short introduction on the origin and development of the language and then the lessons begin. The lessons detail the various parts of speech and their respective endings. Other sections deal with compound verbs, adverbs and other essentials of grammar. However, the grammatical slant of the program's content is by no means obtrusive. The text avoids jargon and is easily understood - all grammatical terms are clearly explained and accompanied by useful examples.
Conveniently, you have some control over the pace at which you work - at every stage you have the option to continue or to return to the index where all the various sections are listed. The text, therefore, never disappears before you've had time to read it; indeed, you can read it as many times as you want before you move on. To consolidate the learning process, there are a variety of exercises designed to test grammar, vocabulary and translating ability.
Screen-wise, there is nothing novel about this program - most of the time it's text on a blank background. Obviously, too much colour would only get in the way of text, so it's probably just as well. In some sections, however, graphics are used to good effect to facilitate understanding. In the Prepositions section, for example, a colourful bridge scene helps clarify what these items of grammar are and how they are used in Esperanto.
Once you have worked your way through Espotext, you can test your grasp of Esperanto grammar by loading the Espogram program. In the lower half of the screen is the beginning of a sentence containing one, two or several blanks. Given at the top of the screen are twenty numbered suffixes. The blanks are filled in by pressing the appropriate numerical key and in this way you build up a sentence of which there are fifty stored. Any errors you have made are shown at the bottom and any corrections are briefly explained. You score is also given at the bottom of the screen.
As well as improving your grammar, the package - as any language package should - aims to increase your vocabulary. This is where the Espoword program can help. It consists of 729 Esperanto words and their English translations all of which are relevant to everyday life. On manual display there is a choice of any of nine blocks (eight-one words). In Auto display you can choose one-third part of any block, that is, twenty-seven words, and you choose the time interval before the answer is given.
Clearly, the written word is only one aspect of a two-horned beast. The audio tape, therefore, introduces the learner to the pleasures of spoken Esperanto. First of all, the Espohear section, demonstrates nineteen Esperanto sounds which are either new to the English ear or whose use is limited. These are then demonstrated using fifty-seven words. With Esposay, you are required to pronounce each of these. First the tape gives the word number listed in the notes, you pronounce the word and then the tape prounces the word as it should be pronounced. Espoself and Esponext give some indication of what sentences of fluent Esperanto sound like.
Supplementing the tapes are detailed notes which reinforce and expand upon what has already been explained. These contain some marvelous ice-breakers for the avid party-goer - such gems like, 'Do you eat water?' or 'is your mother a man?'
Still, it is easy to be flippant about Esperanto because it's an 'artificial' language. But when one considers there are over 100,000 speakers world-wide, over 30,000 books published in Esperanto and approximately 50 national associations, someone somewhere must be taking it seriously. There is an idealistic thrust underlying Esperanto that alone sets it apart from 'natural' languages, and its adherents reveal something of a missionary mentality. Indeed, you may have found Les Hartridge spreading the word (or wordo) from his mini-stand at the PCW Show this year…
All in all, this package is bursting at the seams with information and is well worth getting if you are interested in mastering Esperanto. There's even a brain-twisting arithmetical puzzle game thrown in for free - Flipit 86!