Agglutinative musings doktoro vs kuracisto / novulo vs komencato

Anki tells me im at something like 500+ vocabulary words, though their all at different states of being learned; and I spent a considerable amount of time this weekend forcing myself to introduce myself, ask questions and reply to comments on various corners of the web were esperantists converse.

Esperanto is an agglutinative language. Which means you can build words from various roots, suffixes and prefixes. Which means a small amount of vocbulary can take you a bit further than in a non-agglutinative language.

There does seem to be though kind of a stickling point here though in that not all constructed words are equal. Which I kinda touched on before but hit more home this week. When I went around introducing myself as a ‘novulo’. Made from the compound words ‘nova’ (new) and ‘ulo’ which is sort of a gender-neutral informal person identifier; like guy or dude. Kind of like calling one’self a newbie or newcommer.

One or two esperantists were quick to point out that this was not the propper word. ‘Komencato’ being the usual noun for this (though it wasn’t part of my vocabulary at the time.) Which closely hews to the english word beginner.

This is some pretty fine splitting of hairs. And several esperantists were quick to counter correct that novulo is fine and is even in the official canon.

But it does kind of highlight something I struggle with. Which is there actual do appear to be kind of preferred routes through the agglutinative construction. Doktoro for what I can tell is a much more common word for doctor than ‘kuracisto’ ( made up of the parts ‘kruaci’ - to cure and ‘isto’ - the suffix indicating a professional person. ) Though conversely the later might make more sense to people if Doctoro isn’t a cognate in their native tongue.

Maybe some of this is a bit more exacerbated too because im using a rather old book from my shelf to learn. Also a lot of such things will come out in the wash as I get more comfortable writing in the language.


I think what you’re seeing here is a pretty common phenomenon even in certain natural languages. The formula is pretty simple on its face: vocabulary is acquired through practice, experience, and being well-read and educated, so using specific vocabulary is higher status than building compounds of simpler words through phrases or agglutination.

I think experiments like ‘Anglish’, a theoretical version of English that ditches Latin-or-French based loan words in favor of Germanic-style compounds sort of highlights this. Latin, Greek, and French, being high status languages at the inflection point to Modern English, form a lot of the ultra-specific, single-use vocabulary that makes English such an interesting language to learn and a rich poetic and literary language. For instance, Poul Anderson’s Uncleftish Beholding for “Atomic Theory” discusses “waterstuff” (hydrogen), sourstuff (oxygen), sunstuff (helium) and ymirstuff (Uranium, from Ymir’s similarity to Uranus) and other “firststuffs” (elements) and how they might combine in to “bulkbits” and bulkbits combine into “bindings” (molecules and compounds).

Another interesting thing to think about is that sometimes using a non-standard vocabulary word for something can be used as a way to distinguish something as shorthand. If you were to take your example of doktoro/kuracisto in English, if I referred to my primary physician as a “Curist” you may start to question whether I’m seeing somebody with an MD or not, since Doctor is a protected term in the English-speaking world. Newbie might indicate an informality that beginner does not, or might be seen as being more self-deprecating or even cutesy. It’s kind of up to the community as a whole to decide on connotation, but it’s also easy to tell in-context whether somebody is struggling to remember a word (“I went to see my … uh … curer?”) vs somebody using a compound in a distinguishing sense ("I went to see my, well not “doctor”, uh… let’s say “curist”)

In the end, what you’re experiencing is prescriptivist insistence on learning “proper” vocabulary vs descriptivist encouragement of language as-it’s-used and playing with language. I think it’s nice that people were quick to encourage you in your use of neologism. It may sound strange to regulars but if it gets your point across then the linguistic interchange was successful. And as you learn and grow in your usage, the decision to use a lesser-known compound and the confidence in your experience will allow you to use those neologisms to poetic, comedic, or even didactic effect!


Curinating the peasants! Curists!

1 Like