A Look at Some Interior Salish Languages: Straights Salish, Montana Salish, Lushootseed, and Halkomelem

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.

This post will look at a number of Interior Salish languages –  Straights Salish, Montana Salish, Lushootseed, and Halkomelem – in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Interior Salish Southern

Montana Salish is said to be just as hard to learn as Nuxálk. Spokane (Montana Salish) has combining and independent forms with the same meaning:

spim’cnmouth -cinmouth

Montana Salish makes it onto a lot of craziest grammars lists.

This link shows an elder on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, Steven Smallsalmon, speaking Montana Salish. He also leads classes in the language. This is probably one of the strangest sounding languages on Earth.

Montana Salish is rated 6, hardest of all.

Central

Straits Salish has an aspectual distinction between persistent and nonpersistent. Persistent means the activity continues after its inception as a state. The persistent morpheme is . The result is similar to English:

figure out – nonpersistent know – persistent

look at – nonpersistent watch – persistent

take – nonpersistent hold – persistent

is referred to as a “parasitic morpheme” and only occurs in stems that have an underlying ə which serves as a “host” for the morpheme.

How strange.

The Saanich dialect of Straits Salish is often listed in the rogue’s gallery of craziest grammars on Earth for the parasitic morphemes and for having no distinction between nouns and verbs. The writing system is often listed as one of the worst out there.

Straits Salish gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

Halkomelem, spoken by 570 people around Vancouver, British Colombia, is widely considered to be one of the hardest languages on Earth to learn. In Halkomelem, many verbs have an orientation towards water. You can’t just say She went home. You have say how she was going home in relation to nearby bodies of water. So depending on where she was walking home in relation to the nearest river, you would say:

She was farther away from the water and going home. She was coming home in the direction away from the water. She was walking parallel to the flow of the water downstream. She was walking parallel to the flow of the water upstream.

Halkomelem gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

Lushootseed

Lushootseed is said to be just as hard to learn as Nuxálk. Lushootseed is one of the few languages on Earth that has no nasals at all, except in special registers like baby talk and the archaic speech of mythological figures. It also has laryngealized glides and nasals: w ̰ , m̥ ̰ , and n̥ ̰ .

Lushootseed is rated 6, hardest of all.

A Look at the Nuxálk 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.

This post will look at the Nuxálk language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Salishan

The Salishan languages spoken in the Northwest have a long reputation for being hard to learn, in part because of long strings of consonants, in one case 11 consonants long. Salish languages are the only languages on Earth that allow words without sonorants. Many of the vowels and consonants are not present in most of the world’s widely spoken languages. The Salish languages are, like Chukchi, polysynthetic. Some translations treat all Salish words are either verbs or phrases. Some say that Salish languages do not contain nouns, though this is controversial. The verbal system of Salish languages is absurdly complex.

All Salishan languages are rated rated 6, hardest of all.

Nuxálk (Bella Coola)

Nuxálk is a notoriously difficult Salishan Amerindian language spoken in British Columbia. It is famous for having some really wild words and even sentences that don’t seem to have any vowels in them at all. For instance:

xłp̓x̣ʷłtłpłłskʷc̓  (xɬpʼχʷɬtʰɬpʰɬːskʷʰt͡sʼ in IPA) He had a bunchberry plant.

However, this word is not typically used by speakers and by no means do most words consist of all consonants.

sxs seal fat

Here are some more odd words and sentences:

smnmnmuuc mute

Nuyamłamkis timantx tisyuttx ʔułtimnastx. The father sang the song to his son.

Musis tiʔimmllkītx taq̓lsxʷt̓aχ. The boy felt that rope.

The language sounds odd when spoken. It has been described as “whispering while chewing on a granola bar” (see the video sample under Montana Salish below).

These wild consonant clusters are even crazier than the ones in Ubykh and NW Caucasian. In fact, the nutty consonant clusters in Salish are causing a debate in Linguistics about whether or not the syllable is even a universal phenomenon in language, as some Salish words and phrases appear to lack syllables. Some Berber dialects have raised similar questions about the syllable.

Nuxálk makes it onto lists of the craziest phonologies on Earth.

Nuxálk is rated 6, hardest of all.

A Look at the Slavey and Haida Languages

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.

This post will look at Slavey and Haida in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn them.

Athabaskan

Northern

Slavey, a Na-Dene language of Canada, is hard to learn. It is similar to Navajo and Apache. Verbs take up to 15 different prefixes. All Athabascan languages have wild verbal systems. It also uses a completely different alphabet, a syllabic one designed for Canadian Indians.

Slavey is rated 6, hardest of all.

Haida

Haida is often thought to be a Na-Dene language, but proof of its status is lacking. If it is Na-Dene, it is the most distant member of the family. Haida is in the competition for the most complicated language on Earth, with 70 different suffixes.

Haida is rated 6, hardest of all.

A Look at the Navajo 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.

This post will look at Navajo in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Athabascan Southern

Navajo has long, short and nasal vowels, a tone system and a grammar totally unlike anything in Indo-European. A stem of only four letters or so can take enough affixes to fill a whole line of text.

Navajo is a polysynthetic language. In polysynthetic languages, very long words can denote an entire sentence, and it’s quite hard to take the word apart into its parts and figure out exactly what they mean and how they go together. The long words are created because polysynthetic languages have an amazing amount of morphological richness. They put many morpheme together to create a word out of what might be a sentence in a non-polysynthetic language.

Some Navajo dictionaries have thousands of entries of verbs only, with no nouns. Many adjectives have no direct translation into Navajo. Instead, verbs are used as adjectives. A verb has no particular form like in English – to walk. Instead, it assumes various forms depending on whether or not the action is completed, incomplete, in progress, repeated, habitual, one time only, instantaneous, or simply desired. These are called aspects. Navajo must have one of the most complex aspect systems of any language:

The Primary aspects:

Momentaneous – punctually (takes place at one point in time) Continuative – an indefinite span of time & movement with a specified direction Durative – over an indefinite span of time, non-locomotive uninterrupted continuum Repetitive – a continuum of repeated acts or connected series of acts Conclusive – like durative but in perfective terminates with static sequel Semelfactive – a single act in a repetitive series of acts Distributive – a distributive manipulation of objects or performance of actions Diversative – a movement distributed among things (similar to distributive) Reversative – results in directional change Conative – an attempted action Transitional – a shift from one state to another Cursive – progression in a line through time/space (only progressive mode)

The subaspects:

Completive – an event/action simply takes place (similar to the aorist tense) Terminative – a stopping of an action Stative – sequentially durative and static Inceptive – beginning of an action Terminal – an inherently terminal action Prolongative – an arrested beginning or ending of an action Seriative – an interconnected series of successive separate & distinct acts Inchoative – a focus on the beginning of a non-locomotion action Reversionary – a return to a previous state/location Semeliterative – a single repetition of an event/action

The tense system is almost as wild as the aspectual system.

For instance, the verb ndideesh means to pick up or to lift up. But it varies depending on what you are picking up:

ndideeshtiilto pick up a slender stiff object (key, pole) ndideeshleel to pick up a slender flexible object (branch, rope) ndideesh’aalto pick up a roundish or bulky object (bottle, rock) ndideeshgheelto pick up a compact and heavy object (bundle, pack) ndideeshjolto pick up a non-compact or diffuse object (wool, hay) ndideeshteelto pick up something animate (child, dog) ndideeshnil to pick up a few small objects (a couple of berries, nuts) ndideeshjihto pick up a large number of small objects (a pile of berries, nuts) ndideeshtsosto pick up something flexible and flat (blanket, piece of paper) ndideeshjilto pick up something I carry on my back ndideeshkaalto pick up anything in a vessel ndideeshtlohto pick up mushy matter (mud).

But picking up is only one way of handling the 12 different consistencies. One can also bring, take, hang up, keep, carry around, turn over, etc. objects. There are about 28 different verbs one can use for handling objects. If we multiply these verbs by the consistencies, there are over 300 different verbs used just for handling objects.

In Navajo textbooks, there are conjugation tables for inflecting words, but it’s pretty hard to find a pattern there. One of the most frustrating things about Navajo is that every little morpheme you add to a word seems to change everything else around it, even in both directions.

Navajo is said to have a very difficult system for counting numerals.

There is also a noun classifier system with more than a dozen classifiers that affect inflection. This is quite a few classifiers even for a noun classifier language and is similar to African languages like Zulu. In addition, it has the strange direct/inverse system.

To add insult to injury, Navajo is an ergative language.

Navajo also has an honorifics or politeness system similar to Japanese or Korean.

Navajo also has the odd feature where the word niinaabecause can be analyzed as a verb.

X áhóót’įįd biniinaa… Because X happened…

Shiniinaa sits’il. It broke into pieces because of me.

In the latter sentence, the only way we know that 1st singular was involved in because of the person marking on niinaa.

There are 25 different kinds of pronominal prefixes that can be piled onto one another before a verb base.

Navajo has a very strange feature called animacy, where nouns take certain verbs according to their rank in the hierarchy of animation which is a sort of a ranking based on how alive something is. Humans and lightning are at the top, children and large animals are next and abstractions are at the bottom.

All in all, Navajo, even compared to other polysynthetic languages, has some of the most incredibly complicated polysynthetic morphology of any language. On craziest grammar and craziest language lists, Navajo is typically listed.

It is even said that Navajo children have a hard time learning Navajo as compared to children learning other languages, but Navajo kids definitely learn the language. Similarly with Hopi below, even linguists find even the best Navajo grammars difficult or even impossible to understand.

However, Navajo is quite regular, a common feature in Amerindian languages.

Navajo is rated 6, hardest of all.

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.

Dene-Yeniseian Na-Dene Athabascan-Eyak Tlingit

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.

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

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

tuyaoonagootxawa’eecheen. 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.

A Look at the Yuchi 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.

Yuchi

Yuchi is a language isolate spoken in the Southern US. They were originally located in Eastern Tennessee and were part of the Creek Confederacy at one time. Yuchi is nearly extinct, with only five remaining speakers.

Yuchi has noun genders or classes based on three distinctions of position: standing, sitting or lying. All nouns are either standing, sitting or lying. Trees are standing, and rivers are lying, for instance. If it is taller than it is wide, it is standing. If it is wider than it is tall, it is lying. If it is about as about as wide as it is tall, it is sitting. All nouns fall into one of these three genders, but you can change the gender for humorous or poetic effect. A linguist once asked a group of female speakers whether a penis was standing, sitting or lying. After lots of giggles, they said the default was sitting, but you could say it was standing or lying for poetic effect.

All Yuchi pronouns must make a distinction between age (older or younger than the speaker) and ethnicity (Yuchi or non-Yuchi).

Yuchi gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

A Look at American Indian Languages and the Kootenai 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.

American Indian Languages

American Indian languages are notoriously difficult to learn, though few try to learn them in the US. In the rest of the continent, they are still learned by millions in many different nations. You almost need to learn these as a kid. It’s going to be quite hard for an adult to get full competence in them.

One problem with these languages is the multiplicity of verb forms. For instance, the standard paradigm for the overwhelming number of regular English verbs is a maximum of five forms:

steal steals stealing stole stolen

Many Amerindian languages have over 1,000 forms of each verb in the language.

Kootenai

The Salishan languages are maddeningly difficult languages for English speakers to learn. Yet the Salishans always considered the neighboring language Kootenai to be too hard to learn.

Kootenai has a distinction between proximate/obviate along with direct/inverse alignment, probably from contact with Algonquian. However, the Kootenai direct/inverse system is less complex than Algonquian’s, as it is present only in the 3rd person. Kootenai also has a very strange feature in that they have particles that look like subject pronouns, but these go outside of the full noun phrase. This is a very rare feature in the world’s languages. Kootenai scored very high on a weirdest language survey.

Kootenai is an isolate spoken in Idaho by 100 people.

Kootenai is rated 6, hardest of all.

A Look at the Burushaski Language

Burushaski is formally a language isolate spoken in the far northwest of Pakistan near the border with China in the Hunza Valley. It is still alive and may have 30,000 speakers.

Burushaski people are interesting in that they live a very long time. The Hunza has one of the largest populations of centenarians on Earth. No one knows why they live so long except that they live in mountainous terrain and walk up and down steep hills for most of their lives as another long-lived people, the Sardinians, also do. Their diet has also been studied, and it turns out that two staples are apricots and yogurt, for whatever that is worth. They live at a very high altitude also. Whether that factors into longevity is not known.

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.

Burushaski

Burushaski is often thought to be a language isolate, related to no other languages, however, I think it is Dene-Caucasian. It is spoken in the Himalaya Mountains of far northern Pakistan in an area called the Hunza. It’s verb conjugation is complex, it has a lot of inflections, there are complicated ways of making sentences depending on many factors, and it is an ergative language, which is hard to learn for speakers of non-ergative languages. In addition, there are very few to no cognates for the vocabulary.

Burushaski is rated 6, hardest of all.

A Look at the Northwest Caucasian Languages

The Northwest Caucasian languages are extremely odd. There are not many of them, and we already went over one of the strangest one of them all, Ubykh. Now we will look at them in general and also look at Abaza and Abkhaz.

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.

Northwest Caucasian

All NW Caucasian languages are characterized by a very small number of vowels (usually only two or three) combined with a vast consonant inventory, the largest consonant inventories on Earth. Almost any consonant can be plain, labialized or palatalized. This is apparently the result of an historical process whereby many vowels were lost and their various features became assigned to consonants. For instance, palatalized consonants may have come from Ci sequences and labialized consonants may have come from Cu sequences.

The grammars of these languages are complex. Unlike the NE Caucasian languages, they have simple noun systems, usually with only a handful of cases.

However, they have some of the complex verbal systems on Earth. These are some of the most synthetic languages in the Old World. Often the entire syntax of the sentence is contained within the verb. All verbs are marked with ergative, absolutive and direct object morphemes in addition to various applicative affixes. These are akin to what some might call “verbal case.” For instance, in applicative voice systems, applicatives may take forms such as comitative, locative, instrumental, benefactive and malefactive. These roles are similar to the case system in nouns – even the names are the same. So you can see why some call this “verbal case.”

NW Caucasian verbs can be marked for aspect (whether something is momentous, continuous or habitual), mood (if something is certain, likely, desired, potential, or unreal). Other affixes can shape the verb in an adverbial sense, to express pity, excess or emphasis.

Like NE Caucasian, they are also ergative.

NW Caucasian makes it onto a lot of craziest language lists.

These are some of the strangest sounding languages on Earth. Of all of these languages, Abaza has the most consonants. Here is a video in the Abaza language.

Abkhaz-Abazin

Abkhaz is an extremely difficult language to learn. Each basic consonant has eight different positions of articulation in the mouth. Imagine how difficult that would be for an Abkhaz child with a speech impediment. Abkhaz seems to put agreement markers on just about everything in the language. Abkhaz makes it onto many craziest language lists, and it recently got a very high score on a weirdest language study.

Abkhaz is rated 6, hardest of all.

Comparison of Inflected Verb Forms in English, Swedish, German and Finnish

Below is an Internet joke about the Finnish language. It shows how Swedish and German are both more complicated than English and in addition, how German is more complicate than Swedish. And of course, Finnish is wildly more complex than them all. You would think that Finnish dictionaries must be Hell, but that’s not the case. Generally only the root is listed, and the inflections are not. It is the same in English dictionaries where only run is listed and runs, ran, and running – the inflections, are not.

Of course, all of the forms below are not separate words for dog. Instead they mean things that would be expressed by a phrase in English such as with a dog, to a dog, from a dog, of a dog, for a dog, in a dog, dog’s. After that, there are the same forms with possessive suffixes such as with my dog, to your dog, from his dog, of their dog, for our dog, in her dog, its dog’s. And finally there are forms that attach to the possessive case forms such as My dog?, Even with your dog?, and Even without our dog.

“English: A dog. Swedish: What? English: The dog. English: Two dogs. Swedish: Okay. We have: En hund, hunden, Två hundar, hundarna. German: Wait, I wan’t to try it too! English: No, go away. Swedish: No one invited you. German: Der Hund. English: I said go away. German: Ein Hund, zwei Hunde. Swedish: Stop it! German: Den Hund, einen Hund, dem Hund, einem Hund, des Hundes, eines Hundes, den Hunden, der Hunden. Finnish: Sup. English: NO. Swedish: NO. German: NO. Finn, you go away!! Finnish: Koira, koiran, koiraa, koiran again, koirassa, koirasta, koiraan, koiralla, koiralta, koiralle, koirana, koiraksi, koiratta, koirineen, koirin. German: WHAT? Swedish: You must be kidding us! English: This must be a joke Finnish: Aaaand… koirasi, koirani, koiransa, koiramme, koiranne, koiraani, koiraasi, koiraansa, koiraamme, koiraanne, koirassani, koirassasi, koirassansa, koirassamme, koirassanne, koirastani, koirastasi, koirastansa, koirastamme, koirastanne, koirallani, koirallasi, koirallansa, koirallamme, koirallanne, koiranani, koiranasi, koiranansa, koiranamme, koirananne, koirakseni, koiraksesi, koiraksensa, koiraksemme, koiraksenne, koirattani, koirattasi, koirattansa, koirattamme, koirattanne, koirineni, koirinesi, koirinensa, koirinemme, koirinenne. English: Those are words for a dog??? Finnish: Wait! I didn’t stop yet. There is still: koirakaan, koirankaan, koiraakaan, koirassakaan, koirastakaan, koiraankaan, koirallakaan, koiraltakaan, koirallekaan, koiranakaan, koiraksikaan, koirattakaan, koirineenkaan, koirinkaan, koirako, koiranko, koiraako, koirassako, koirastako, koiraanko, koirallako, koiraltako, koiralleko, koiranako, koiraksiko, koirattako, koirineenko, koirinko, koirasikaan, koiranikaan, koiransakaan, koirammekaan, koirannekaan, koiraanikaan, koiraasikaan, koiraansakaan, koiraammekaan, koiraannekaan, koirassanikaan, koirassasikaan, koirassansakaan, koirassammekaan, koirassannekaan, koirastanikaan, koirastasikaan, koirastansakaan, koirastammekaan, koirastannekaan, koirallanikaan, koirallasikaan, koirallansakaan, koirallammekaan, koirallannekaan, koirananikaan, koiranasikaan, koiranansakaan, koiranammekaan, koiranannekaan, koiraksenikaan, koiraksesikaan, koiraksensakaan, koiraksemmekaan, koiraksennekaan, koirattanikaan, koirattasikaan, koirattansakaan, koirattammekaan, koirattannekaan, koirinenikaan, koirinesikaan, koirinensakaan, koirinemmekaan, koirinennekaan, koirasiko, koiraniko, koiransako, koirammeko, koiranneko, koiraaniko, koiraasiko, koiraansako, koiraammeko, koiraanneko, koirassaniko, koirassasiko, koirassansako, koirassammeko, koirassanneko, koirastaniko, koirastasiko, koirastansako, koirastammeko, koirastanneko, koirallaniko, koirallasiko, koirallansako, koirallammeko, koirallanneko, koirananiko, koiranasiko, koiranansako, koiranammeko, koirananneko, koirakseniko, koiraksesiko, koiraksensako, koiraksemmeko, koiraksenneko, koirattaniko, koirattasiko, koirattansako, koirattammeko, koirattanneko, koirineniko, koirinesiko, koirinensako, koirinemmeko, koirinenneko, koirasikaanko, koiranikaanko, koiransakaanko, koirammekaanko, koirannekaanko, koiraanikaanko, koiraasikaanko, koiraansakaanko, koiraammekaanko, koiraannekaanko, koirassanikaanko, koirassasikaanko, koirassansakaanko, koirassammekaanko, koirassannekaanko, koirastanikaanko, koirastasikaanko, koirastansakaanko, koirastammekaanko, koirastannekaanko, koirallanikaanko, koirallasikaanko, koirallansakaanko, koirallammekaanko, koirallannekaanko, koirananikaanko, koiranasikaanko, koiranansakaanko, koiranammekaanko, koiranannekaanko, koiraksenikaanko, koiraksesikaanko, koiraksensakaanko, koiraksemmekaanko, koiraksennekaanko, koirattanikaanko, koirattasikaanko, koirattansakaanko, koirattammekaanko, koirattannekaanko, koirinenikaanko, koirinesikaanko, koirinensakaanko, koirinemmekaanko, koirinennekaanko, koirasikokaan, koiranikokaan, koiransakokaan, koirammekokaan, koirannekokaan, koiraanikokaan, koiraasikokaan, koiraansakokaan, koiraammekokaan, koiraannekokaan, koirassanikokaan, koirassasikokaan, koirassansakokaan, koirassammekokaan, koirassannekokaan, koirastanikokaan, koirastasikokaan, koirastansakokaan, koirastammekokaan, koirastannekokaan, koirallanikokaan, koirallasikokaan, koirallansakokaan, koirallammekokaan, koirallannekokaan, koirananikokaan, koiranasikokaan, koiranansakokaan, koiranammekokaan, koiranannekokaan, koiraksenikokaan, koiraksesikokaan, koiraksensakokaan, koiraksemmekokaan, koiraksennekokaan, koirattanikokaan, koirattasikokaan, koirattansakokaan, koirattammekokaan, koirattannekokaan, koirinenikokaan, koirinesikokaan, koirinensakokaan, koirinemmekokaan, koirinennekokaan. Swedish: Breath!! German: Whattaaa? English: Okay, now you’re just making things up! Finnish: And now the plural forms…..”

A Look at the Georgian Language

This post will look at the Georgian language in terms of how hard it would be for an English speaker to learn it. Suffice to say that Georgian is probably one of the most complicated languages in the world, and that it would be quite difficult for an English speaker to learn this 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.

Kartvelian Karto-Zan

One problem with Georgian is the strange alphabet: ქართულია ერთ ერთი რთული ენა. It also has lots of glottal stops that are hard for many foreigners to speak; consonant clusters can be huge – up to eight consonants stuck together (CCCCCCCCVC)- and many consonant sounds are strange. In addition, there are uvulars and ejectives. Georgian is one of the hardest languages on Earth to pronounce. It regularly makes it onto craziest phonologies lists.

Its grammar is exceedingly complex. Georgian is both highly agglutinative and highly irregular, which is the worst of two worlds. Other agglutinative languages such as Turkish and Finnish at least have the benefit of being highly regular. The verbs in particular seem nearly random with no pattern to them at all. The system of argument and tense marking on the verb is exceedingly complex, with tense, aspect, mood on the verb, person and number marking for the subject, and direct and indirect objects.

Although it is an ergative language, the ergative (or active-stative case marking as it is called) oddly enough is only used in the aorist and perfect tenses where the agent in the sentence receives a different case, while the aorist also masquerades as imperative. In the present, there is standard nominative-accusative marking. A single verb can have up to 12 different parts, similar to Polish, and there are six cases and six tenses.

Georgian also features something called polypersonal agreement, a highly complex type of morphological feature that is often associated with polysynthetic languages and to a lesser extent with ergativity.

In a polypersonal language, the verb has agreement morphemes attached to it dealing with one or more of the verbs arguments (usually up to four arguments). In a non polypersonal language like English, the verb either shows no agreement or agrees with only one of its arguments, usually the subject. Whereas in a polypersonal language, the verb agrees with one or more of the subject, the direct object, the indirect object, the beneficiary of the verb, etc. The polypersonal marking may be obligatory or optional.

In Georgian, the polypersonal morphemes appear as either suffixes or prefixes, depending on the verb class and the person, number, aspect and tense of the verb. The affixes also modify each other phonologically when they are next to each other. In the Georgian system, the polypersonal affixes convey subject, direct object, indirect object, genitive, locative and causative meanings.

g-mal-av-en   = “they hide you” g-i-mal-av-en = “they hide it from you”

mal “to hide” is the verb, and the other four forms are polypersonal affixes.

In the case below,

xelebi ga-m-i-tsiv-d-a = “My hands got cold”.

xelebi means “hands”. The m marker indicates genitive or “my”. With intransitive verbs, Georgian often omits my before the subject and instead puts the genitive onto the verb to indicate possession.

Georgian verbs of motion focus on deixis, whether the goal of the motion is towards the speaker or the hearer. You use a particle to signify who the motion is heading towards. If it heading towards neither of you, you use no deixis marker. You specify the path taken to reach the goal through the use or prefixes called preverbs, similar to “verbal case.” These come after the deixis marker:

up                     a-
out                    ga-
in                      sha-
down into         cha-
across/through garda-
thither               mi-
away                 c’a-
or down            da-

Hence:

“up towards me” = amo-. The deixis marker is mo- and “up” is a-

On the plus side, Georgian has borrowed a great deal of Latinate foreign vocabulary, so that will help anyone coming from a Latinate or Latinate-heavy language background.

Georgian is rated 5, extremely difficult.

A Look at the Northeast Caucasian Languages

This post will examine some Northeast Caucasian languages in terms how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn them. NE Caucasian languages are some of the most convoluted and complex languages on Earth.

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.

Northeast Caucasian

NE Caucasian languages have the uvulars and ejectives of Georgian in addition to pharyngeals, lateral fricatives, and other strangeness. They have noun classes like the Bantu languages (but usually fewer). Nevertheless, they have noun class agreement markers on verbs on adjectives. One thing NE Caucasian has is lots of case. Some languages have 40+ cases. They are built from the ground up via two forms – one a spatial form such as in, on or around and the other a directional motion form such as to, from, through or at.

Lezgic Archi

Archi has an extremely complex phonology and one of the most complicated grammars on Earth. The extreme fusional aspects and the verbal morphology are what make the grammar so difficult. Every verb root has 1,502,839 possible forms! It is also an ergative language, but there is irregularity in its ergative system.

Some verbs take the typical ergative/absolutive case (absolutive for the subject of an intransitive very and ergative for the subject of a transitive verb – where the direct object would be in absolutive). In others the subject is in dative rather than the expected ergative/absolutive case. These are usually verbs of perception like love/want, hear, see, feel, and be bored. For instance, the verb:

-эти- = to love/want must have its subject in dative case instead of the expected absolutive or ergative case.

Among non-click languages, Archi has one of the largest consonant inventories, with only the extinct Ubykh having more. There are 26 vowels and between 76 and 82 consonants, depending on the analysis. Five of the six vowels can occur in five varieties: short, pharyngealized, high tone, long (with high tone), and pharyngealized with high tone.

It has many unusual phonemes, including contrasts between several voiceless velar lateral fricatives, voiceless and ejective velar lateral affricates and a voiced velar lateral fricative. The voiceless velar lateral fricative ʟ̝̊, the voiced velar lateral fricative ʟ̝, and the corresponding voiceless and ejective affricates k͡ʟ̝̊ and k͡ʟ̝̊ʼ are extremely unusual sounds, as velar fricatives are not typically laterals.

There are 15 cases, 10 regular cases, five spatial cases and five directional cases. The Spatial cases are Inessive (in), Intrative (between), superessive (above), Subessive (below) and Pertingent (against). The directional cases are Essive (as), Elative (out of), Lative (to/into), Allative (onto), Terminative (specifies a limit) and Translative (indicates change).

There are four noun classes:

I Male human II Female human III All insects, some animates, and some inanimates IV Abstracts, some animates, and some inanimates that can only be seen via verbal agreement

Archi is rated 6, hardest of all.

Samur Eastern Samur Lezgi–Aghul–Tabasaran

Tabasaran is rated the 3rd most complex grammar in the world, with 48 different noun cases.

Tabasaran is rated 6, hardest of all.

Nakh Vainakh

Ingush has a very difficult phonology, an extremely complex grammar, and furthermore, is extremely irregular. Ingush also has a proximate/obviate distinction and is the only language in the region that has this feature. Ingush along with Chechen both have a closed class of verbs, an unusual feature in the world’s languages. New verbs are formed by adding a noun to the verb do:

shootdo gun

Ingush is rated 6, hardest of all.

Is There a Language That Is Almost Impossible to Learn Without Growing Up with It?

A question was recently asked on Quora. Here is my answer.

Hello, I recently talked to a Westerner who is learning Min Nan, which is a Sinitic language often called a dialect of Chinese. He already speaks Mandarin, but he told me Min Nan if vastly harder than Mandarin. At age 35, he was studying it 2 hours a day, and at some point, he hit a wall, and he didn’t seem to be making any progress. He kept adding more study hours to the day  – four hours, six hours – with little effect. Finally when he was studying it for eight hours a day, he started making some good progress. I believe he said contour tones and tone sandhi were the major roadblocks.

Min Nan speakers say that even Cantonese is easier than Min Nan, and Cantonese is deadly hard. They also say that Min Nan tones are so hard that no one who did not learn Min Nan growing up gets anywhere near native fluency.

Cantonese is a similar language that is very difficult. It is much harder than Mandarin, and many native Mandarin speakers say they tried to learn Cantonese and gave up on it because it was too hard. Cantonese has 9 tones. The general consensus among Chinese is that Cantonese is much harder to learn than Mandarin.

Basque is said to be very hard to learn unless you grow up with it. There is a joke that the Devil spent seven years trying to learn Basque, and he only learned how to say Hello and Goodbye.

Navajo would also be murderously hard. Even Navajo children struggle quite a bit learning Navajo. When they show up at school at age 5-6, they are still struggling with Navajo. There are reports that Navajo children don’t seem to get Navajo well until maybe age 12.

Korean is a surprise, but apparently it is very hard to learn well. A native Korean speaker told me that Korean is so hard that no Korean speaker ever speaks it with 10

As another respondent pointed out, Japanese is also quite notorious, and most Westerners get nowhere near native fluency.

Czech is also hard. Even most Czech speakers never get Czech all the way. They have TV contests in Czechoslovakia where they try to stump native speakers with hard forms in the language. If you can last 30 minutes without making even one error, you win. I think only two men have been able to do it, but one was a non-native speaker! Czech also has a strange r sound found only in one other language on Earth. It is said that no native speaker ever gets this phoneme quite right.

Piraja is also very hard as another respondent pointed out. Only two non-natives have ever been able to speak Piraha with any fluency. When Daniel Everett went to study the language, he found a number of reports from priests who had tried to learn Piraha since the early 1800’s, and only one had succeeded. The others tried to learn but gave up because they said it was too hard.

Tsez, spoken in the Caucasus, is also murderously hard. Every verb can have tens of thousands of possible forms. Reports say that even native speakers make regular errors when speaking Tsez.

A Look at the Slovene Language

From here. A look at how difficult the Slovene language for an English speaker to learn. Slovene is a hard language, but probably a few other Slavic languages are harder. One nice thing about Slovene is that it has quite a few German loan words, so there is more familiar vocabulary. Despite its complexity, Slovene is a beautiful language. Slovenian or Slovene is also a very hard language to learn, probably on a par with Serbo-Croatian. It has three number distinctions, singular, dual and plural. It’s the only major IE European language that has retained the dual. Sorbian has also retained the dual, but it is a minor tongue. However, the dual may be going out in Slovenia. In Primorska it is not used at all, and in the rest of Slovenia, the feminine dual is not used in casual speech (plural is used instead), but the masculine dual is still used for masculine nouns and mixed pairs of masculine and feminine nouns. In addition, there are six cases, as Slovene has lost the vocative. There are 18 different declensions of the word son, but five of them are identical, so there are really only 13 different forms.

   Singular Dual       Plural
1. Sin      Sina       Sini
2. Sina     Sinov      Sinov
3. Sinu     Sinovoma   Sinovom
4. Sina     Sinova     Sinove
5. O sinu   O sinovoma O sinovih
6. S sinom  Z sinovoma Z sini

There are seven different ways that nouns decline depending on gender, but there are exceptions to all of the gender rules. The use of particles such as pa is largely idiomatic. In addition, there is a lack of language learning materials for Slovene. Some sounds are problematic. Learners have a hard time with the č and ž sounds. There are also “open” and “closed” vowels as in Portuguese. Here is an example of a word that can be difficult to pronounce: križiščecrossroads However, Slovene has the past perfect that is the same as the English tense, lost in the rest of Slavic. In addition, via contact with German and Italian, many Germanic and Romance loans have gone in. If you know some German have some knowledge of another Slavic langauge, Slovene is not overwhelmingly difficult. Some people worry that Slovene might go extinct in the near future, as it is spoken by only 2 million people. However, even this small language has 356, 881 headwords in an online dictionary. So it is clear that Slovene has plenty enough vocabulary to deal with the modern world. Slovene is easier than Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Polish, Czech or Slovak. Slovenian gets a 4 rating, extremely hard.

A Look at the Serbo-Croatian Language

From here. A look at the Serbo-Croatian language to see how hard it is to learn fro an English speaker. Serbo-Croatian is legendary for its difficulty. Whether it is harder than Czech or Polish is somewhat up in the air, but probably Czech and Polish are harder. Few L2 speakers ever attain anything near native speaker competence. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating language. Serbo-Croatian, similar to Czech, has seven cases in the singular and seven in the plural, plus there are several different declensions. The vocative is still going strong in Serbo-Croatian (S-C), as in Polish, Ukrainian and Bulgarian. There 15 different types of declensions: seven tenses, three genders, three moods, and two aspects. Whereas English has one word for the number 2 – two, Serbo-Croatian has 17 words. Case abbreviations below: N = NAV – nominative, accusative, vocative G = Genitive D = Dative L =Locative I = Instrumental Masculine inanimate gender N dva G dvaju D L I dvama Feminine gender N dve G dveju D L I dvema Mixed gender N dvoje G dvoga D L I dvoma Masculine animate gender N dvojica G dvojice D L dvojici I dvojicom “Twosome” N dvojka G dvojke D L dvojci I dvojkom The grammar is incredibly complex. There are imperfective and perfective verbs, but when you try to figure out how to build one from the other, it seems irregular. This is the hardest part of Serbo-Croatian grammar, and foreigners not familiar with other Slavic tongues usually never get it right. Serbian has a strange form called the “paucal.” It is the remains of the old dual, and it also exists in Polish and Russian.  The paucal is a verbal number like singular, plural and dual. It is used with the numbers dva (2), tri (3), četiri (4) and oba/obadva (both) and also with any number that contains 2, 3 or 4 (22, 102, 1032).

gledalac            viewer
pažljiv(i)          careful
gledalac pažljiv(i) careful viewer
1 careful viewer  jedan pažljivi gledalac
2 careful viewers dva pažljiva gledaoca
3 careful viewers tri pažljiva gledaoca
5 careful viewers pet pažljivih gledalaca

Above, pažljivi gledalac is singular, pažljivih gledalaca is plural and pažljiva gledaoca is paucal. As in English, there are many different ways to say the same thing. Pronouns are so rarely used that some learners are surprised that they exist, since pronimalization is marked on the verb as person and number. Word order is almost free or at least seems arbitrary, similar to Russian. Serbo-Croatian, like Lithuanian, has pitch accent – low-rising, low-falling, short-rising and short-falling. It’s not the same as tone, but it’s similar. In addition to the pitch accent differentiating words, you also have an accented syllable somewhere in the word, which as in English, is unmarked. And when the word conjugates or declines, the pitch accent can jump around in the word to another syllable and even changes its type in ways that do not seem transparent. It’s almost impossible for foreigners to get this pitch-accent right. The “hard” ch sound is written č, while the “soft” ch sound is written ć. It has syllabic r and l. Long consonant clusters are permitted. See this sentence: Na vrh brda vrba mrda. However, in many of these consonant clusters, a schwa is present between consonants in speech, though it is not written out. S-C, like Russian, has words that consist of only a single consonant: swith Serbo-Croatian does benefit from a phonetic orthography. It is said that few if any foreigners ever master Serbo-Croatian well. Similar to Czech and Polish, it is said that many native speakers make mistakes in S-C even after decades of speaking it, especially in pitch accent. Serbo-Croatian is often considered to be one of the hardest languages on Earth to learn. It is harder than Russian but not as hard as Polish. Serbo-Croatian gets a 4.5 rating, extremely difficult.

A Look at the Polish Language

From here. A look at Polish to see how difficult it is for an English speaker to learn. Polish is probably the hardest I-E European language of all. Its only competition might be Albanian. Among non-IE European languages, we are looking at Basque, Finnish, and Hungarian as competition. The Poles are quite proud of their langauge and even take pride in its difficulty. It is certainly an amazing language. Polish is similar to Czech and Slovak in having words that seem to have no vowels, but in Polish at least there are invisible vowels. That’s not so obviously the case with Czech. Nevertheless, try these sentences:

  1. Wszczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie i Szczebrzeszyn z tego słynie.
  2. Wyindywidualizowaliśmy się z rozentuzjazmowanego tłumu.
  3. W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie.

I and y, s and z, je and ě alternate at the ends of some words, but the rules governing when to do this, if they exist, don’t seem sensible. The letter ť is very hard to pronounce. There are nasal vowels as in Portuguese. The ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, sz, cz, dz, , sounds are hard for foreigners to make. There are sounds that it is even hard for native speakers to make as they require a lot tongue movements. A word such as szczescie is hard to Polish L2 speakers to pronounce. Polish written to spoken pronunciation has some issues – h and ch are one sound – h, ó and u are the same sound, and u may form diphthongs where it sounds like ł, so u and ł can be the same sound in some cases. Kura (hen) and kóra are pronounced exactly the same way, and this is confusing to Polish children. However, the distinction between h/ch has gone of most spoken Polish. Furthermore, there is a Polish language committee, but like the French one, it is more concerned with preserving the history or the etymology of the word and less with spelling the word phonemically. Language committees don’t always do their jobs! Polish orthography, while being regular, is very complex. Polish uses a Latin alphabet unlike most other Slavic languages which use a Cyrillic alphabet. The letters are: AĄ B CĆ D EĘ FGHIJK LŁ M NŃ OÓ QPRSTUVW XY ZŹŻ. Native speakers speak so fast it’s hard for non-natives to understand them. Due to the consonant-ridden nature of Polish, it is harder to pronounce than most Asian languages. Listening comprehension is made difficult by all of the sh and ch like sounds. Furthermore, since few foreigners learn Polish, Poles are not used to hearing their language mangled by second-language learners. Therefore, foreigners’ Polish will seldom be understood. Polish grammar is said to be more difficult than Russian grammar. Polish has the following: There are five different tenses: zaprzeszły, przeszły, teraźniejszy, przyszły prosty, and przyszły złozony. However, zaprzeszły tense is almost extinct by now. There are seven different genders: male animate, male inanimate, feminine and neuter in the singular and  male personal and male impersonal in the plural. Male nouns have five patterns of declension, and feminine and neuter nouns have six different patterns of declension. Adjectives have two different declension patterns. Numbers have five different declension patterns: główne, porządkowe, zbiorowe, nieokreślone, and ułamkowe. There is a special pattern for nouns that are only plural. There are seven different cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, locative, vocative, and the genitive case, which is irregular. Verbs have nine different persons in their declensions: ja, ty, on, ona, ono, my, wy, oni, one. There are different conjugation patterns for men and women. There are 18 different conjugation patterns in the verb (11 main ones). There are five different polite forms: for a man, a woman, men, women and men, and women combined. There are four different participle forms, three of which inflect. Polish has seven cases, including the vocative which has gone out of most Slavic. Although the vocative is becoming less common in Polish, it is still used in formal situations, and it’s not really true that it is a dying form. In an informal situation, a Pole might be more like to use nominative rather than vocative: Cześć Marek! (Nom.), rather than Cześć Marku! (Voc.) However, in a more formal situation, the vocative is still likely to be used. In the case below, the Nominative would never be used by a Polish native speakers: Dzień dobry panie profesorze/doktorze! (Voc.), rather than Dzień dobry pan profesor/doktor! (Nom.) Case declension is very irregular, unlike German. Polish consonant gradation is called oboczność (variation). It also has seven genders, five in the singular and two in the plural. The genders of nouns cause the adjectives modifying them to inflect differently.

Noun
matka   mother (female gender)
ojciec  father (male gender)
dziecko child (neuter gender)
Modifying Adjective
brzydkiugly ugly
Singular
brzydka matka    ugly mother
brzydki ojciec   ugly father
brzydkie dziecko ugly child
Plural
brzydkie matki   ugly mothers
brzydcy ojcowie  ugly fathers
brzydkie dzieci  ugly children

Gender even effects verbs.

I ate (female speaker) Ja zjadłam
I ate (male speaker)   Ja zjadłem

There are two different forms of the verb kill depending on whether the 1st person singular and plural and 2nd person plural killers are males or females.

I killed     zabiłem/zabiłam
We killed    zabiliśmy/zabiłyśmy
They killed  zabili/zabiły

The perfective and imperfective tenses create a dense jungle of forms:

kupować - to buy
Singular  Simple Past         Imperfect
I (f.)    kupiłam             kupowałam
I (m.)    kupiłem             kupowałem
I (n.)    kupiłom             kupowałom
you (f.)  kupiłaś             kupowałaś
you (m.)  kupiłeś             kupowałeś
you (n.)  kupiłoś             kupowałoś
he        kupił               kupował
she       kupiła              kupowała
it        kupiło              kupowało
Plural
we (f.)   kupiłyśmy           kupowałyśmy
we (m.)   kupiliśmy           kupowaliśmy
you (f.)  kupiłyście          kupowałyście
you (m.)  kupiliście          kupowaliście
they (f.) kupiły              kupowały
they (m.) kupili              kupowali

The verb above forms an incredible 28 different forms in the perfect and imperfect past tense alone. The existence of the perfective and imperfective verbs themselves is the least of the problem. The problem is that each verb – perfective or imperfective – is in effect a separate verb altogether, instead of just being conjugated differently. The verb to see has two completely different verbs in Polish: widziec zobaczyc WidziałemI saw (repeatedly in the past, like I saw the sun come up every morning). ZobaczyłemI saw (only once; I saw the sun come up yesterday). Some of these verbs are obviously related to each other: robić/zrobić czytać/przeczytać zachowywać/zachować jeść/zjeść But others are very different: mówić/powiedzieć widzieć/zobaczyć kłaść/położyć This is not a tense difference – the verbs themselves are different! So for every verb in the language, you effectively have to learn two different verbs. 9 In addition, the future perfect and future imperfect often conjugate completely differently, though the past forms usually conjugate in the same way – note the -em endings above. There is no present perfect as in English, since in Polish the action must be completed, and you can’t be doing something at this precise moment and at the same time have just finished doing it. It’s often said that one of the advantages of Polish is that there are only three tenses, but this is not really case, as there are at least eight tenses:

Indicative         grać       to play
Present            gram       I play 
Past               grałem     I played
Conditional        grałbym    I would play
Future*            będę grać  I will play
Continuous future* będę grał  I will be playing
Perfective future  pogram     I will have played*
Perf. conditional  pograłbym  I would have played

*będę grać and będę grał have the same meaning
**Implies you will finish the action

There is also an aspectual distinction made when referring to the past. Different forms are used based on whether or not the action has been completed. Oddly enough, the present can be used to describe things that happened in the past, although this only applies to very specific situations. Juliusz Cezar po tym jak zdobywa Galie jedzie do Rzymu. Julius Caesar after that when he (is) conquer(ing) Gaul, he (is) go(ing) to Rome. Whereas in English we use one word for go no matter what mode of transportation we are using to get from one place to another, in Polish, you use different verbs if you are going by foot, by car, by plane, by boat or by other means of transportation. In addition, there is an animate-inanimate distinction in gender. Look at the following nouns:

hat      kapelusz
computer komputer
dog      pies
student  uczen

All are masculine gender, but computer and hat are inanimate, and student and dog are animate, so they inflect differently. I see a new hatWidze nowy kapelusz I see a new studentWidze nowego ucznia Notice how the now- form changed. In addition to completely irregular verbs, there are also irregular nouns in Polish: człowiek->ludzie However, the number of irregular nouns is very small. Let us look at pronouns. English has one word for the genitive case of the 1st person singular – my. In Polish, depending on the context, you can have the following 11 forms, and actually there are even more than 11: mój moje moja moją mojego mojemu mojej moim moi moich moimi Numerals can be complex. English has one word for the number 2 – two. Polish has 21 words for two (however, only 5-6 of them are in common use): dwa (nominative non-masculine personal male and neuter and non-masculine personal accusative) dwaj (masculine personal nominative) dwie (nominative and accusative female) dwóch (genitive, locative and masculine personal accusative) dwom (dative) dwóm (dative) dwu (alternative version sometimes used for instrumental, genitive, locative and dative) dwoma (masculine instrumental) dwiema (female instrumental) dwoje (collective, nominative + accusative) dwojga (collective, genitive) dwojgu (collective, dative + locative) dwójka (noun, nominative) dwójkę (noun, accusative) dwójki (noun, genitive) dwójce (noun, dative and locative) dwójką (noun, instrumental) dwójko (vocative) dwojgiem (collective, instrumental) dwójkach dwójek dwója dwójkami Polish also has the paucal form like Serbo-Croatian. It is the remains of the old dual. The paucal applies to impersonal masculine, feminine and neuter nouns but not to personal masculine nouns.

Personal Masculine
one boy    jeden chłopiec
two boys   dwóch chłopców
three boys trzech chłopców
four boys  czterech chłopców
five boys  pięciu chłopców
six boys   sześciu chłopców
seven boys siedmiu chłopców
eight boys ośmiu chłopców
Impersonal Masculine
one dog    jeden pies
two dogs   dwa psy
three dogs trzy psy
four dogs  cztery psy
five dogs  pięć psów
six dogs   sześć psów
seven dogs siedem psów
eight dogs osiem psów

In the above, two, three and four dogs is in the paucal (psy), while two, three or four men is not and is instead in the plural (chłopców). Polish, like Hungarian and Finnish, can also have very long words. For instance: pięćsetdwadzieściajedenmiliardówdwieścieczterdzieścisiedemmiloionów-trzystaosiemdzisiątpięćtysięcyczterystadziewięćdziesięciopięcioletni is a word in Polish (There is no dash in the word – I was just dividing the line). A single noun can change in many ways and take many forms. Compare przyjacielfriend:

                           Singular       Plural
who is my friend           przyjaciel     przyjaciele
who is not my friend       przyjacielem   przyjaciół
friend who I give s.t. to  przyjacielowi  przyjaciołom
friend who I see           przyjaciela    przyjaciół
friend who I go with       z przyajcielem z przyjaciółmi
friend who I dream of      o przyjacielu  o przyjaciołach
Oh my friend!              Przyajaciela!   Przyjaciele!

There are 12 forms of the noun friend above. Plurals change based on number. In English, the plural of telephone is telephones, whether you have two or 1,000 of them. In Polish, you use different words depending on how many telephones you have: two, three or four telefony, but five telefonów. Sometimes, this radically changes the word, as in hands: four ręce, but five rąk. There are also irregular diminutives such as pies -> psiaczek słońce -> słoneczko Polish seems like Lithuanian in the sense that almost every grammatical form seems to inflect in some way or other. Even conjunctions inflect in Polish. In addition, like Serbo-Croatian, Polish can use multiple negation in a sentence. You can use up to five negatives in a perfectly grammatical sentence: Nikt nikomu nigdy nic nie powiedział. Nobody ever said anything to anyone. Like Russian, there are multiple ways to say the same thing in Polish. However, the meaning changes subtly with these different word combinations, so you are not exactly saying the same thing with each change of word order. Nevertheless, this mess does not seem to be something that would be transparent to the Polish learner. In English, you can say Ann has a cat, but you can’t mix the words up and mean the same thing. In Polish you can say Ann has a cat five different ways: Ania ma kota. Kota ma Ania. Ma Ania kota. Kota Ania ma. Ma kota Ania. The first one is the most common, but the other four can certainly be used. In addition, Polish has a wide variety of dialects, and a huge vocabulary. However, the dialects are for the most part quite similar. Similar to Hungarian, there may be many different words for the same thing. There are 43 different words for ladybird. The following are 30 separate lexical items (not case-inflected terms) for ladybird, for which the main word is biedronka: maryszepka, sarynka, katrynka, petronelka, skobrunek, skrzipeczka, panienka, makówka, letewka, kruszka, kropelniczka, guedzinka, motilewka, matoweczka, dzegotka, podlecuszka, maleneczka, pągwiczka, popruszka, markowiczka, parzedliszka, prochowniczka, krówka jałowiczka, karkukuczka, rączepiórka, borowa matinka, motuszka kruszka, marianna, mróweczka, and boża krówka. Although Polish grammar is said to be irregular, this is probably not true. It only gives the appearance of being irregular, as there are so many different rules, but there is a method to the madness underneath it all. The rules themselves are so complex and numerous that it is hard to figure them all out. It is said English-speaking children reach full adult competency in the language (reading, writing, speaking, spelling) at age 12. Polish children do not reach this milestone until age 16. Even many adult Poles make a lot of mistakes in speaking and writing Polish properly. However, most Poles are quite proud of their difficult language (though a few hate it) and even take pride in its difficult nature. On the positive side, in Polish, the stress is fixed, there are no short or long vowels nor is there any vowel harmony, there are no tones, and it uses a Latin alphabet. Polish is one of the most difficult of the Slavic languages. It is probably harder than Russian but not as hard as Czech, though this is controversial. Polish gets a 5 rating, hardest of all.

A Look at the Albanian Language

From here. A look at the Albanian language from the viewpoint of how hard it is to learn for an English speaker. Albanian is an ancient Indo-European language and it is said to be very hard to learn. Albanian may be up there with Polish as the hardest European language. Albanian is another obscure branch of Indo-European. Albanian nouns have two genders (masculine and feminine), five cases including the ablative, lost in all other IE. Both definite and indefinite articles are widely used, a plus for English speakers. Most inflections were lost, and whatever is left doesn’t even look very IE. The verbal system is complex, having eight tenses including two aorists and two futures, and several moods, including indicative, imperative, subjunctive, conjunctive, optative and admirative. The last three are odd cases for IE. The optative only exists in IE in Ancient Greek, Sanskrit and Manx. Active and passive voices are used. Similarly to Gaelic, Albanian is even harder to learn than either German or Russian. Albanian may be even harder to learn than Polish. Albanian is rated 5, hardest of all.

A Look at the Armenian Language

From here. A look at the Armenian language focusing on how hard it is to learn for an English speaker. An obscure branch of Indo-European, Armenian, is very hard to learn. Armenian is a difficult language in terms of grammar and phonetics, not to mention the very odd alphabet. The orthography is very regular, however there are some irregularities. For instance: գրել , written grel but spoken gərel (schwa removed in orthography) խոսել, written xosel but spoken xosal  (a changed to e in orthography) However, the alphabet itself presents many problems. Print and cursive can be very different, and upper case and lower case can also be quite different. Here are some pairs of letters in upper and lower case: Ա ա Յ յ Փ փ All in all, this means you have to memorize as many as four different shapes for each letter. However, the grammar is very regular. In addition, many letters very closely resemble other letters, which makes it very easy to get them mixed up: գ and զ ե and է դ and ղ ո and ռ There are voiced consonants and an alternation between aspirated and unaspirated unvoiced consonants, so some mix up the forms for b, p and , for instance. There are many things about the grammar that seem odd compared to other IE languages. Part of the problem is that due to its location in the Caucasus, Armenian has absorbed influences from some of the wild nearly Caucasian languages. For instance, an extinct NE Caucasian Nakh language called Tsov is thought to have contributed to the Hurro-Ururtian substratum in Armenian. So in a sense when you learn Armenian, you are also learning a bit of Chechen at the same time. People who have learned both Arabic and Armenian felt that Armenian was much easier, so Armenian seems to be much easier than Arabic. Armenian is rated 4, very hard to learn.

A Look at the Faroese Language

From here. A look at the Faroese language focusing on how hard it is to learn for an English speaker. Faroese is spoken on the Faroe Islands, and it is still doing very well. However, it is about as hard to learn as Icelandic, and Icelandic is legendary for its difficulty.

North Germanic West Scandinavian

Faroese is said to be even harder to learn than Icelandic, with some very strange vowels not found in other North Germanic languages. Faroese has strong, weak and irregular verbs. It also has a strange supine tense. The Faroese orthography is as irrational as Icelandic’s. There are so many rules to learn to be able to write Faroese properly. Faroese, like Icelandic, prefers to coin new words rather than borrow words wholesale into its language. Therefore the English speaker will not see a lot of obvious borrowings to help them out. Some argue against this nativization process, but maybe it is better than being buried in English loans like German and Dutch are at the moment. computertelda (derived from at telja – to count. Icelandic has a similar term. helicoptertyrla (derived from tyril – a spinning tool for making wool or loom. musictónleikur pocket calculatortelduhvølpur (Lit. computer puppy), roknimaskina (Lit. calculating machine) Faroese has the advantage of having no verbal aspect, and verbal declension does not differ much according to person. However, Faroese has a case system like Icelandic. Faroese gets a 5 rating, hardest of all.

A Look at the Eskimo Languages

From here. The Eskimo languages are well known for being some of the mostly convolutedly difficult languages on Earth. We take a look at two Eskimo languages for a glimpse into their complexity.

Eskimo-Aleut Eskimo Inuit-Inupiaq

Inuktitut is extremely hard to learn. Inuktitut is polysynthetic-agglutinative, and roots can take many suffixes, in some cases up to 700. Verbs have 63 forms of the present indicative, and conjugation involves 252 different inflections. Inuktitut has the complicated polypersonal agreement system discussed under Georgian above and Basque below. In a typical long Inuktitut text, 9 Inuktituusuungutsialaarungnanngittuaraaluuvunga. I truly don’t know how to speak Inuktitut very well. You may need to analyze up to 10 different bits of information in order to figure out a single word. However, the affixation is all via suffixes (there are no prefixes or infixes) and the suffixation is extremely regular. Inuktitut is also rated one by linguists one of the hardest languages on Earth to pronounce. Inuktitut may be as hard to learn as Navajo. Inuktitut is rated 5, hardest of all. Kalaallisut (Western Greenlandic) is very closely related to Inuktitut. Look at this sentence: Aliikusersuillammassuaanerartassagaluarpaalli… However, they will say that he is a great entertainer, but … That word is composed of 12 separate morphemes. A single word can conceptualize what could be an entire sentence in a non-polysynthetic language. Kalaallisut is rated 5, hardest of all.

A Look at the Hawaiian and Maori Languages

From here. The Polynesian languages are generally thought to be pretty easy to learn compared to other world languages. There is some truth to this, but Maori is probably harder than it seems. We take a look at two Polynesian languages, Maori and Hawaiian.

Central-Eastern Malayo-Polynesian Eastern Malayo-Polynesian Oceanic Central-Eastern Oceanic Remote Oceanic Central Pacific East Fijian-Polynesian Polynesian Nuclear East Central Tahitic

Maori and other Polynesian languages have a reputation for being quite easy to learn. The main problem for English speakers is that the sentence structure is backwards compared to English. In addition, macrons can cause problems. One problem with Maori is dialects. The dialects are so diverse that this means that there are multiple words for the same thing. Swiss German has a similar issue, with up to 50 words for each common household item (nearly every major dialect has its own word for common objects): ngongi, noni, koki, waiwater whiri, rarangi, hiri –  to plait, to twist, to weave pai, maitaigood tu, , tutehu, mātikato stand mau, mouto hold pau, pouto be exhausted ika, tohorāwhale ika, ngohifish kāwei, kāwailine ori, kori, keukeu, koukou, neke, nukuto move haere, hara, here, horo, whanoto go, to come hara, hapa, to be wrong kōrerorero, wānanga, rūnangato discuss tohunga, tahungapriest matikuku, maikukufinger nail kanohi, konohi, mata, whatu, kamo, karueye, face Entire Maori sentences can be written with vowels only. E uu aau? Are yours firm? I uaa ai. It rained as usual. I ui au ‘i auau aau?’ E uaua! It will be difficult/hard/heavy! On the plus side, the pronunciation is simple, and there is no gender. The language is as regular as Japanese. No Polynesian language has more than 16 sounds, and they all lack tones. They all have five vowels, which can be either long or short. A consonant must be followed by a vowel, so there are no consonant clusters. All consonants are easy to pronounce. Maori gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.

Marquesic

Hawaiian is a pretty easy language to learn. It is easy to pronounce, has a simple alphabet, lacks complex morphology and has a fairly simple syntax. Hawaiian gets a 2 rating, very easy to learn.

A Look at the Vietnamese and Khmer Languages

From here. Vietnamese and Khmer, two languages of SE Asia, are quite hard for an English speaker to learn for a variety of reasons. We take a look at those two languages here.

Austroasiatic Mon-Khmer Viet-Muong

Vietnamese is hard to learn because to an outsider, the tones seem hard to tell apart. Therefore, foreigners often make themselves difficult to understand by not getting the tone precisely correct. It also has “creaky-voiced” tones, which are very hard for foreigners to get a grasp on. Vietnamese grammar is fairly simple, and reading Vietnamese is pretty easy once you figure out the tone marks. Words are short as in Chinese. However, the simple grammar is relative, as you can have 25 or more forms just for I, the 1st person singular pronoun. Vietnamese gets a 5 rating, extremely hard of all.

Eastern Mon-Khmer Khmer

Khmer has a reputation for being hard to learn. I understand that it has one of the most complex honorifics systems of any language on Earth. Over a dozen different words mean to carry depending on what one is carrying. There are several different words for slave depending on who owned the slave and what the slave did. There are 28-30 different vowels, including sets of long and short vowels and long and short diphthongs. The vowel system is so complicated that there isn’t even agreement on exactly what it looks like. Khmer learners, especially speakers of IE languages, often have a hard time producing or even distinguishing these vowels. Speaking it is not so bad, but reading and writing it is difficult. For instance, you can put up to five different symbols together in one complex symbol. The orthographic script is even worse in that sense than the Thai script. There are actually rules to this mess, but no one seems to know what they are. Khmer gets a 4 rating, very hard.

A Look at the Hungarian Language

From here. A look at Hungarian from the view of how hard it is to learn for an English speaker. Hungarian is legendary for being a hard language to learn. The British diplomatic corps did a survey of their diplomats and found that Hungarian was the hardest language that a diplomat had to learn. It’s widely agreed that Hungarian is one of the hardest languages on Earth to learn. Even language professors agree. The British Diplomatic Corps did a study of the languages that its diplomats commonly had to learn and concluded that Hungarian was the hardest. For one thing, there are many different forms for a single word via word modification. This enables the speaker to make his intended meaning very precise. Looking at nouns, there are about 257 different forms per noun. Hungarian is said to have from 24-35 different cases (there are charts available showing 31 cases), but the actual number may only be 18. Verbs change depending on whether the object is definite or indefinite. Nearly everything in Hungarian is inflected, similar to Lithuanian or Czech. Similar to Georgian and Basque, Hungarian has the polypersonal agreement, albeit to a lesser degree than those two languages. There are many irregularities in inflections, and even Hungarians have to learn how to spell all of these in school and have a hard time learning this. The case distinctions alone can create many different words out of one base form. For the word house, we end up with 31 different words using case forms: házbainto the house házbanin the house házból from [within] the house házraonto the house házonon the house házróloff [from] the house házhozto the house házíguntil/up to the house háználat the house háztól [away] from the house házzá – Translative case, where the house is the end product of a transformation, such as They turned the cave into a house. házkéntas the house, which could be used if you acted in your capacity as a house or disguised yourself as one. He dressed up as a house for Halloween. házértfor the house, specifically things done on its behalf or done to get the house. They spent a lot of time fixing things up (for the house). házul – Essive-modal case. Something like “house-ly” or in the way/manner of a house. The tent served as a house (in a house-ly fashion). And we do have some basic cases: ház – Nominative. The house is down the street. házat – Accusative. The ball hit the house. háznak – Dative. The man gave the house to Mary. házzal – Similar to instrumental, but more similar to English with. Refers to both instruments and companions. The genitive takes 12 different declensions, depending on person and number: házammy house házaimmy houses házadyour house házaidyour houses házahis/her/its house házai his/her/its houses házunk our house házainkour houses házatok your house házaitok your house házuk their house házaik their houses egyházchurch, as in the Catholic Church. (Literally one-house) In addition, the genitive suffixes to the possession, which is not how the genitive works in IE. emberman/person házhouse a(z)the az ember házathe man’s house (Lit. the man house-his) a házammy house (Lit. the house-my) a házadyour house (Lit. the house-your) There are also very long words such as this: megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért… for your (you all possessive) repeated pretensions at being impossible to desecrate… Being an agglutinative language, that word is made up of many small parts of words, or morphemes. That word means something like The preposition is stuck onto the word in this language, and this will seem strange to speakers of languages with free prepositions. Hungarian is full of synonyms, similar to English. For instance, there are 78 different words that mean to move: halad, jár, megy, dülöngél, lépdel, botorkál, kódorog, sétál , andalog, rohan, csörtet, üget, lohol, fut, átvág, vágtat, tipeg, libeg, biceg, poroszkál, vágtázik, somfordál , bóklászik, szedi a lábát, kitér, elszökken, betér , botladozik, őgyeleg, slattyog, bandukol, lófrál, szalad, vánszorog, kószál, kullog, baktat, koslat, kaptat, császkál, totyog, suhan, robog, rohan, kocog, cselleng, csatangol, beslisszol, elinal, elillan, bitangol, lopakodik, sompolyog, lapul, elkotródik, settenkedik, sündörög, eltérül, elódalog, kóborol, lézeng, ődöng, csavarog, lődörög, elvándorol , tekereg, kóvályog, ténfereg, özönlik, tódul, vonul, hömpölyög, ömlik, surran, oson, lépeget, mozog and mozgolódik . Only about five of those terms are archaic and seldom used, the rest are in current use. However, to be a fair, a Hungarian native speaker might only recognize half of those words. Another argument is that many of those words have subtly different meanings such as crawl, sulk, flow, rush, job, etc. In addition, while most languages have names for countries that are pretty easy to figure out, in Hungarian even languages of nations are hard because they have changed the names so much. Italy becomes Olaszország, Germany becomes Németország, etc. As in Russian and Serbo-Croatian, word order is relatively free in Hungarian. It is not completely free as some say but rather is it governed by a set of rules. The problem is that as you reorder the word order in a sentence, you say the same thing but the meaning changes slightly in terms of nuance. Further, there are quite a few dialects in Hungarian. Native speakers can pretty much understand them, but foreigners often have a lot of problems. Accent is very difficult in Hungarian due to the bewildering number of rules used to determine accent. In addition, there are exceptions to all of these rules. Nevertheless, Hungarian is probably more regular than Polish. Hungarian spelling is also very strange for non-Hungarians, but at least the orthography is phonetic. Hungarian phonetics is also strange. One of the problems with Hungarian phonetics is vowel harmony. Since you stick morphemes together to make a word, the vowels that you have used in the first part of the word will influence the vowels that you will use to make up the morphemes that occur later in the word. The vowel harmony gives Hungarian a singing effect” when it is spoken. The gy sound is hard for many foreigners to make. Verbs are marked for object (indefinite, definite and person/number), subject (person and number) tense (past, present and future), mood (indicative, conditional and imperative), and aspect (frequency, potentiality, factitiveness, and reflexiveness. As noted in the introduction to the Finno-Ugric section, you need to know quite a bit of Hungarian grammar to be able to express yourself on a basic level. For instance, in order to say: I like your sister. you will need to understand the following Hungarian forms:

  1. verb conjugation and definite or indefinite forms
  2. possessive suffixes
  3. case
  4. how to combine possessive suffixes with case
  5. word order
  6. explicit pronouns
  7. articles

It’s hard to say, but Hungarian is probably harder to learn than even the hardest Slavic languages like Czech, Serbo-Croatian and Polish. At any rate, it is generally agreed that Hungarian grammar is more complicated than Slavic grammar, which is pretty impressive as Slavic grammar is quite a beast. Hungarian is rated 5, extremely hard.

A Look at the Finnish and Estonian Languages

From here. A look at two Finno-Ugric languages, Finnish and Estonian, from the point of view of how hard they are for an English speaker to learn. Finnish is legendary for being one of the hardest languages on Earth to learn. Estonian is like a simplified version of Finnish. Both have highly elaborate case systems and utilize vowel harmony.

Finno-Ugric

One test of the difficulty of any language is how much of the grammar you must know in order to express yourself on a basic level. On this basis, Finno-Ugric languages are complicated because you need to know quite a bit more grammar to communicate on a basic level in them than in say, German.

Finnic Northern

Finnish is very hard to learn, and even long-time learners often still have problems with it. You have to know exactly which grammatical forms to use where in a sentence. In addition, Finnish has 15 cases in the singular and 16 in the plural. This is hard to learn for speakers coming from a language with little or no case. For instance, talothe house

Cases:
talon        house's
taloasome    of the house
taloksiinto  as the house
talossain    the house
talostafrom  inside the house
talooninto   the house
talollaon    to the house
taloltafrom  beside the house
talolleto    the house
taloistafrom the houses
taloissa     in the houses

It gets much worse than that. This web page shows that the noun kauppashop can have 2,253 forms. A simple adjective + noun type of noun phrase of two words can be conjugated in up to 100 different ways. Adjectives and nouns belong to 20 different classes. The rules governing their case declension depend on what class the substantive is in. As with Hungarian, words can be very long. For instance: lentokonesuihkuturbiinimoottoriapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas non-commissioned officer cadet learning to be an assistant mechanic for airplane jet engines Like Turkish, Finnish agglutination is very regular. Each bit of information has its own morpheme and has an exact place in the word. Like Turkish, Finnish has vowel harmony, but the vowel harmony is very regular like that of Turkish. Unlike Turkish or Hungarian, consonant gradation forms a major part of Finnish morphology. In order to form a sentence in Finnish, you will need to learn about verb types, cases and consonant gradation, and it can take a while to get your mind around those things. Finnish, oddly enough, always puts the stress on the first syllable. Finnish vowels will be hard to pronounce for most foreigners. However, Finnish has the advantage of being pronounced precisely as it is written. This is also part of the problem though, because if you don’t say it just right, the meaning changes. So, similarly with Polish, when you mangle their language, you will only achieve incomprehension. Whereas with say English, if a foreigner mangles the language, you can often winnow some sense out of it. However, despite that fact that written Finnish can be easily pronounced, when learning Finnish, as in Korean, it is as if you must learn two different languages – the written language and the spoken language. A better way to put it is that there is “one language for writing and another for speaking.” You use different forms whether conversing or putting something on paper. Some pronunciation is difficult. It can be hard to tell the difference between the a and ä sounds. The the contrast between short and long vowels and consonants is particularly troublesome. Check out these minimal pairs: sydämellä sydämmellä jollekin jollekkin One easy aspect of Finnish is the way you can build many forms from a base root: kirj- kirjabook kirjeletter kirjoittaato write kirjailijawriter A problem for the English speaker coming to Finnish would be the vocabulary, which is alien to the speaker of an IE language. Finnish language learners often find themselves looking up over half the words they encounter. Obviously, this slows down reading quite a bit! Finnish verbs are very regular. The irregular verbs can almost be counted on one hand: juosta käydä olla nähdä tehdä and a few others. In fact, on the plus side, Finnish in general is very regular. In the grammar, the partitive case and potential tense can be difficult. Here is an example of how Finnish verb tenses combine with various cases to form words:

I A-Infinitive
Base form mennä
II E-Infinitive
Active inessive    mennessä
Active instructive mennen
Passive inessive   mentäessä
III MA-Infinitive
Inessive            menemässä
Elative             menemästä
Illative            menemään
Adessive            menemällä
Abessive            menemättä
Active instructive  menemän
Passive instructive mentämän

As in many Asian languages, there are no masculine or feminine pronouns, and there is no grammatical gender. The numeral system is quite simple compared to other languages. Finnish has a complete lack of consonant clusters. In addition, the phonology is fairly simple. Finnish is rated 5, hardest of all.

Southern

Estonian has similar difficulties as Finnish, since they are closely related. However, Estonian is more irregular than Finnish. In particular, the very regular agglutination system described in Finnish seems to have gone awry in Estonian. Estonian has 14 cases, including strange cases such as the abessive, adessive, elative and inessive. On the other hand, all of these cases can simply be analyzed as the genitive case plus a single unvarying suffix for each case. In addition, there is no gender, so the only things you have to worry about when forming cases are singular and plural. Estonian has a strange mood form called the quotative, often translated as “reported speech.” tema onhe/she/it is tema olevatit’s rumored that he/she/it is or he/she/it is said to be This mood is often used in newspaper reporting and is also used for gossip. Estonian has an astounding 25 diphthongs. It also has three different varieties of vowel length, which is strange in the world’s languages. There are short, vowels and extra-long vowels and consonants. linalinen – short n linnathe town’s – long n, written as nn `linnainto the town – extra-long n, not written out! There are differences in the pronunciation of the three forms above, but in rapid speech, they are hard to hear, though native speakers can make them out. Difficulties are further compounded in that extra-long sonorants (m, n, ng, l, and r) and vowels and are not written out. All in all, phonemic length can be a problem in Estonian, and foreigners never seem to get it completely down. Estonian pronunciation is not very difficult, though the õ sound can cause problems. At least in written form, Estonian is not as complex as Finnish. Estonian can be seen as an abbreviated and modernized form of Finnish. The grammar is also like a simplified version of Finnish grammar and may be much easier to learn. Estonian is rated 4.5, extremely difficult. If you think this website is valuable to you, please consider a contribution to support the continuation of the site. Donations are the only thing that keep the site operating.

A Look at the Turkish Language

From here. A look at the Turkish language from the point of view of an English speaker trying to learn the language. Turkish is not a difficult language to learn, but it is not exactly simple either, and the agglutinative structure is very different from Indo-European. Turkish is often considered to be hard to learn, and it’s rated one of the hardest in surveys of language teachers, however, it’s probably easier than its reputation made it out to be. It is agglutinative, so you can have one long word where in English you might have a sentence of shorter words. One word is Çekoslovakyalilastiramadiklarimizdanmisiniz? Were you one of those people whom we could not turn into a Czechoslovakian? Many words have more than one meaning. However, the agglutination is very regular in that each particle of meaning has its own morpheme and falls into an exact place in the word. See here:

göz            eye
göz-lük        glasses
göz-lük-çü     optician
göz-lük-çü-lük the business of an optician

Nevertheless, agglutination means that you can always create new words or add new parts to words, and for this reason even a lot of Turkish adults have problems with their language. Turkish is an imagery-heavy language, and if you try to translate straight from a dictionary, it often won’t make sense. However, the suffixation in Turkish, along with the vowel harmony, are both precise. Nevertheless, many words have irregular vowel harmony. The rules for making plurals are very regular, with no exceptions (the only exceptions are in foreign loans). In Turkish, incredible as it sounds, you can make a plural out of anything, even a word like what, who or blood. However, there is some irregularity in the strengthening of adjectives, and the forms are not predictable and must be memorized. Turkish is a language of precision in other ways. For instance, there are eight different forms of subjunctive mood that describe various degrees of uncertainty that one has about what one is talking about. This relates to the evidentiality discussed under Tuyuca above, and Turkish has an evidential form similar to Tamil and Bulgarian. On Turkish news, verbs are generally marked with miş, which means that the announcer believes it to be true though he has not seen it firsthand. The Roman alphabet and almost mathematically precise grammar really help out. Turkish lacks gender and there are almost no irregular verbs.  However, this is controversial, and it depends on how you define grammatical irregularity. There is strangeness in some of the verb paradigms, but it is argued that these oddities are rule-based. The aorist tense is said to have irregularity. Nevertheless, weighing against the verbal regularity would be the large number of verbal forms. There is some irregular morphophonology, but not much. The oblique relative clauses have complex morphosyntax. Turkish has two completely different ways of making relative clauses, one of which may have been borrowed from Persian. There are many gerunds for verbs, and these have many different uses. At the end of the day, Turkish grammar is not as regular or as simple as it is made out to be. Words are pronounced nearly the same as they are written. A suggestion that Turkish may be easier to learn that many think is the research that shows that Turkish children learn attain basic grammatical mastery of Turkish at age 2-3, as compared to 4-5 for German and 12 for Arabic. The research was conducted in Germany in 2005. In addition, Turkish has a phonetic orthography. However, Turkish is hard for an English speaker to learn for a variety of reasons. It is agglutinative like Japanese, and all agglutinative languages are difficult for English speakers to learn. As in Japanese, you start your Turkish sentence the way you would end your English sentence. Turkish vowels are unusual to speakers of English (ö and ü are not in English), and Turkish learners say the vowels are hard to make or even tell apart from one another. Turkish is rated 4, very hard to learn.

A Look at the Quechua and Aymara Languages

From here. A look at two major South American Indian languages, Quechua and Aymara with a view towards how difficult they are to learn for an English speaker. Aymara, which is actually at least two separate languages, is declining in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina and is only doing well around Lake Titicaca in Peru. Quechua is actually made up of up to 46 different languages spoken in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Bolivia. Quechua is probably one of the easiest Amerindian languages to learn, but that’s not saying much. Aymara is probably a lot more difficult. Quechua (actually a large group of languages and not a single language at all) is one of the easiest Amerindian languages to learn. Quechua is a classic example of a highly regular grammar with few exceptions. Its agglutinative system is more straightforward than even that of Turkish. The phonology is dead simple. On the down side, there is a lot of dialectal divergence (these are actually separate languages and not dialects) and a lack of learning materials. Some say that Quechua speakers spend their whole lives learning the language. Quechua has inconsistent orthographies. There is a fight between those who prefer a Spanish-based orthography and those who prefer a more phonemic one. Also there is an argument over whether to use the Ayacucho language or the Cuzco language as a base. Quechua has a difficult feature known as evidential marking. This marker indicates the source of the speaker’s knowledge and how sure they are about the statement. -mi expresses personal knowledge: Tayta Wayllaqawaqa chufirmi. Mr. Huayllacahua is a driver. (I know it for a fact.) -si expresses hearsay knowledge: Tayta Wayllaqawaqa chufirsi. Mr. Huayllacahua is a driver (or so I’ve heard). chá expresses strong possibility: Tayta Wayllaqawaqa chufirchá. Mr. Huayllacahua is a driver (most likely). Quechua is rated 4, very difficult. Aymara has some of the wildest morphophonology out there. Morpheme-final vowel deletion is present in the language as a morphophonological process, and it is dependent on a set of highly complex phonological, morphological and syntactic rules (Kim 2013). For instance, there are three types of suffixes: dominant, recessive and a 3rd class is neither dominant nor recessive. If a stem ends in a vowel, dominant suffixes delete the vowel but recessive suffixes allow the vowel to remain. The third class either deletes or retains the vowel on the stem depending on how many vowels are in the stem. If the root has two vowels, the vowel is retained. If it has three vowels, the vowel is deleted. Aymara gets a 5 rating, hardest of all.

A Look at Algonquian Languages

From here. A look at the Algonquian languages in terms of the difficulty they present for the English speaking language learner. Algonquian languages are nightmarishly complicated.

Algic Algonquian

All Algonquian languages have distinctions between animate/inanimate nouns, in addition to having proximate/obviate and direct/inverse distinctions. However, most languages that have proximate/obviate and direct/inverse distinctions are not as difficult as Algonquian. Proximate/obviative is a way of marking the 3rd person in discourse. It distinguishes between an important 3rd person (proximate) and a more peripheral 3rd person (obviative). Animate nouns and possessor nouns tend to be marked proximate while inanimate nouns and possessed nouns tend to be marked obviative. Direct/inverse is a way of marking discourse in terms of saliency, topicality or animacy. Whether one noun ranks higher than another in terms of saliency, topicality or animacy means that that noun ranks higher in terms of person hierarchy. It is used only in transitive clauses. When the subject has a higher ranking than the object, the direct form is used. When the object has a higher ranking than the object, the inverse form is used.

Central Algonquian Cree-Montagnais

Cree is very hard to learn. It are written in a variety of different ways with different alphabets and syllabic systems, complicating matters even further. It is both polysynthetic and has long, short and nasal vowels and aspirated and unaspirated voiceless consonants. Words are divided into metrical feet, the rules for determining stress placement in words are quite complex and there is lots of irregularity. Vowels fall out a lot, or syncopate, within words. Cree adds noun classifiers to the mix, and both nouns and verbs are marked as animate or inanimate. In addition, verbs are marked for transitive and intransitive. Verbs get different affixes depending on whether they occur in main or subordinate clauses. Cree is rated 5, hardest of all.

Ojibwa-Patowatomi

Ojibwa is said to be about as hard to learn as Cree as it is very similar. Ojibwa is rated 5, hardest of all.

Plains Algonquian Cheyenne

Cheyenne is well-known for being a hard Amerindian language to learn. Like many polysynthetic languages, it can have very long words. Náohkêsáa’oné’seómepêhévetsêhésto’anéhe. I truly don’t know Cheyenne very well. However, Cheyenne is quite regular, but it has so many complex rules that it is hard to figure them all out. Cheyenne is rated 5, hardest of all.

Arapahoan

Arapaho lacks phonemic low vowels. The vowel system consists of i, ɨ~,u, ɛ, and ɔ. Each vowel also has a corresponding long version. In addition, there are four diphthongs, ei, ou, oe and ie, several triphthongs, eii, oee, and ouu, as well as extended sequences of vowels such as eee with stress on either the first or the last vowel in the combination. Arapaho words also undergo some very wild sound changes. Arapaho is rated 5, hardest of all. Gros Ventre has a similar phonological system and elaborate sound changes as Arapaho. Gros Ventre is rated 5, hardest of all.

A Look at Iroquoian Languages

From here. A look at the difficulties involved in learning an Iroquoian language for an English speaker. Iroquoian languages are probably some of the most monstrously complex languages on the face of the Earth. Take a look at that Cherokee paradigm below. I don’t get it. Are Cherokees replicants, supermen or space aliens? How could any normal human being possibly learn such a labyrinthine language?

Iroquoian

All Iroquoian languages are extremely difficult, but Athabaskan is probably even harder. Siouan languages may be equal to Iroquoian in difficulty. Compare the same phrases in Tlingit (Athabaskan) and and  Cherokee (Iroquoian). Tlingit: kutíkusa‘áatIt’s cold outside. kutíkuta‘áatIt’s cold right now. In Tlingit, you can add or modify affixes at the beginning as prefixes, in the middle as infixes and at the end as suffixes. In the above example, you changed a part of the word within the clause itself. Cherokee: doyáditlv uyvtlvIt is cold outside. (Lit. Outside it is cold.) ka uyvtlvIt is cold now. (Lit. Now it is cold.) As you can see, Cherokee is easier.

Cherokee

Cherokee is very hard to learn. In addition to everything else, it has a completely different alphabet. It’s polysynthetic, to make matters worse. It is possible to write a Cherokee sentence that somehow lacks a verb. There are five categories of verb classifiers. Verbs needing classifiers must use one. Each regular verb can have an incredible 21,262 inflected forms! All verbs contain a verb root, a pronominal prefix, a modal suffix and an aspect suffix. In addition, verbs inflect for singular, plural and also dual. For instance:

ᎠᎸᎢᎭ   a'lv'íha 
You have up to 126 different forms*:
ᎬᏯᎸᎢᎭ  gvyalv'iha    I tie you up
ᏕᎬᏯᎸᎢᎭ degvyalviha   I'm tying you up
ᏥᏯᎸᎢᎭ  jiyalv'ha     I tie him up
ᎦᎸᎢᎭ                 I tie it
ᏍᏓᏯᎸᎢᎭ sdayalv'iha   I tie you (dual)
ᎢᏨᏯᎢᎭ  ijvyalv'iha   I tie you (pl)
ᎦᏥᏯᎸᎢᎭ gajiyalv'iha  I tie them (animate)
ᏕᎦᎸᎢᎭ                I tie them up (inanimate)
ᏍᏆᎸᎢᎭ  squahlv'iha   You tie me
ᎯᏯᎸᎢᎭ  hiyalv'iha    You're tying him
ᎭᏢᎢᎭ   hatlv'iha     You tie it
ᏍᎩᎾᎸᎢᎭ skinalv'iha   You're tying me and him
ᎪᎩᎾᏢᎢᎭ goginatlv'iha They tie me and him etc.
*only some of which are listed above.

Let us look at another form: to see

I see myself        gadagotia
I see you           gvgohtia
I see him/her       tsigotia
I see it            tsigotia
I see you two       advgotia
I see you (plural)  istvgotia
I see them (live)   gatsigotia
I see them (things) detsigotia
You see me             sgigotia
You see yourself       hadagotia
You see him/her        higo(h)tia
You see it             higotia
You see another and me sginigotia
You see others and me  isgigotia
You see them (living)  dehigotia
You see them (living)  gahigotia
You see them (things)  detsigotia
He/she sees me              agigotia
He/she sees you             tsagotia
He/she sees you             atsigotia
He/she sees him/her         agotia
He/she sees himself/herself adagotia
He/she sees you + me        ginigotia
He/she sees you two         sdigotia
He/she sees another + me    oginigotia
He she sees us (them + me)  otsigotia
He/she sees you (plural)    itsigotia
He/she sees them -          dagotia
You and I see him/her/it           igigotia
You and I see ourselves            edadotia
You and I see one another          denadagotia/dosdadagotia
You and I see them (living)        genigotia
You and I see them (living or not) denigotia
You two see me                  sgninigotia
You two see him/her/it          esdigotia
You two see yourselves          sdadagotia
You two see us (another and me) sginigotia
You two see them                desdigotia
Another and I see you          sdvgotia
Another and I see him/her      osdigotia
Another and I see it           osdigotia
Another and I see you-two      sdvgotia
Another and I see ourselves    dosdadagotia
Another and I see you (plural) itsvgotia
Another and I see them         dosdigotia
You (plural) see me      isgigoti
You (plural) see him/her etsigoti
They see me             gvgigotia
They see you            getsagotia
They see him/her        anigoti
They see you and me     geginigoti
They see you two        gesdigoti
They see another and me gegigotia/gogenigoti
They see you (plural)   getsigoti
They see them           danagotia
They see themselves     anadagoti
I will see datsigoi
I saw      agigohvi
He/she will see dvgohi
He/she saw      ugohvi

Number is marked for inclusive vs. exclusive and there is a dual. 3rd person plural is marked for animate/inanimate. Verbs take different object forms depending on if the object is solid/alive/indefinite shape/flexible. This is similar to the Navajo system. Cherokee also has lexical tone, with complex rules about how tones may combine with each other. Tone is not marked in the orthography. The phonology is noted for somehow not having any labial consonants. However, Cherokee is very regular. It has only three irregular verbs. It is just that there are many complex rules. Cherokee is rated 5, most difficult of all.

A Look at the Danish Language

Danish is a harder language to learn than one might think. It’s not that hard to read or even write, but it’s quite hard to speak. However, like English, Danish has a non-phonetic orthography, so this can be problematic. It has gone a long time without a spelling reform, so there are many silent letters and sounds, both vowels and consonants, that make no sense. In addition, there are d words where the d is silent and other d words where it is pronounced, and though the rules are straightforward, it’s often hard for foreigners to get the hang of this. The d in hund is silent, for instance. In addition, the b, d,  and g sounds are somehow voiceless in many environments, which must be a hard sound to make. There are also the strange labiodental glide and alveopalatal fricative sounds. In certain environments, d, g, v, and r turn into vowels. There are three strange vowels that are not in English, represented by the letters æ, ø and å. They are all present in other Scandinavian languages – æ is present in Icelandic and Norwegian, ø is part of Norwegian, and å is part of Norwegian and Swedish, but English speakers will have problems with them. Danish language learners often report having a hard time pronouncing Danish vowels or even telling one apart from the other. One advantage of all of the Scandinavian languages is that their basic vocabulary (the vocabulary needed to converse at a basic level and be understood) is fairly limited. In other words, without learning a huge number of words, it is possible to have a basic conversation in these languages. This is in contrast to Chinese, where you have to learn a lot of vocabulary just to converse at a basic level. As with Maltese and Gaelic, there is little correlation between how a Danish word is written and how it is pronounced. Pronunciation of Danish is difficult. Speech is very fast and comes out in a continuous stream that elides entire words. Vowels in the middle and at the end of words are seldom expressed. There are nine vowel characters, and each one can be pronounced in five or six different ways. There is nearly a full diphthong set, and somehow pharyngealization as accent is used as an accent. Danish has a huge set of vowels, one of the largest sets on Earth. The sheer number of vowels is one reason that Danish is so hard to pronounce. Danish has 32 vowels, 15 short, 13 long and four unstressed: ɑ, ɑː, a, æ, æː, ɛ, ɛː, e, e̝ː, i, , o, , ɔ, ɔː, u, , ø, øː, œ, œː, ɶ, ɶː, y, , ʌ, ɒ, ɒː, ə, ɐ, ɪ, and ʊ. There is also a strange phonetic element called a stød, which is a very short pause slightly before the vowel(s) in a word. This element is very hard for foreigners to get right. Just about any word has at least four meanings, and can serve as noun, verb, adjective or adverb. Danish has two genders (feminine and masculine have merged into neuter), and whether a noun is common or neuter is almost impossible to predict and simply must be memorized. From here. This is a look at the Danish language from the viewpoint of how hard it is for an English speaker trying to learn the language. Suggesting that Danish may be harder to learn than Swedish or Norwegian, it’s said that Danish children speak later than Swedish or Norwegian children. One study comparing Danish children to Croatian tots found that the Croat children had learned over twice as many words by 15 months as the Danes. According to the study:

The University of Southern Denmark study shows that at 15 months, the average Danish toddler has mastered just 80 words, whereas a Croatian tot of the same age has a vocabulary of up to 200 terms. […] According to the study, the primary reason Danish children lag behind in language comprehension is because single words are difficult to extract from Danish’s slurring together of words in sentences. Danish is also one of the languages with the most vowel sounds, which leads to a ‘mushier’ pronunciation of words in everyday conversation.

Danish gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.

A Look at the Norwegian Language

From here. This is a look at the Norwegian language from the POV of an English speaker trying to learn it. The truth is that Norwegian is probably one of the easiest languages for an English speaker to learn. Norwegian is fairly easy to learn, and Norwegian is sometimes touted as the easiest language on Earth to learn for an English speaker. This is confusing because Danish is described below as a more difficult language to learn, and critics say that Danish and Norwegian are the same, so they should have equal difficulty. But only one Norwegian writing system is almost the same as Danish the Danish writing system. Danish pronunciation is quite a bit different from Norwegian, and this is where the problems come in. Nevertheless, Norwegian dialects can be a problem. Foreigners get off the plane having learned a bit of Norwegian and are immediately struck by the strangeness of the multiplicity of dialects, which for the most part are easy for Norwegians to understand, but can be hard for foreigners. There is also the problematic en and et alternation, as discussed with Danish. Norwegian has an irrational orthographic system, like Swedish, with silent letters and many insensible sounds, both consonants and vowels. It has gone a long time without a spelling reform. It has the additional orthographic issues of two different writing systems and a multitude of dialects. Norwegian, like Danish and Swedish, has a huge vowel inventory, one of the larger ones on Earth. It can be confusing and difficult to make all of those odd vowel sounds: 18 contrasting simple vowels, nine long and nine short , , ɛː, ɑː, , , ʉ̟ː, , øː, ɪ, ɛ, a, ɔ, ʊ, ɵ, ʏ and œ. Norwegian has very little inflection in its words, but the syntax is very difficult. Norwegian also has “tonemes” which distinguish between homophones. tankenthe tank tankenthe thought have two different meanings, even though the stress and pronunciation are the same. The words are distinguished by a toneme. However, Norwegian is a very regular language. Norwegian gets a 2 rating, moderately easy to learn.

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