A Look at the Tlingit Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.


Tlingit is probably one of the hardest, if not the hardest, languages in the world. Tlingit is analyzed as partly synthetic, partly agglutinative, and sometimes polysynthetic. It has not only suffixes and prefixes, but it also has infixes, or affixes in the middle of words.

All examples below will be based on this verb base:

‘eechto pick

All prefixes must be in proper order for the word to work.

I am usually picking, on purpose, a long object through the hole while standing on a table.

I am usually being forced to pick a long object through the hole while standing on a table.

I am usually picking the edible long object through the hole while standing on a table.

Tlingit has an unusual phonology. For one thing, it is the only language on Earth with no l. This is despite the fact that it has five other laterals: dl (), tl (tɬʰ), tl’ (tɬʼ), l (ɬ) and l’ (ɬʼ). Try distinguishing between five different types of l’s sometime. The tɬʼ and ɬʼ sounds are rare in the world’s languages. ɬʼ  is only found in the berserk NW Caucasian languages. It also has two labialized glottal consonants, ʔʷ and hw (). Try to pronounce those in your spare time.

Tlingit gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

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