Of all the criticisms you see of Volapuk, one the most pervasive is that it can be difficult to parse some of the longer compound words. Which is pretty obvious. With all words being CVCVCVCV... and prefixes being (C)V and suffixes V(C), it stands to reason it could be hard to figure out where the root word is amongst the long list of affixes.

But why doesn't Esperanto have this problem? Is it just because the roots are easy to recognize (if you're already familiar with a western European language)? Or is it that Esperanto has somehow managed to avoid the need to form words with long chains of affixes. If so, why was making long-winded compound words necessary in Volapuk but its hard to find a reason to in Esperanto?

Note that I don't know Volapuk, and I only know the utmost basics of Esperanto. I've never actually used the language at any point in time. But I've seen more examples of affix-heavy words from Volapuk than I have from Esperanto (the only Esperanto example I even know of is 'malsanulejo').

  • In Esperanto its systematic prefixes+word stems+suffixes+endings is more a way for active expressiveness, rather than agglutinativeness, as 5 word parts like in mal-san-ul-ej-o is probably indeed above the average. My very non-professional impression is that agglutinative languages will have like Finnish (or Volapük) have less CC, tiring / requiring pauses. Esperanto picked kun (not kon) for 'with' for the presence of words like konduto, konfuzi etc,
    – Joop Eggen
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 12:50
  • The thing about malsanulejo is that it's a word you that you will, in practice, learn and use as a unit. The fact that it is formed from 4 parts (plus -o, which isn't worth counting as a separate part since all nouns have it) is, in practice, merely a way to help people learn the word. It seems to me that compound words that you didn't learn during the early learning process are usually made of only two parts that you did learn during that process (including compounds of compounds like malliberej-kontrolisto). But I don't know Volapuk so can't compare to it.
    – Qwertie
    Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 13:00

1 Answer 1


Esperanto phonotactics was never as restrictive as Volapük's. Its prefixes (including prepositional prefixes) are mostly not CV but CCV or VC, and its stems often enough begin or end with consonant clusters. So morphological boundaries are often easy to tell.

Moreover Esperanto initially avoided stem endings for multisyllabic stems that might be ambiguous with suffixes. Hence banquet becomes bankedo, not banketo, for fear of ambiguity with bank-eto "little bank".

Esperanto initially did pursue agglutinativity aggressively, and I'm not sure that it was less enthusiastic about doing so than Volapük. But malsanulejo is indeed exceptional for Esperanto.

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