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Slightly Geeky Guide to

Pronouncing Esperanto

Without Knowing Any Esperanto

(Generally More Than You Actually Need To Know)

Overview

The Absolute Minimum to Remember:
Stress is ALWAYS on second-to-the-last syllable.
J is pronounced like English Y.
Ǔ is pronounced like English W.
An circumflex accent (^) over a consonant changes its sound, usually to something with an H after it (Ŝ = SH).

Esperanto is an easily learnt but extremely flexible language deliberately created for use among people who do not already share another language in which they are both more fluent.

It was first published in 1887 and has since then been studied by millions of people, some of whom have become fluent enough to use it with ease, and others of whom have quit in discouragement when "easily learnt" turned out not to be a total pushover after all. (That is not surprising, since Esperanto can do all the stuff other languages do without being merely a copy of one of them.) No one has ever figured out a way to get an accurate estimate of the number of people who use Esperanto with various degrees of fluency.

At this time, Esperanto is a home language for some people; international conferences are conducted in it; and literary works are produced in it. In other words, it is not a "proposal" any more. It is a living language, albeit a minor one.

This web site contains some materials both in and about Esperanto (link), including the full text of my reference book, Being Colloquial in Esperanto. This page merely provides an overview of pronunciation, very slightly simplified from that book.

Letters & Pronunciation

Each letter of the Esperanto alphabet has a fixed pronunciation, very little influenced by adjacent letters (except J and Ŭ, noted below). To the extent that this is true in English, most Esperanto letters closely resemble their English counterparts. In some cases, where English uses a combination of two letters, such as CH or SH, Esperanto creates a distinctive letter by using a circumflex accent mark: Ĉ or Ŝ. Here are some approximate English equivalents for letters that are not obvious.

Esperanto
Letter
English Letter
English
Example
A A fAther
C TS haTS; TSeTSe fly
Ĉ CH CHurch; CHeap
E E bEt, bEll
G G Go
Ĝ J, G Jump, Judge, George, Giant
Ĥ KH, CH bleCH! (very hard h of Scottish Loch, Hebrew Lachish, German Bach)
I EE sEE, fEEt
J Y Yard; boY
Ĵ (S) (J) meaSure, pleaSure, treaSure, beauJolais
R R a flap or trill R, as in Italian or Spanish
Ŝ SH fiSH
U OO tOO, nOOn, mOO, OOps! (Never like ew in “mew”!)
Ŭ W coW (Normally occurs only after A or E)

J and W are consonants, used only to make diphthongs with adjacent vowel:

morgAŬ (two syllables) = tomorrow;
pAJlo (two syllables) = straw;
ĉiUJ (two syllables) = all of them

Stress

An Esperanto word has one syllable for every vowel (or diphthong) in it. When two vowels come together, each is pronounced separately. The stress (“accent”) always falls on the second-to-the-last syllable, as marked here:

Examples:

díru = say (2 syllables)
donáco = gift (3 syllables)
familío = family (4 syllables)
mórgaŭ = tomorrow (2 syllables)
Biblío = Bible (3 syllables)
sekretariíno = female secretary (6 syllables)
kontraŭrevolucía = counter-revolutionary (7 syllables)
ĉíuj feínoj = all fairies (2 words, 5 syllables)

Typological Workarounds

Because character input systems are not always easily available for the letters Ĉ, Ĝ, Ĥ, Ĵ, Ŝ, and Ŭ, it is not uncommon in Email, filling out on-line forms, or other informal contexts to spell them CH, GH, HH, JH, SH, and U, or CX, GX, HX, JX, SX, and U or UX. These are strictly informal conventions. I have never seen a printed book that uses them. (Of the two, the H form is older, but the X form is preferable, since it allows computers to arrange lists in correct Esperanto alphabetical order.)

For Windows systems, an old but extremely robust and well behaved freeware add-on called Ek allows input of Esperanto in most Email and word processing programs. (Link)

Now you know.


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