Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Typical problems with dictionaries...

I can now comfortably compose simple sentences, those which just have a subject/verb/object, and even some prepositions. My (active) vocabulary is still fairly small, and that is one aspect I will have to work on over the next days (and weeks!). But what I really want to do is write more complex sentences.

One reason to use more complex grammatical structures is that you can avoid a lot of repetition. Instead of writing "I went to the theatre. I saw a play" you write "I went to the theatre and saw a play" - the "I" of the second clause has been dropped. This seems to be even more relevant in Esperanto (as compared to English) as there are fewer synonyms. In English you can easily choose a different word to avoid repeating yourself, but in Esperanto this is not that easy, and for good reason: the vast vocabulary is one of the aspects of English which make it hard to acquire full competence in it.

At present I play around a bit, and I have encountered some relative clauses which I can now use with some confidence at least. I have also found a grammar on-line, so I tried my first passive verb today. Slowly I make progress...

My lack of vocabulary re-raised my awareness of the deficiency of bi-lingual dictionaries: words usually have more than one meaning, and out of context it is not possible to decide which word exactly is the best translation. For example, I wanted to say about a play I saw recently (which was adapted from a book) that there was too much plot for the stage. So I looked at 'plot' in my on-line Esperanto-English dictionary, and found the following entries:
  • intrigo - plot
  • komploto - conspiracy, plot
  • rakontintrigo - plot

Neither of these seems to refer to the plot of a story, apart from perhaps the last one. Intrigo sounds too much like intrigue, so I decided it was probably wrong. But this is with my bias of being a speaker of German and English. In the end I settled for rakonto, which is glossed as "narrative, story, tale". I had a similar problem with "stage" which has a number of possible translations, mostly involving the kind of stage you're at in your life or something.

The best (if not only) way to acquire vocabulary properly is by use, in this case mainly reading. By seeing words in the context in which they are used you get a feeling for how to use them yourself, which is why immersion is always the best way to really learn a language. But I am not yet in a position to do much reading as I'm lacking the grammatical knowledge, and also the more complex morphology - suffixes modifying the meaning of a word.

But this is really the thing I need to aim for: expand the vocabulary, and then get reading.

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