English is the most difficult language EVER!

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by FreeThinkers, Apr 19, 2007.

  1. EmptyForceOfChi Banned Banned

    oh yeah and where the hell did the thai language originate from, it looks nothing like chinese japanese or korean.

    it looks more like arabic than anything else lol.

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  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    It's in a family more or less by itself, with a few languages spoken by small communities nearby. It is tonal (i.e., tone is phonemic, not something you use as a separate bandwidth for expressing emotion) and analytic (i.e., you shove morphemes or word-units together to build the word you need) like Chinese. Some linguists put it in a superfamily with other nearby families like Sino-Tibetan and Austronesian... but then many linguists are starting to suspect that all non-African languages belong to a single super-duperfamily, descended from an ancestor brought from Africa 70,000 years ago at the start of the Homo sapiens diaspora.
    You keep trying to infer a relationship between two languages because they use the same or similar writing systems, and that is totally bogus. Serbian uses the Cyrillic alphabet and Croatian uses the Roman alphabet, but they are essentially the same language and far more closely related to each other than to Russian and Italian, respectively. Ditto for Urdu, which uses the Arabic alphabet, yet is basically an intercomprehensible dialect of Hindi. Vietnamese was until recently written in the symbols of Chinese, to which it is not related at all (except going back to Africa), and is now written in the symbols of Latin, to which it is also not related at all. Writing is a very new technology and it spread slowly. People learned to write from the people with whom they did business or from whom they adopted a culture, not necessarily from people who spoke related languages. All of Western Europe adopted the Latin alphabet, but only French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, and a few less familiar tongues like Occitan are actually closely related to Latin.

    The Thai alphabet is an offshoot of the Khmer alphabet, which ultimately evolved from the venerable Sanskrit alphabet of Ancient India. India was the dominant culture among the peoples immediately east of it.
    A coincidence and not a very close one. Take a look at any website from India and you'll see a far more obvious similarity.
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  5. FreeThinkers Registered Senior Member

    Yeah that is stupid. I speak Irish Gaelic and it's always: An Frainc (France)= Fraincis, An Gearmain (Germany)= Gearmainis, An Spainn (Spain)= Spainnis, An Iodail (Italy)= Iodailis, etc, An Ollainn (Holland)= Ollainnis. The only difference is that England is Sasain and English is Bearla. I don't really get that, but most are the same.

    I learn German too, and it's Englisch, Irisch, Spanisch, Italienisch, Hollandisch, etc. There's one exception to that too though - Franzosisch for French. But at least it's close enough, English is completely irregular.
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  7. Athelwulf Rest in peace Kurt... Registered Senior Member


    I could be light-hearted about it and laugh with you guys, but since I'm a language nerd, I'm compelled to give the back-story to these cases, and then laugh.

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    Because "ox" used to be what is called a weak noun, back during the Old English period when we still "extensively" declined nouns.

    "Goose" was a strong noun in Old English, meaning its vowel changed in its declension. "Moose" was borrowed from a language called Eastern Abnaki. I've never heard of it either.

    Maus, Mäuse: mouse, mice.
    Laus, Läuse: louse, lice.
    But Haus, Häuser: house, hice(r)?

    "Man" was a strong noun in Old English. Compare German Mann/Männer with English "man"/"men". "Pan" is different.

    "Foot" is another of those strong nouns. German Fuß/Füße. "Boot" probably wasn't.

    "Booth" is different. It's of Scandinavian origin, and it seems we tend to take the bear form of a word and change it according to our paradigms as if it were just another of our words.

    Also, Zahn/Zähne: "tooth"/"teeth".

    The declension of pronouns are so messed up that they're probably arbitrary.

    "Brother" is another strong noun which got simplified, but recently enough that we remember the old plural. Compare Bruder/Brüdern.

    Interestingly, in German, they have Mutter/Mütter, as if it would've been "mother"/"mether" in English.

    Fun with arbitrary pronouns!

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    "Finger", "grocer", and "hammer" are based in different Old English paradigms (and those of other languages too) than "writer", I suppose.

    You tell a lie, but the truth.

    Different paradigms again.

    And la mano.

    Ten. "0" counts as a number too.

    Watered down by lots and lots and lots of foreign words. And lacking all the synthetic aspects.

    Oh yes, the Finno-Ugric languages. The ones with the ungodly number of cases.


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  8. BoSmoke Mr Ganja Lover Registered Senior Member

    it is, now anyway.

    Queen's English seemed a bit hard to learn for some one who grew up with a patois as his mother tounge. I mean, its all so CORRECT and proper, rules of grammar to learn not feel, even though lots of the words are the same. Makes you think youre a real simple-minded buttu!

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  9. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member


    Good post explaining the germanic origins of many of English's wierder plurals, etc.

    Has anyone heard of the Mormon attempt to rectify the wierdness of the spellings in English. They concocted an entirely new alphabet, called the Desert Alphabet [ http://www.deseretalphabet.com/ ]

    It standardized all phonetics in English into a uniform system, so there were no spelling inconsistencies. It consisted of 38 characters, modified from Greek and other alphabets, such that it wrote out the English language phonetically.

    Anyway, it never caught on, though several books were published using that alphabet, which are impossible for an English reader to read unless he/she learns that new alphabet. However, the words are pronounced exactly as English words are supposed to be pronounced.

    Also, has anyone noticed how written instructions, for example on multi-language assembly instructions for furniture, toys, etc., or elsewhere, almost always has the shortest phraseology in the English language. It seems to take fewer words to communicate the same idea in English, compared to any of the other Indo-European languages, which is likely one of the reasons for its global success (aside from the British navy spreading it in earlier ages).
    Last edited: May 18, 2007
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Oxy, I have been ruminating on your question ever since you posted it. I am prepared to offer you this set of guidelines for guessing the correct gender. They have lots of exceptions, but you'll probably be right 90% of the time.
    • If the word is of Greek origin, it's probably masculine. El sistema, el analisis, el plan, el drama. Oh yeah, el mapa.

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      I don't know what a word ending in a has to do to become feminine in Greek, perhaps bring a note from its mother.
    • If it ends in d, it's probably feminine. Many of them are derived from Latin words ending in feminine suffixes like -tatis. La libertad, la velocidad, la pared.
    • If it ends in n, it's probably masculine. Many of them end in a masculine augmentative suffix like -on. El cañón, el varón, el régimen.
    • If it ends in j, it's masculine. That's a freebie, only one word ends in j, el reloj.

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    • If it ends in l, it's probably masculine. El nogal, el pastel, el fusil, el control.
    • If it ends in r, it's probably masculine. El motor, el porvenir.
    • If it ends in s, it's probably Greek and masculine.
    • If it ends in z, it's tricky. Try replacing the Z with an X and see if an obvious Latin feminine noun is hitting you in the face. La voz < vox, la paz < pax, any word ending in -triz < -trix, like cantriz, obviously a female cantor. Otherwise words ending in z tend to be masculine. El lápiz. But this guideline is more unreliable than the rest. La nariz.
    Buena suerte.
    Oh boy have I got many years' worth of questions that I've been saving for you! For starters, how do you pronounce R? Do you trill it like the Spaniards, Italians, Russians, and Japanese? Or do you gargle it like the Scandinavians, most Germans, and Parisian French? Or do you make that peculiar indescribable sound in the back of your mouth like we do in America and some parts of England?

    Do you have lots of endings for inflections like Russian and Spanish, a few like French and German, almost none like English and Swedish, or none at all?

    Do you have definite and/or indefinite articles?

    Do you have three genders, two, or zero?

    How do you name the days of the week? After Roman gods, German gods, numbers, or some other way? Do you have "Sun" day and "Moon" day like most European languages?

    Oh boy oh boy, a real live speaker of Gaelic! A representative of the Celtic language subfamily!
    English has preserved a great many strong verbs, but we seem to have lost a lot of the strong nouns. Now that I've said that I'm struggling to come up with half a dozen examples of strong German nouns become weak English nouns, but my German has been languishing for decades. Let's see, I think "hands" and "hounds" fall into that category.
    Perhaps not obvious to those unfamiliar with Verner's law, Teutonic T > Modern German Z. Compare Latin dent-. German lost the T, English lost the N. It should be Zand in German, tonth in English.
    Articles drive people crazy who speak languages that lack them. We breathe air and drink water but fly through the air and swim in the water. We can talk about truth, a truth, or the truth. Chinese people wonder why we say "this rice," when it should be plural because there are so many of the little buggers on the plate, yet we ask for "some rice," not "a rice." (Or "a rouse."

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    ) I think articles only serve one purpose in English: to identify foreign speakers.
    Moreover, it takes fewer syllables to say something in English than in most languages. Monosyllabic nouns and verbs are common in English. As a result, English can be spoken more slowly than, say, Italian, to pick an extreme example. I think this makes it easier to speak clearly in disadvantageous conditions, and it also makes it easier for a student to parse sentences in real time.

    I suspect French comes pretty close because it also has a lot of monosyllables and has been stripped of most of its inflections--in speech if not in its insane writing system. However, in my own attempts to analyze this language trait, I consistently find Chinese to be even more compact, running an average of seven syllables to ten in English. And indeed as a student I find it rather easy to follow conversational Chinese; the words I know stand out and are not lost in a torrent. Chinese has no inflections and almost no "noise words" such as articles to boost the syllable count needlessly.
  11. Syzygys As a mother, I am telling you Valued Senior Member

    I wonder just how people came up with the idea of gender specific grammar?? Must have been God at Babel... One of the biggest stupidity of the languages...
    I specially hated german for it and I simply refused to learn the der, die das part....

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  12. temur man of no words Registered Senior Member

    I studied Russian for 7-8 years (I cannot say I was really into it) but still cannot speak fluently. Then I started English it was whole lot easier. In the beginning I would translate English into Russian to undertsand what a sentence means and translate from Russian to English to make up a sentence (because my mother tongue is Mongolian and it is easier to mechanically translate between English and Russian than to involve Mongolian), but since I studied English 2-3 years it is the other way around. To begin with English does not have gender or cases, it does not use many prefixes or postpfixes to modify words. True you need to learn a lot of vocabulary and prepositions are difficult.
    Last edited: May 19, 2007
  13. Yorda Registered Senior Member

    english is the easiest language to learn.

    how did people come up with the idea of "he" and "she". my language doesn't have those words because it's pointless. you can just write man or woman if you need to specify gender.
  14. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member


    Nice comparison.

    I studied Latin as my first foreign language, and ugh, it was tough for a native English speaker. I had had no clue about declensions and genders and endings on adjectives having to be the same as for the endings on the nouns they modified. Then memorizing whether a noun was masculine, feminine, or neuter, or of the second class of masc. fem. or neut., was a real chore.

    It was good training, however, because later I studied Italian, German, and Russian, and then it made 'sense', or at least I was quick to grasp the grammar.

    Russian with 7 declensions was similar to Latin with 5 and two 'archaic'; German was similar to Latin, but with only 4, having lost one.

    In English they've all gone away, except in a few of the prononuns. Makes it a whole lot easier.
  15. pjdude1219 The biscuit has risen Valued Senior Member

    the problem is that most languges are pure with out to many words from other languges in them english has a ton of words from other languges it is nolonger a pure germanic langage that is why its so difficult
  16. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    That's an interesting perspective and one that I've never encountered before. Are you speaking from the experience of a foreigner who had to learn English as a second language?

    Clearly it makes our spelling a mess, since the tenuous relationship between spelling and phonetics is different depending on the source language. And okay, we have a more than a few plurals to learn that are "irregular" because they follow the "regular" rules of the source language, such as radii, data, formulae, cherubim and indices. A Russian friend suggested that since the plural of opus is opera, the plural of walrus must be walrera.

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    But other than those things, which are a bigger problem in the written language, I'm curious as to how words of foreign origin complicate the study of our language?

    It's a big problem in Japanese, with its huge body of Chinese loan-words. But again, it's really more of a problem in reading. You have to guess from context whether to pronounce a kanji in its kun (Chinese) reading or on (native Japanese) reading, and there may be more than one of the latter.
  17. Grantywanty Registered Senior Member

    Of course some are harder. Some have larger (vastly) larger vocabularies than others. Some have extremely complicated (and/or strict) grammatical rules while others are simpler and more flexible.

    Further a language can be much harder if the written language is not easy to translate into sounds.

    Even native speakers can have more trouble WITH THEIR OWN LANGUAGE. Danish children learn their own language more slowly than Swedish children learn theirs. This is in large part due to pronounciation. You can see this when two adults meet, a Swede and a Dane. The Swede can speak swedish and the Dane will usally be able to follow. The Dane however is generally asked to speak English(!) because the Danes swallow so many sounds.

    So I disagree with you completely.

    Further there is the issue of how the language one is learning relates to one's mother tongue. To go from French to Spanish is vastly easier than from French to Mandarin.
  18. Syzygys As a mother, I am telling you Valued Senior Member

    Mine neither. What really stupid is that esperanto kept the gender specific grammar, although that is supposed to be a loggical language...

    Also, it is just much easier to simplify an already existing language instead of making up a brand new one.
  19. temur man of no words Registered Senior Member

    I am wondering about one thing: What happens with the songs?
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    From what I've been told by Chinese people who are not exactly scholars but know their own language and understand the concept of tones being or not being phonemic...

    In traditional Chinese songs, the pitch of the note had to be consistent with the tone of the word being sung. It gives you a little artistic leeway. As long as a word with tone 1 is on a much higher note than one with tone 3 so you can detect the difference, you don't have to land on exactly the same note every time. I don't know what they do with the rising and falling tones (1 is constant pitch high and 3 is constant pitch low--in most positions), and I don't know what they did in more ancient dialects that had more tones. Mandarin has been simplifed to four: high, rising, low, and falling; but Sichuan which is merely a more-or-less intercomprehensible dialect of Mandarin still has six and some which have diverged into separate languages like Fuqian have twelve. I've never heard enough of this traditional singing to analyze it; I rather enjoy instrumental Chinese folk music but the singing kind of makes my ears hurt.

    However, since electronic technology brought foreign music to China in great abundance, they have been translating pop lyrics into Chinese with no regard for the spoken tone. When I asked a friend about what seemed to me an obvious problem, she wrinkled her forehead for a few minutes and ran a couple of songs through her head. Then she said, "I guess these lyrics are so simple and are written in such an elementary vocabulary, that after you hear a song a couple of times you can understand it even without the proper tones. I think it's the same way we can understand foreigners learning to speak simple Chinese, even though you often get the tones wrong."

    I understand what she meant. I've seen plenty of Chinese chick flicks in which the actors break into song at the oddest moments. I found that I could understand a lot of the lyrics even though even I could tell the tones were wrong. If a guy sings "Meiguei, Meiguei, wo ai ni" to his girlfriend, you don't need the tones to know he means "Rose, Rose, I love you."
  21. pjdude1219 The biscuit has risen Valued Senior Member

    i don't speak any languges but both my mom's parents had english as a second language and talking with them is where i gained my prespective
  22. phlogistician Banned Banned

    So when are you going to start spelling properly, and capitalising correctly?
  23. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member


    Please fill in the blank with a "yes" or "no"

    _________ , I don't have a brain.

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