Предлагаемую брошюру читатель вѣроятно возьметъ въ руки съ недовѣріемъ, съ предвзятою мыслью, что ему будетъ предложена какая нибудь несбыточная утопія; я долженъ поэтому прежде всего просить читателя отложить эту предвзятую мысль и отнестись серьезно и критически къ предлагаемому дѣлу.
The reader will doubtless take up this little work with an incredulous smile, supposing that he is about to peruse the impractical schemes of some good citizen of Utopia. I would, therefore, in the first place, beg of him to lay aside all prejudice, and treat seriously and critically the question brought before him.
Thus begins the preface to L.L. Zamenhof’s Unua Libro, as it’s come to be called, where the author first describes the international auxiliary language that bears his pseudonym: Esperanto.
Nearly a century after it was published, I became an avid Esperantist after learning of the language’s existence in the sci-fi novel To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip José Farmer and later finding a copy of Concise Esperanto and English Dictionary by John C. Wells. My interest in the language lay primarily in its ingenuity — by reducing the components of language to a small group of invariable roots and rules, and using a mostly international vocabulary, Zamenhof created a language that was at once easy to learn and easy to use.
But not one without shortcomings. “I am not so conceited as to suppose that my language is so perfect as to be incapable of improvement,” Zamenhof concedes in Unua Libro. “I am but human; I may have erred, I may have committed unpardonable faults. I may even have omitted to give to my language the very thing most important to it.” What faults and omissions Esperanto has depend on who you ask, but for me, after years of using the language, those shortcomings became harder to ignore, and I began looking into other “conlangs” to see how the newer Esperantos compared with the old.
What I was looking for was something as familiar and predictable as possible, so as to require the least amount of time and effort to master it. This ruled out lexically eclectic Esperanto as well as a priori languages like Lojban and much mutated a posteriori languages like Volapük, whose lexicons are mostly indecipherable without extensive study:
La ŝlosilo de saĝeco estas scii la ĝustajn demandojn.
Kik sapa binom sevön verätik saks.
It also ruled out languages like Latine Sine Flexione and Interlingua, whose familiar, usually non-specific Romance appearance often comes at the expense of predictable morphology:
Le clave de sagessa es saper le correcte questiones.*
and languages like Ido, which has a more or less predictable morphology but whose Romance is specifically but arbitrarily either French, Italian, or Spanish:
La klefo di sajeso esas savar la justa questioni.*
Not finding what I wanted, I began developing my own language with the following features in mind:
- A Romance/Latin vocabulary. For better or worse, the Latin language and its descendants are very well travelled, and have infused so many other languages as to be more easily deciphered than most by non-Romance speakers.
Because there is so much variation within Romance, however, words should be re-Latinized as much as possible by culling them from the most recent Latin ancestor common to the modern Romance languages. For example, the word for “bird” in French, Italian, and Spanish is oiseau, uccello, and pájaro, respectively. Esperanto borrows from English to produce birdo. Later Ido (a reform of Esperanto) takes the Italian and says ucelo. Interlingua dips into classical Latin for ave. But oiseau and uccello both come most immediately from Late Latin aucellus, so aucellus should be the basis of the new language’s word for “bird”.
When homonyms arise, alternate forms of the word should be found rather than distorting it, if possible. For example: the words for “object” and “to object” come from Latin obiect-. To keep the roots distinct from one another, the second can be based on obiection-.
- Productive morphemes distinct from pseudo-morphemes. Esperanto defendo means “defense”, but could be mistaken for de fendo “from a split”; Ido egal.a means “equal”, but could be mistaken for eg.ala “pertaining to the self”. Such homonyms are impossible to avoid completely in a Romance-based language, but the number of them can be minimized by selecting pseudo-roots that can’t be separated from the pseudo-affixes (ex. defenser, as long as there is no fenser), and productive affixes that aren’t also pseudo-affixes (ex. -isca instead of -ala, as long as there is no root containing -isca).
- Uniform terminations. Esperanto is sometimes criticized for the monotony of its terminations (all nouns end in -o, for example, all adjectives in -a), and for the necessity they create of mutating new words (Russian perestroika becomes Esperanto perestrojko, Arabic fatwa Esperanto fatvo).
While that’s certainly a fair point, it’s nevertheless very useful to immediately know what part of speech a word is. More importantly, uniform terminations are the precondition for Esperanto’s invariable affixes that afford the language its small size and tremendous expandability. Without them, a Romance-based language quickly sinks into the morass of morphological variations that makes Interlingua and other naturalistic languages so much more time-consuming to learn.
- An Esperanto-style verbal paradigm. It’s not exactly Romance, but it’s easy to use, and naturalistic-looking enough to not be a distraction.
On the other hand, something should be done to make certain verbal endings more distinct from each other.
- Inflectionless direct objects. Most situations can be handled by word order alone, as is done in most Romance languages and in English. Truly ambiguous cases can be resolved by a preposition specially made for the job.
- The plural in -s. The most widespread Romance languages end their plurals in -s, as does English. The new language should do likewise.
- Gender neutrality. Words for living entities should generally refer to the species or function, not the sex, unless modified by sex-indicating suffixes. Pronouns that indicate gender should be variations of the same all-inclusive third-person pronoun. The neuter pronoun should not overlap in meaning with the all-inclusive pronoun.
- Conservative orthography and pronunciation. As much as possible, words in the new language should observe Latin spelling and stress. Spelling words the way they’re pronounced in certain modern Romance languages (ex. Esperanto and Ido muziko) and stressing them invariably on the penultimate syllable (ex. opero “opera”) makes the words less recognizable and more artificial-looking than necessary. A later feature.
- Audibly compounded words. Compound words in Esperanto and Ido are usually easy to spot in writing, so that one would never confuse trianguloj “triangles” with tri anguloj “three angles”, or akvoblua “blue as water” with akvo blua “blue water”, but such words are not always so easily discerned in speech except by context. And words like aglokula can be confusing at first glance even in writing, depending on how one parses them (agl-okula “eagle-eyed” or aglo-kula “eagle-gnat”). Another later feature.
To these criteria I added a few quality-of-life features:
- A class-indicating article. “Girls just want to have fun.” “Man is a political animal.” “The leopard and the wolf are invariably wild.” Neither English, Romance, nor any conlang I’ve encountered offers a consistent, unambiguous means of speaking about something generally. A new language should address that.
- A conditional mood with tenses. To be accomplished with an affix. Esperanto’s compound verb solution to this can get clunky.
- The perfect progressive/continuous tense. The inconsistent and roundabout methods of other languages should be avoided.
- Consistent names for people and countries. While there are historical reasons why some peoples are named for the countries they inhabit, and some countries for the people who inhabit them, a single way of dealing with the matter would be best. A more recent concern.
Thus was born Romanico, as I then called it, and by 1991 I had created a grammar and sizable dictionary for the new language. After a later adjustment to the orthography, it became Romániço:
“La clavo di sapientitio es saper la justa cuestionos.”
On this site, aspiring Románicists will find everything they need to start using Romániço today.
For quick random glances at what the language looks like, click on the site’s logo.
Questions? Ask Οὖτις!
- Blueprints for Babel: Romániço. A summary of the language with critical review.
- Daughters of Esperanto. A survey of the various “Esperantidos” circa 2008 by Alan Libert.
- Google Sites: Romániço. This same site, Googlized.
- Omniglot: Romániço. A quick overview of the language, including alphabet and pronunciation, numbers, useful phrases and other translated texts.
- Wikipedia: Romániço. A quick overview of the language and grammar.
- Interlinguo: Romániço. A translation of part of this page into Interlinguo.