Is Afroasiatic Related to Indo-European?

Claudius: Very interesting. Too me Afro-Asiatic seems very close to IE. But I don’t know anything about the other Eurasiatic or Nostratic families besides Uralic and Altaic (Japanese).

But IE is like AA with corrupted and limited ablaut. PIE verbs did have ablaut just not to the extreme of AA languages. Even PIE/IE some nouns exhibit ablaut.

Part of the problem is that AA is so old. Nostratic itself is 15-18,000 years old, and AA is 13-15,000 years old itself. The numerals are still a mess. They’re probably not even reconstructible. Numerals get replaced more than people think. This silly numerals argument is also used to invalidate Altaic. But in Altaic most of the original numerals were replaced. However, some of the originals held on in lesser semantic roles. So they were still there, just harder to see as the main numeral forms got replaced by innovations.

AA is the most ancient language family that is universally accepted. Some say that Omotic is not proven to be part of it, but those are wild splitters like Lyle Campbell who reflexively object to everything in a reactionary manner. This reaction has absurdly taken over the whole field now. We can’t even agree that Altaic is real. For God’s sake, there’s a 1,300 page etymological dictionary of Altaic out there, and people still insist it’s not real!

It’s not particularly close to IE.

Core Nostratic is Uralic, IE and Altaic.

Altaic (Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic, including Japanese and Korean), Uralic (including Yukaghir), Eskimo-Aleut and Chukchi-Kamchatkan are possibly core Nostratic. Some include Etruscan.

Whether Afroasiatic is core Nostratic is controversial. Aharon Dolgopolosky thought it was. Allan Bomhard followed Dolgopolosky.

Later Nostratic concepts have placed Afroasiatic and Elamite parallel to Nostratic (Sergei Starostin). Others put AA, Kartvelian, Elamo-Dravidian as sub-branches within Nostratic (Bomhard). Starostin’s followers, including his son George, have placed AA back in core Nostratic.

Joseph Greenberg posited a subgroup of Nostratic called Euroasiatic. He did not include Dravidian and AA. Greenberg felt that AA and Dravidian were sisters to Nostratic as a whole. Bomhard put Euroasiatic as a sub-family of Nostratic alongside AA and Dravidian. as two other sub-branches.

But there are definitely parallels with AA and IE all right. That’s clear.

Proto-Nostratic root *γor-:

(vb.) *γor- ‘to leave, to go away, to depart; to separate; to abandon’;
(n.) *γor-a ‘leaving, departure; separation; abandonment’
Extended form:
(vb.) *γor-V-b- ‘to leave, to go away, to depart; to separate; to abandon’;
(n.) *γor-b-a ‘leaving, departure; separation; abandonment’

Afrasian: Proto-Semitic *γar-ab- ‘to leave, to go away, to depart’ > Arabic ġaraba ‘to go away, to depart, to absent (oneself), to withdraw (from), to leave (someone, something); to go to a foreign country; to expel from the homeland, to banish, to exile’, ġarba-t ‘removal, departure’, ġurba-t ‘absence from one’s homeland; separation from one’s native country, banishment, exile; life, or place, away from home’; Mehri əġtərōb ‘to be abroad, away from home’, ġərbēt ‘strange place, unknown place’; Śḥeri/Jibbāli aġtéréb ‘to be abroad, away from home’, ġarbέt ‘strange, unknown place; abroad’. Perhaps also Punic «rbt ‘desolation’ (?) in ḳl «rbt ‘the voice of desolation’ (interpretation highly uncertain) (cf. Hoftijzer-Jongeling 1995:887).

Proto-Indo-European *H₃orbʰ- ‘to be or become separated, abandoned, bereft’, *H₃orbʰ-o-s ‘(n.) orphan, servant; (adj.) bereft, abandoned, deprived (of)’:

Sanskrit árbha-ḥ ‘little, small; child’; Armenian orb ‘orphan’; Greek ὀρφανός ‘orphan, without parents, fatherless; (metaph.) bereft, abandoned’; Latin orbus ‘bereft, deprived by death of a relative or other dear one; bereaved (of); childless; an orphan’; Old Irish orb ‘heir’, orb(b)e, orpe ‘inheritance’; Gothic arbi ‘inheritance,’ arbja ‘heir’ (f. arbjō ‘heiress’); Old Icelandic arfi ‘heir, heiress’, arfr ‘inheritance, patrimony’, erfa ‘to inherit’, erfð ‘inheritance’; Old Swedish arve, arver ‘heir’; Danish arv ‘heir’; Norwegian arv ‘heir’; Old English ierfa, irfa ‘heir’, ierfe ‘inheritance, bequest, property’, erfe, irfe, yrfe ‘inheritance, (inherited) property’, irfan, yrfan ‘to inherit’; Old Frisian erva ‘heir’, erve ‘inheritance, inherited land, landed property’; Old Saxon erƀi ‘inheritance’; Middle Dutch erve ‘heir’; Old High German arbi, erbi ‘inheritance’, arbeo, erbo ‘heir’ (New High German Erbe ‘inheritance; heir’); Old Church Slavic rabъ ‘servant, slave’; Russian rab [раб] ‘slave, serf, bondsman’ (f. rabá [раба] ‘slave, serf, bondmaid’); Hittite (3rd sg. pres. act.) ḫar-ap-zi ‘to separate oneself and(re)associate oneself elsewhere’. Pokorny 1959:781-782 *orbho- ‘weak, abandoned; slave, orphan’; Walde 1927-1932:183-184 *orbho-; Mallory-Adams 1997:411 *h₂/h₃orbhos ‘orphan, heir’; Mann 1984-1987:884 *orbhəkos ‘young, tender; deprived, blind’, 884 *orbhənikos ‘young, minor, underage’, 884-885 *orbhət-, *orbhit- ‘deprived, bereft; deprivation, bereavement’, 885 *orbhi̯os adjectival form of *orbhos, 885 *orbhm̥ mos (*orbhmos) ‘bereft, deprived’, 885—886 *orbhos, -i̯os, -i̯ə ‘deprived, bereft; child, orphan’; Watkins 1985:46 *orbh- ‘to put asunder, to separate’ (suffixed form *orbh-o- ‘bereft of father’) and 2000:60 *orbh- ‘to change allegiance, to pass from one status to another’ (oldest form *ə̯₃erbh-, colored to *ə̯₃orbh-) (suffixed form *orbh-o- ‘bereft of father’ also ‘deprived of free status’); Gamkrelidze-Ivanov 1995I:399, I:651 *orbʰo- ‘deprived of one’s share, deprived of possessions; orphan; servant, slave’, I:781 *orbʰo-; Mayrhofer 1956—1980.I:52 and 1986—2001.I:119—120; Boisacq 1950:719 *orbho-s; Beekes 2010:1113—1114 *h₃orbʰ-o-; Frisk 1970-1973:431 *orbho-s; Chantraine 1968-1980:829 *orbho-; Hofmann 1966:240 *orbhos; Hübschmann 1897:482, no. 335, *orbhos; Matirosyan 2008:535-536 *Horbʰ-o-; Walde-Hofmann 1965-1972:219-220 *orbhos, *orbhi̯o-; Ernout-Meillet 1979:466—467; De Vaan 2008:433 *h₃orbʰ-o-; Derksen 2008:373 *h₃erbʰ-; Kroonen 2013:33 Proto-Germanic *arbja- ‘inheritance’ (<*h₃orbʰ-i̯o-), 33 Proto-Germanic *arbjan – ‘heir’ (< *h₃orbʰ-i̯on-); Orël 2003:22 Proto-Germanic *arƀaz, 22 Proto-Germanic *arƀjaz; Lehmann 1986:41-42 *orbho-;  Feist 1939:56 *orbhi̯o-; Falk-Torp 1910-1911.I:34; De Vries 1977:12 and 13; Boutkan-Siebinga 2005:93 *h₃erbʰ-; Walshe 1951:48; Kluge-Mitzka 1967:170 *orbho-; Kluge-Seebold 1989:183-184 *orbhijo-, *orbho-; Kloekhorst 2008b:311-312 *h₃erbʰ-to; Puhvel 1984:176—183.

Proto-Nostratic (n.) *t’orʸ-a ‘tree, the parts of a tree’ (> ‘leaf, branch, bark, etc.’):

Proto-Afrasian *t’[o]r- ‘tree’, preserved in various tree names or names of parts of trees (‘leaves, branches, etc.’): Semitic: Akkadian ṭarpa”u (ṭarpi”u) ‘a variety of tamarisk’; Arabic ṭarfā” ‘tamarisk tree’. Hebrew ṭārāφ [ טָרָף ] ‘leaf’ (a hapax legomenon in the Bible); Aramaic ṭarpā, ṭǝraφ ‘leaf’; Syriac ṭerpā ‘leaf, branch’; Samaritan Aramaic ṭrp ‘leaf, part of a tree, branch’. Klein 1987:252 Egyptian d&b ‘fig tree’ (< *drb); West Chadic: Hausa ɗoorawaa ‘locust-bean tree’; East Chadic: Bidiya tirip ‘a kind of tree’ (assimilation of vowels). Orël—Stolbova 1995:516, no. 2464, *ṭarip- ‘tree’.

Proto-Indo-European *t’er-w/u-/*t’or-w/u-, *t’r-ew-/*t’r-ow-/*t’r-u- ‘tree, wood’: Greek δόρυ ‘tree, beam’, δρῦς ‘oak’; Hittite ta-ru ‘wood’; Albanian dru ‘tree, bark, wood’; Sanskrit dā́ru ‘a piece of wood, wood, timber’, drú-ḥ ‘wood or any wooden implement’; Avestan drvaēna- ‘wooden’, dāuru- ‘wood (en object), log’; Welsh derwen ‘oak’; Gothic triu ‘tree, wood’; Old Icelandic tré ‘tree’, tjara ‘tar’; Old English trēow ‘tree, wood’, tierwe, teoru ‘tar, resin’; Old Frisian trē ‘tree’; Old Saxon triu, treo ‘tree, beam’; New High German Teer ‘tar’; Lithuanian dervà ‘resinous wood’, dãrva ‘tar’; Old Church Slavic drěvo‘tree’; Russian dérevo [дерево] ‘tree, wood’; Serbo-Croatian drȉjevo ‘tree, wood’; Czech dřevo ‘tree, wood’. Pokorny 1959:214—217 *deru-, *dō̆ru-, *dr(e)u-, *dreu̯ǝ-, *drū- ‘tree’; Walde 1927-1932:804-806 *dereu̯(o)-; Mann 1984-1987:142 *deru̯os, -ā, -i̯ǝ (*dreu̯-) ‘tree, wood, timber, pitchpine; pitch, tar, resin; hard, firm, solid, wooden’, 156 *dō̆ru ‘timber, pole, spike, spear’, 157 *doru̯os, -ā, -i̯ǝ ‘wood (timber); resin’, 161 *dru- (radical) ‘timber, wood’, 161 *drūi̯ō (*druu̯ō, *-i̯ō; *drūn-) ‘to harden, to strengthen’, 161 *drukos ‘hard, firm, wooden’, 162 *drus-, *drusos ‘firm, solid’, 162 *druu̯os, -om, -is ‘wooden, hard; wood’, 162 *drū̆tos ‘wooden, of oak, of hardwood; solid, firm, strong’, 165 *dr̥u̯is, -i̯ǝ ‘wood, trees, hardwood’, 165—166 *dr̥u̯os, -om; *drus-, *dru- ‘wood, timber, tree’; Gamkrelidze-Ivanov 1995:192 and 193 *t’er-w-, *t’or-w-, *t’r-eu-, *t’r-u- ‘oak (wood), tree’; Mallory-Adams 1997:598 *dóru ‘wood, tree’; Watkins 1985:12 *deru (also *dreu-) and 2000:16-17 *deru (also *dreu-) ‘to be firm, solid, steadfast’ (suffixed variant form *drew-o-; variant form *drou-; suffixed zero-grade form *dru-mo-; variant form *derw-; suffixed variant form *drū-ro-; lengthened zero-grade form *drū-; o-grade form *doru-; reduplicated form *der- drew-); Mayrhofer 1956-1980.II:36; Chantraine 1968-1980:294 *dor-w-, *dr-ew-; Frisk 1970-1973:411-412; Hofmann 1966:63 *dō̆ru; Beekes 2010.I:349 *doru; Boisacq 1950:197-198 *doru; Orël 1998:76 and 2003:405 Proto-Germanic *terwōn ~ *terwan, 409-410 *trewan; Kroonen 2013:514 Proto-Germanic *terwa/ōn- ‘tar’ and 522-523 Proto-Germanic *trewa- ‘tree’; Lehmann 1986:347-348 *deru-, *drewo-, *dr(e)w-(H-); Feist 1939:480-481 *der-eu̯-o-; De Vries 1977:591 *dreu-; Klein 1971:745 *derew(o)-, *drew(o)- and 779 *derow(o)-, *drew(o)-; Onions 1966:904 and 939 *deru-,*doru-; Kluge-Mitzka 1967:775 *deru-; Kluge-Seebold 1989:725 *deru-; Huld 1984:56 *dru-n-; Fraenkel 1962-1965:90-91; Derksen 2008:99 *deru-o- and 2015:123-124 *deru-o-; Smoczyński 2007:103; Osthoff 1901:98-180; Benveniste 1969:104-111 and 1973:85-91; P. Friedrich 1970:140-149 *dorw- ‘tree’ or ‘oak’.

Repost: Genes and Language Match Well

Genes and Language Match Well

This post will look into whether or not genes and language line up well. The question may seem academic, but it is important for linguists in the battle for whether or not there is anything to the large macro-families that the “lumpers” are creating.

It’s yet another skirmish in the lumpers versus splitters battle in Historical Linguistics. Historical is the branch that deals with language families, language relationships, and reconstruction of old languages that are no longer spoken.

The debate has heated up in recent years due to the prominence of lumper theories publicized by the late Joseph Greenberg and his disciples, notably Merritt Ruhlen at Stanford University. Ruhlen and Greenberg use a technique called mass comparison which has come under a lot of wild and irrational abuse but seems to be a valid scientific method in the hands of an expert.

Greenberg used it to come up with the four major language families of Africa a long time ago, and his classification there has remained pretty solid ever since.

He since published a book called Language in the Americas, which broke down all Amerindian languages into three large families – Amerind, Na-Dene and Eskimo-Aleut. I have read that book many times, and I concur with its analysis. Unfortunately, a detailed examination of the evidence goes beyond the scope of this post.

Na-Dene and Eskimo-Aleut are not very controversial, though the position of Haida within Na-Dene is regarded as unproven. However, looking at evidence mustered by Alexander Manaster-Ramer, I believe that Haida is definitely Na-Dene, though possibly a sister to the entire group as it is so distant.

In the same way, the ancient Indo-European Anatolian language is now regarded as a separate branch of Indo-European – Indo-Hittite or Indo-Anatolian. My Indo-Europeanist sources told me that Indo-Hittite or Indo-Anatolian is now regarded as consensus in the field.

Bengston promotes a family called Dene-Caucasian that involves the North Caucasian languages of the Caucasus, Basque, Na-Dene, Sino-Tibetan, Burushaski in northern Pakistan and the Ket Family in Siberia. I can’t speak for the whole family, but the evidence is definitely interesting. I think that Bengston has proven a case for Ket, Basque, and the Caucasian languages being related, as I read a book on that subject.

Recently, Edward Vajda conclusively proved that the Ket language is related to the Na-Dene languages.

A Ket man in Siberia. His phenotype looks a bit Japanese. He doesn’t look like an Amerindian. The situation of the Ket is deplorable, as most live in serious poverty and do not see any hope for improving themselves. The Ket language is also in bad shape, as hardly anyone under 35 can speak it well, and 30% of the population regard speaking Ket as useless.
The USSR did a better job with minority tongues than Putin.
There is good evidence of a link between the Ket and the  Amerindians (broken link). The Selkup are a Samoyedic people who live near the Ket. There is also good evidence linking the peoples of the Altai with Amerindians. This doesn’t make a lot of sense, as the Selkup and Ket now live a long ways from the Altai region, but the Ket and Selkup are thought to have lived in the Altai long ago and came north later on.
Relating to the Ket, along with the Selkup nearby, the theory linking these groups to the Amerindians supports a single migration to the Americas 16,000 years ago, but it’s not at all definitive. According to this paper (broken link) linking the Ket with Amerindians, Proto-Caucasians are thought to have evolved in Central Asia. I would place it more near the Caucasus.

Click to enlarge. I believe that the latest evidence is showing that all of the various Altai peoples – Northern Turkics would be the various Altai groupings – the Altai, the Tofalar, the Khakass and the Shor – are related to the Amerindians. These are often referred to as Northern Turkics. They aren’t really Turks per se as in people from Turkey, but even the Turks from Turkey are thought to be partly related to these Northern Turkic tribes.

Northern Turkics are right on the border between Asians and Caucasians on gene charts, and some Amerinds are not so far genetically from that border either. If you look at the Cavalli-Sforza gene chart below, you can see that next to the Eskimo-Aleuts, the Chukchi, and the Northern Turkics are the people most closely related to the Amerindians.

It also looks like the Ket and Selkup came from what is now the Northern Turkic Altai region. Anthropologically, these various groups are either Uralics, South Siberian, Central Asian or North Asian Asiatics. The Altai region is where Russia, China and Mongolia all come together.

This is the first connection of a New World language family with an Old World language family.

Here is a Nenets woman from Siberia. She definitely looks Northern Chinese or Korean. They have a population of 44,000, and there are 31,000 speakers of the language. It’s really two languages – Forest Nenets and Tundra Nenets – but both are said to be endangered. I think at least Tundra Nenets will be around for a while though, as most kids are still learning it. The Nenets are Samoyedics like the Selkup, discussed above. The Selkup are related to the Amerindians.

It’s interesting that the Ket have also been linked genetically with the New World.

Here is a rare photo of Ed Vajda with two Ket women in Siberia described as “experts in the Ket language.” I’m not good at judging ages, but these women look to be about 40-60. If so, that is good, as I thought all of the speakers were elderly, and hardly anyone spoke the language well anymore. Ket has anywhere from 537-1,000 speakers. A related language, Yugh, is thought to have recently gone extinct. The rest of the Yeniseien languages went extinct about 150-250 years ago.

Greenberg and Ruhlen are the most vilified of the lumpers, but there are others who are following more orthodox methods of reconstruction to prove the existence of ancient language families, such as the late Sergey Starostin, his son George Starostin, John Bengston, the late Vladislav Markovich Illich-Svitych (a prodigy, dead at the young age of only 32), Aharon Dolgopolsky and Vitaly Victorovich Shevoroshkin.

The Starostins, Illich-Svitych, Dolgopolsky, and Shevoroshkin all worked on Nostratic, a vast family consisting variously of Indo-European, Uralic, Altaic, Kartvelian, Nivkh, Chukotko-Kamchatkan, Afro-Asiatic, Dravidian, and Eskimo-Aleut. I now think that Afroasiatic and Dravidian are sisters to Nostratic instead of part of the family per se because they are so far removed from the rest of the family.

I would accept IE, Uralic, Altaic, Chukotko-Kamchatkan and Eskimo-Aleut in Nostratic. The Altaic family is itself controversial, but I regard it as fact, having studied it. Altaic also includes Japanese and Korean. I would toss Yukaghir in with Uralic.

Nostratic has a lot more going for it than some of the other long-range proposals, and since these scholars are using classic reconstruction, it gets respect from splitters. Starostin’s webpage is a great resource for looking into long-range theories, especially Nostratic and Altaic.

Bengston, Shevoroshkin, and the Starostins all worked on Dene-Caucasian. This hypothesis seems a lot more controversial.

Click to enlarge. Here is a tree of Luigi Cavalli-Sforza’s human genetic families on the left and various human language families on the right, including some big families. The only one that is seriously out of place is Tibetan. This is because the Tibetans are a genetically North Chinese people who have moved down into Southern China in recent years. They cluster with South Chinese linguistically but NE Asians genetically.
All the rest lines up pretty well, including super-families like Nostratic and Eurasiatic (a Nostratic-like family created by Greenberg).
The hypothesized Austric family is interesting. I’m not sure if I buy this super-family or not, but I have not really looked into it.
With recent genetic evidence linking Indonesians and Vietnamese to Daic peoples of South China and SE Asia, it seems worth looking into. At the very least Austro-Thai, a language family consisting of the Austronesian and Tai-Kadai families. seems to have been proven in the last 10 years with the publication of a couple of important articles. Laurence Sagart is doing good work in this area.


Campbell, Lyle & Mithun, Marianne (Eds.) 1979. The Languages of Native America: An Historical and Comparative Assessment. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Campbell, Lyle. 1988. “Review of Language in the Americas, by Joseph Greenberg.” Language 64: 591-615.

Campbell, Lyle. 1997. American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Greenberg, Joseph. 1987. Language in the Americas. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Greenberg, Joseph. 1989. “Classification of American Indian languages: a reply to Campbell.” Language 65:1, 107-114.

An Interesting Mostly Southern Chinese Phenotype

A good friend of mine who resides in Singapore. He is very interested in his background and gave me his photo to analyze.

Looking at it, I believe he is definitely Southern Chinese fore the most part. His father is Hainanese and has a rather distinctive genotype that looks something like his son’s. His mother is a certain type of Malay that dates back to the 1400’s and is significantly mixed with European blood, mostly British and Dutch, as Europeans have a presence in the area dating back centuries. I believe that they are called Pernakans. He also has some female relatives that look very Malay. I do not know who the older man to the right is, but he looks quite Malay to me.

I think my friend ended up looking more Chinese than Malay. The Hainanese are definitely a Chinese type people. Whether they also have a Vietic type SE Asian component is not known as I do not know the history of Hainan.

Although my friend definitely has a strong Southern Chinese look, he also has another component that makes him look, well, different. I’m not going to attempt to describe this element, but it does make him look somewhat “odd,” “interesting,” or “unusual, ” from a Southern Chinese POV. A typical Southern Chinese would say that he looks like a Southern Chinese, but he’s not like us. A Southern Chinese has more of a Modern Mongoloid look. My friend is mostly modern Mongoloid, with some elements of transitional Mongoloid or archaic Mongoloid – this is what the Malays are after all – added in.

The evolution from Negritos to moderns occurred much later in Malaysia, much taking place in only the last 5,000 years. The Senoi are an example of an archaic group that is definitely Australoid yet nevertheless more progressive than the Negritos. These are the “dream people” of psychological and anthropological literature, though modern research has shown that they do not incorporate dreams as much into their waking lives as we previously thought and that the extent to which they do this was much exaggerated.

There are also Negritos (or original Asians) in Malaysia. In fact, there is a group in Malaysia that genes that date back to 72,000 YBP. This is actually before the main Out of Africa event, yet is has now been shown that other small groups went out of Africa before then.

Most of these groups were devastated by the vast Toba volcanic explosion in India 72,000 YBP that exterminated almost all humans in South and Southeast Asia. It is thought that only 1,500 of this group survived the explosion. This means that humans went through a severe genetic bottleneck no doubt accompanied by massive selection pressure and huge genetic effects. Whether this explosion’s effects extended to Central Asia (probably), the Middle East (maybe), or East Africa (unknown) is not known. At any rate, this original group departed from East Africa near Somalia and Djibouti.

The main OOA group left out of here too. No one quite knows what these people looked like but they have appeared somewhat Khoisan. The Khoisan are the most ancient group in Africa with genes dating back 52,000 YBP. Further, their click language to me seems like a good candidate for the original human language. It does seem to be quite primitive. Before that, we clearly used sign language. Neandertals could not speak due to their hyoid bones. The great apes also have this problem. So when Neantertals vocalized, they may have sounded like great apes.

The Sasquatch, which I believe is an archaic hominid related to Heidebergensis which somehow survived, has a very odd speech pattern (it speaks on the inhale, bizarrely enough – try it sometime) and a friend of mine who shot and killed two of them told me that the juveniles were using extensive sign language. They ran half the time on all four and half the time on two legs, which is very odd. Sasquatches can run up to 30 mph on all fours. That must be quite frightening to watch but it can be seen in the Port Edward Island Sasquatch footage. Anyway, enough about Bigfoot for today!

It’s not known how far modern human language dates back. Sergei Starostin feels it cannot date back more than 50,000 because so many cognates remain that we can actually construct a bit of Proto-World. One Proto-World term is “tik” meaning one, to point, index finger, etc. From this comes our word to teach. Imagine a teacher pointing at a blackboard with his index finger. I worked on an Indian language a while back and they had a very archaic word found only in the earliest vocabularies – tik, meaning “the point of a spearhead. I cannot prove it but I believe deep down inside that this is from the same root. I

It’s more of a gut feeling or intuitive thing, and intuitions are often wrong because they overgeneralize, throw out logic altogether, and rely exclusively on notoriously unreliable and subjective (the very word subjective implies emotional response) feelings, especially deep or gut feelings that can be described as “Gestalt.” I’m a birdwatcher and we use something called Gestalt to identify fleeing glimpses of a bird.

All we can see is what philosophers like Heidegger might call “the essence” or essential nature of the bird rather than it’s surface characteristics which are too fleeting to identify. Heidegger discusses surface versus essence interpretations of objects a lot. It seems hard to figure out but it’s easier than you think.

Logic relies on surface or appearance, including the human definition we have given to the object.

Intuition on the other hand pretty much throws out the surface stuff and looks for the “essence of the thing” or the “deep meaning” or “true meaning” of the object. We are getting into Plato here with the concept of “pure objects” that actually do not exist in reality.

An example of Platonic pure objects would be what I call the Masculine and Feminine spirit (see the brilliant and wrongly derided Otto Weininger’s “Sex and Character” for more. And Weininger comes from Nietzsche in my opinion and leads to Heidigger, also in my opinion. He seems to be a sort of a bridge between the two. Note that all were Germans, Weininger an Austrian, but oh well.

The Masculine Spirit and the Feminine Spirit is one way of dividing the universe or world in a binary manner. Not that there are not other binary methods of chopping the world into opposite halves, but this is just one of them.

I would argue that the world is half Masculine principle and half Feminine principle and that neither is better than the other and the marriage of the two opposites creates a whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts, hence the human pair bond where each pair of the male-female couple fills in the missing blanks or parts of the other one, each creating a whole person in the other where only a “half person” had existed before.

We are also getting into Taoism here, but the ancient Chinese were awful damn smart, so you ignore them at your peril in my opinion. Furthermore, the Taoist maxim of how to live your life – “moderation in all things” is an excellent aphorism, not that many of us ever do it. It’s clearly the route to a long lifespan.

To do the opposite is to burn candles at both ends, life fast, die young, and leave a pretty corpse, which sounds very romantic and appealing when young (it did to me) but which sounds increasing idiotic and even suicidal for no good reason with each advancing year past 30. I now find it laughable, pathetic, and openly suicidal and delight in mocking the concept. But I survived another 30 years past the expire date on that concept, so perhaps my new attitude is simply the inevitable product of living out that maxim twice and hence nullifying it.

There are a number of Southern Chinese groups with more of an indigenous look, sometimes prognathous. These date back to the original indigenous elements in Southern China and SE Asia, who all date back to the Negritos. The Montagnards of Vietnam are definitely one of these indigenous types. The indigenous went from

Indigenous (Negrito) -> Proto SE Asian (with Melanesian component) -> modern SE Asian (Modern Mongoloid with archaic components. This effect is quite pronounced in the Vietnamese, who were completely overrun by a Chinese invasion 2,300 years ago after which there was much interbreeding and a huge infusion of Cantonese words, which now make up 70% of Vietnamese vocabulary.

However, the core vocabulary of of Vietnamese remains Austroasiatic (a language family nevertheless with Southern Chinese roots derived from the archaic Mongoloid peoples of the region 5-7,000 YBP, who later moved into SE Asia. This core vocabulary is shared by the Munda branch of Astroasiatic, completely isolated India, particularly Eastern (Mongoloid) India. The fact that Vietic shares a common core vocabulary with the geographically separated Munda proves the existence of Austrasiatic.

In fact, it is the final convincing argument. Anyone who says that Austroasiatic does not exist is a fool.

Further, the evidence for Austroasiatic, a proven family, is no greater than the existence for Altaic, and in fact Altaic may be better proven. The “numerals” argument against Altaic is belied by the 13,000 year old Afroasiatic language, the numerals of which are a complete disaster.

Numerals are more often innovated and replaced than people think. Often the old cognates survive in archaic words or words used for related concepts, but it’s not unusual at all for the main term to be an out and out innovation. Most Altaic numerals are innovated, but there are a few cognates. Further most of the numerals have cognates in related or archaic words.

This is the most archaic layer of Austroasiatic. Some of these peoples are archaic Mongoloids with a strong Australoid component. A branch of these Australoids called Carpenterians went from India to Australia 11,000 YBP and become part of the Aborigines. Another group of archaic Australoids were called Murrayans. They came from Thailand 17,000 YBP and went to Australia. It is not known what Australians looked like before that but no doubt they were quite primitive. It’s long been thought that they have more Erectus component than the rest of us, but I’m not sure that is proven. Certainly their appearance resembles that.

The Murrayans are the core element of the Ainu, who went to the Philippines 16,000 YBP in an unusual, Caucasian appearing type, and then moved to the Southern Japanese islands north into Japan 13,000 YBP, quite possibly replacing an ancient Negrito type already there. This Negrito type definitely existed in Southern China and may well have existed in Korea. Some Australoids or especially Australoid-Mongoloid mixes can have a superficial “Caucasian” appearance, but that’s just parallel development, coincidence or more probably the fact that the possible human phenotypes is only a small subset of the possible ones.

It is this coincidentally “Caucasoid” appearance that led many observers to believe that the Ainu were somehow ancient Caucasians (Norwegians, joked one anthropologist was) that got stranded from the rest of Europoid flock way over on the other side of Asia. In fact, the Ainu are Australoid by skull and Mongoloid by genes. Their language, like the Japanese language, has an ancient Austronesian layer that has led many to falsely conclude that the Altaic Japanese language is actually an Austronesian one. The argument is even better with Ainu, the deeper group of which has not been shown to my satisfaction.

English as a Genocidal Language Attacking Other Tongues Spoken in the Anglosphere – USA

English has had a genocidal affect on the other languages spoken here, but many non-English languages still survive and some are quite thriving.

Pennsylvania Dutch is still quite alive with 300,000 native speakers. I think is is just a dialect of Rhenish German. It’s actually two separate languages and they can’t understand each other.

There are many other languages in the US that have been taken out by English. Most of the Indian languages spoken here have been driven extinct or moribund by English. A few like Cherokee, Sioux, Navajo, Mohawk, Pueblo, some Alaskan languages, a couple of Indian languages of the US South, are still doing well.

Most of the others are in bad to very bad shape, often moribund with only 10 or fewer speakers, often elderly. Many others are extinct. However, quite a few of these languages have had a small number of middle aged to elderly speakers for the last 25 years, so the situation is somewhat stable at least at the moment.

Almost all Indian languages are not being  learned by children. But there are still children being raised speaking Cherokee, Navajo, Pueblo, Mohawk, and some Alaskan and Southern US Indian languages. Navajo is so difficult that when Navajo children show up at school, they still have  problems with Navajo. They often don’t get the  language in full until they are twelve.

However, there are revitalization efforts going on with many to most Indian languages, with varying amounts of success. Some are developing quite competent native speakers, often young people who learn the language starting at 18-20. I know that Wikchamni Yokuts has a new native speaker, a 23 year old man who learned from an old who is a native speaker. In California, there is a master apprentice program going on along these lines.

There are a number of preschool programs where elders try to teach the  languages to young children. I am not sure how well they are working. There are problems with funding, orthographies and mostly apathy that are getting in the way of a lot of these programs.

There are many semi-speakers. For instance in the tribe I worked with, many of the Indians knew at least a few words, and some of the leadership knew quite a few words. But they could hardly make a sentence.

Eskimo-Aleut languages are still widely spoken in Alaska. I know that Inuktitut is still spoken, and  there are children being raised in the language. Aleut is in poor shape.

Hawaiian was almost driven extinct but it was revived with a revitalization program. I understand that the language still has problems. I believe that there are Hawaiian medium schools that you can send your child to. There may be only ~10,000 fluent speakers but there are many more second language speakers with varying fluency.

There are actually some European based languages and creoles spoken in the US.  A noncontroversial one is Gullah, spoken on the islands of South Carolina. There may be less than 5,000 speakers, but the situation has been stable for 30-35 years. Speakers are all Black. It is an English creole and it is not intelligible with English at all.

There is at least one form of French creole spoken in Louisiana.  There is also an archaic form of French Proper called Continental French that resembles French from 1800. It has 2,000 speakers. Louisiana French Creole still has ~50,000 speakers. People worry about it but it has been stable for a long time. Many of the speakers are Black.

Texas German is really just a dialect of German spoken in Texas. There are only a few elderly speakers left.

There are a few Croatian languages spoken in the US that have diverged dramatically from the languages back home that they are now different languages. The status of these languages vary. Some are in good shape and others are almost dead. One of these is called Strawberry Hill Gorski Kotar Kaikavian spoken in Missouri. It is absolutely a full separate language and is no longer intelligible with the Gorski Kotar Kaikavian spoken back home.

There are other European languages spoken in the US, but they are not separate from those back home. Most are going out.

There are many Mandarin and especially Cantonese speakers in the US.

There are many Korean speakers in the US, especially in California.

There are a fair number of Japanese speakers in the US, mostly in California.

There are many speakers of Khmer, Lao, Hmong, and Vietnamese in the US. Most are in California but there are Hmong speakers in Minnesota also.

There are quite a few speakers of Arabic languages in the US. Yemeni, Syrian, and Palestinian Arabic are widely spoken. There are many in New York City, Michigan and California.

There are also some Assyrian speakers in  the US and there are still children being raised in Assyrian. Most are in California.

There are quite a few Punjabi and Gujarati speakers in the US now. We have many Punjabi speakers in my city.

There are quite a few Urdu speakers here. Most of all of these speakers are in California.

Obviously there are many Spanish speakers in the US. English is definitely not taking out Spanish. They are mostly in the Southwest, Florida, and New York City, but they are spreading out all across the country now.

There are a few Portuguese speakers in the US. All also speak English. They are mostly in California but some are back east around Massachusetts.

The Sicilian Italian spoken in the US by Italian immigrants is still spoken fairly widely to this day. It has diverged so much from the Sicilian back home that when they go back to Sicily, they are not understood. This is mostly spoken in large cities back east.

There are quite a few Armenian speakers in the US and children are still being raised in Armenian. Most are in California.

There are some Persian speakers in the US, but not a lot. Most of these are in California too.

All of these languages are the same languages as spoken back home.

External Relations of Japanese and Apache

Jason Voorhees: YEE – There is some similarity between the language of an Apache and that of the Japanese for example.
Yee: That seems far fetched. My ancestors moved from Central China, but I can’t understand any of their dialect now. Language is easy to lose

Actually this is not correct. Apache does have external relations in the new Yenisien-Na Dene family (already under fierce attack by splitters), and in a larger sense to Chinese but not Japanese. But there is no similarity whatsoever between Japanese and Apache, other than that probably all human languages are related at some distant level. There is no clear or obvious relationship between Japanese (really Japonic) and any other language. Japanese is not one language. It is a group of languages called Japonic. Most of the Japonic languages are spoken the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa), where there are 5-6 separate languages spoken. These languages still have many speakers, but they are in very bad shape as the Japanese have been waging war on them for some time now. Most of the speakers are middle aged or older and transmission to the young is at a low level.
However, it is clear to me that Japanese does have external relations. The most obvious external relation would be with Korean. Even some of the hardest-core anti-Altaicists agree that there is a good chance that Korean and Japanese are related. Looking at the larger picture, Japanese and Korean are both related to Turkic, Tungusic and Mongolic in a superfamily called Altaic. Mainstream linguistics has refused to accept Altaic although the evidence for its existence is striking.
The evidence for the existence of Altaic is just as good as the evidence for Austroasiatic,l and that is a universally accepted family. Worse, people who believe in Altaic are attacked and ridiculed mercilessly to the point where if you believe in it,  you might actually have a hard time getting a professorship.
Of course, Altaicists are accused of being anti-scientific because “science” has not yet shown that there is any relationship. Adults who think like this are children. Science doesn’t know everything and science is flat out wrong about countless things. That is because many theories are simply true that are presently rejected by science due to so-called lack of evidence.
Having to go ask Mommy Science whether everything you encounter in the world is true or not is like what a child does. A child is always running up to Mommy asking is it is true that so and so etc etc. Mommy says yes or no and the kid is satisfied. The are adults who are still tied to their mothers apron strings who never learned to differentiate themselves as mature individuals. Hence they have to run the Mommy Science and ask whether something is true or not instead of sitting down and looking at the evidence and deciding for yourself.
Not all things that are true have been accepted by science. If you are going to learn anything in life, it should be that right there. Time to cut the apron strings, babies.

The Roots of the Alphabet(s)

Probably most of you do not know that we are all using a variant of the ancient Phoenician alphabet. Actually I am not sure if that is precisely true, as I think the Phoenician alphabet was preceded by an Assyrian one. But at any rate, our classic Western alphabets all came out of the Levant and Mesopotamia in some way or other. Indeed, it is even theorized that many of the syllabaries in use in Central, South and Southeast Asia are also rooted in this original alphabet from the Levant.

Of course, Chinese and consequently Korean and Japanese alphabets have another origin.

One might wish to throw the odd SE Asian orthographies such as Thai, Lao, Burmese, Vietnamese, Javanese, Sundanese and Khmer there, but my understanding is that all of those SE Asian orthographies were actually derived from syllabaries originally designed in India.

A few writing systems such as Georgian, Armenian and Cree may have been created de novo, but I might have to look that up. The only non-Middle Eastern derived orthography that immediately comes to my mind is the Chinese ideographs.

The origins of the Assyrian/Phoenician alphabet appear to have been ultimately in Egyptian hieroglyphics. So the ancient Egyptians really started it all when it comes to writing down words, at least for the West.

Chinese ideographs may date from even earlier. Chinese bone writing goes way back.

Very early European writing such as runic systems and similar systems in Asia such as the Turkic Orkhon inscriptions may not be related to the Phoenician system at all. The Yukaghir in Siberia and the Yi in South China may also have designed de novo systems.

A Look at the Korean Language

From here.
A look at the Korean from the perspective of an English speaker trying to learn the language. The truth is that Korean is one of the hardest languages on Earth for an English speaker to learn.
Most agree that Korean is a hard language to learn.
The alphabet, Hangul at least is reasonable; in fact, it is elegant. But there are four different Romanizations – Lukoff, Yale, Horne, and McCune-Reischauer – which is preposterous. It’s best to just blow off the Romanizations and dive straight into Hangul. This way you can learn a Romanization later, and you won’t mess up your Hangul with spelling errors, as can occur if you go from Romanization to Hangul. Hangul can be learned very quickly, but learning to read Korean books and newspapers fast is another matter altogether because you really need to know the hanja or Chinese character that is in back of the Hangul symbols.
Bizarrely, there are two different numeral sets used, but one is derived from Chinese so it should be familiar to Chinese, Japanese or Thai speakers who use similar or identical systems.
Korean has a wealth of homonyms, and this is one of the tricky aspects of the language. Any given combination of a couple of characters can have multiple meanings. Japanese has a similar problem with homonyms, but at least with Japanese you have the benefit of kanji to help you tell the homonyms apart. With Korean Hangul, you get no such advantage.
Similarly, there seem to be many ways to say the same thing in Korean. The learner will feel when people are using all of these different ways of saying the same thing that they are actually saying something different each time, but that is not the case.
One problem is that the bp, j, ch, t and d are pronounced differently than their English counterparts. The consonants, the pachim system and the morphing consonants at the end of the word that slide into the next word make Korean harder to pronounce than any major European language. Korean has a similar problem with Japanese, that is, if you mess up one vowel in sentence, you render it incomprehensible.
The vocabulary is very difficult for an English speaker who does not have knowledge of either Japanese or Chinese. On the other hand, Japanese or Chinese will help you a lot with Korean. Chinese and Japanese speakers can usually learn Korean quickly.
Korean is agglutinative and has a subject-topic discourse structure, and the logic of these systems is difficult for English speakers to understand.
Meanwhile, Korean has an honorific system that is even wackier than that of Japanese. However, the younger generation is not using the honorifics so much, and a foreigner isn’t expected to know the honorific system anyway.
Maybe 60% of the words are based on Chinese words, but unfortunately, much of this Chinese-based vocabulary intersects with Japanese versions of Chinese words in a confusing way.
Speakers of Korean can learn Japanese fairly easily. Korean seems to be a more difficult language to learn than Japanese. There are maybe twice as many particles as in Japanese, the grammar is dramatically more difficult and the verbs are quite a bit harder. The phonemic inventory in Korean is also larger and includes such oddities as double consonants.
Korean is rated by language professors as being one of the hardest languages to learn.
Korean is rated 5, hardest of all.

A Look at the Japanese Language

From here.
A look at Japanese, with a view to how hard it is to learn for a speaker of English
Japanese also uses a symbolic alphabet, but the symbols themselves are sometime undecipherable in that even Japanese speakers will sometimes encounter written Japanese and will say that they don’t know how to pronounce it. I don’t mean that they mispronounce it; that would make sense. I mean they don’t have the slightest clue how to say the word! This problem is essentially nonexistent in a language like English.
The Japanese orthography is one of the most difficult to use of any orthography.
There are over 2,000 frequently used characters in three different symbolic alphabets that are frequently mixed together in confusing ways. Due to the large number of frequently used symbols, it’s said that even Japanese adults learn a new symbol a day a ways into adulthood.
The Japanese writing system is probably crazier than the Chinese writing system. Japanese borrowed Chinese characters. But then they gave each character several pronunciations, and in some cases as many as 24. Next they made two syllabaries using another set of characters, then over the next millenia came up with all sorts of contradictory and often senseless rules about when to use the syllabaries and when to use the character set. Later on they added a Romanization to make things even worse.
Chinese uses 5-6,000 characters regularly, while Japanese only uses around 2,000. But in Chinese, each character has only one or maybe two pronunciations. In Japanese, there are complicated rules about when and how to combine the hiragana with the characters. These rules are so hard that many native speakers still have problems with them. There are also personal and place names (proper nouns) which are given completely arbitrary pronunciations often totally at odds with the usual pronunciation of the character.
There are some writers, typically of literature, who deliberately choose to use kanji that even Japanese people cannot read. For instance, Ryuu  Murakami  uses the odd symbols 擽る、, 轢く、and 憑ける.
The Japanese system is made up of three different systems: the katakana and hiragana (the kana) and the kanji, similar to the hanzi used in Chinese. Chinese has at least 85,000 hanzi. The number of kanji is much less than that, but kanji often have more than one meaning in contrast to hanzi.
Speaking Japanese is not as difficult as everyone says, and many say it’s fairly easy. However, there is a problem similar to English in that one word can be pronounced in multiple ways, like read and read in English.
A common problem is that a perfectly grammatically correct sentence uttered by a Japanese language learner, while perfectly correct, is still not acceptable by Japanese speakers because “we just don’t say it that way.” The Japanese speaker often cannot tell why the unacceptable sentence you uttered is not ok. On the other hand, this problem may be common to more languages than Japanese.
There is also a class of Japanese called “honorifics” or “keigo” that is quite hard to master. Honorifics are meant to show respect and to indicate one’s place or status in the social hierarchy. These typically effect verbs but can also affect particles and prefixes. They are usually formed by archaic or highly irregular verbs. However, there are both regular and irregular honorific forms. Furthermore, there are five different levels of honorifics. Honorifics vary depending on who you are and who you are talking to. In addition, gender comes into play.
Although it is true the Japanese young people are said to not understand the intricacies of keigo, it is still expected that they know how to speak this well. Consequently, many young Japanese will opt out of certain conversations because they feel that their keigo is not very good. Books explaining how to use keigo properly have been big sellers among young people in Japan in recent years as young people try to appear classy, refined or cultured.
In addition, Japanese born overseas (especially in the US), while often learning Japanese pretty well, typically have a very poor understanding of keigo. Instead of embarrassing themselves by not using keigo or using it wrong, these Japanese speakers often prefer to speak in English to Japanese people rather than bother with keigo-less Japanese. Overcorrection in keigo is also a problem when hypercorrection leads to someone making errors in keigo due to “trying to hard.” This looks like phony or insincere politeness and is often worse than not using keigo at all.
One wild thing about Japanese is counting forms. You actually use different numeral sets depending on what it is you are counting! There are dozens of different ways of counting things which involve the use of a complex numerical noun classifier system.
Japanese grammar is often said to be simple, but that does not appear to be the case on closer examination. Particles are especially vexing. Verbs engage in all sorts of wild behavior, and adverbs often act like verbs. Meanwhile, honorifics change the behavior of all words. There are particles like ha and ga that have many different meanings. One problem is that all noun modifiers, even phrases, must precede the nouns they are modifying.
It’s often said that Japanese has no case, but this is not true. Actually, there are seven cases in Japanese. The aforementioned ga is a clitic meaning nominative, made is terminative case, -no is genitive and -o is accusative.
In this sentence:
The plane that was supposed to arrive at midnight, but which had been delayed by bad weather, finally arrived at 1 AM.
Everything underlined must precede the noun plane:
Was supposed to arrive at midnight, but had been delayed by bad weather, the plane finally arrived at 1 AM.

One of the main problems with Japanese grammar is that it is going to seem to so different from the sort of grammar and English speaker is likely to be used to.
Speaking Japanese is one thing, but reading and writing it is a whole new ballgame. It’s perfectly possible to know the meaning of every kanji and the meaning of every word in a sentence, but you still can’t figure out the meaning of the sentence because you can’t figure out how the sentence is stuck together in such a way as to create meaning.
However, Japanese grammar has the advantage of being quite regular. For instance, there are only four frequently used irregular verbs.
Like Chinese, the nouns are not marked for number or gender. However, while Chinese is forgiving of errors, if you mess up one vowel in a Japanese sentence, you may end up with incomprehension.
The real problem is that the Japanese you learn in class is one thing, and the Japanese of the street is another. One problem is that in street Japanese, the subject is typically not stated in a sentence. Instead it is inferred through such things as honorific terms or the choice of words you used in the sentence. Probably no one goes crazier on negatives than the Japanese. Particularly in academic writing, triple and quadruple negatives are common, and can be quite confusing.
Yet there are problems with the agglutinative nature of Japanese. It’s a completely different syntactic structure than English. Often if you translate a sentence from Japanese to English it will just look like a meaningless jumble of words.
Although many Japanese learners feel it’s fairly easy to learn, surveys of language professors continue to rate Japanese as one of the hardest languages to learn. A study by the US Navy concluded that the hardest language the corpsmen had to learn in the course of service was Japanese. However, it’s generally agreed that Japanese is easier to learn than Korean. Japanese speakers are able to learn Korean pretty easily.
Japanese is rated 5, hardest of all.
Classical Japanese is much harder to read than Modern Japanese. Though you can get by with much less kanji when reading the modern language, you will need a minimum knowledge of 3,000 kanji for reading Classical Japanese, and that’s using a dictionary. There are only about 500-1,000 frequently used characters, but there are countless other words that will come up in your reading especially say special words used in the Imperial Court. Many words have more than one meaning, and unless you know this, you will be lost. 東宮(とうぐう) for instance means Eastern Palace. However, it also means Crown Prince because his residence was to the east of the Emperor’s.
The movie The Seven Samurai (set in the late 1500’s) seems to use some sort of Classical Japanese, or at least Classical vocabulary and syntax with modern pronunciation. Japanese language learners say they can’t understand a word of the archaic Japanese used in this movie.
Classical Japanese gets 5, hardest of all.

A Look at the Chinese Language

From here.
This post will look at how hard it is to learn Chinese for an English speaker.
It’s fairly easy to learn to speak Mandarin at a basic level, though the tones can be tough. This is because the grammar is very simple – short words, no case, gender, verb inflections or tense. But with Japanese, you can keep learning, and with Chinese, you hit a wall, often because the isolating syntactic structure is so strangely different from English.
Actually, the grammar is harder than it seems. At first it seems simple, like a simplified English with no tense or articles. But the simplicity makes it difficult. No tense means there is no easy way to mark time in a sentence. Furthermore, tense is not as easy as it seems. Sure, there are no verb conjugations, but instead you must learn some particles and special word orders that are used to mark tense.
Once you start digging into Chinese, there is a complex layer under all the surface simplicity. There are serial verbs, a complex classifier system, syntax marked by something called topic-prominence, preposed relative clauses, use of verbs rather than adverbs to mark direction, and all sorts of strange stuff. Verb complements can be baffling, especially potential and directional complements. The 了 character can have seemingly countless meanings. You also need to learn quite a bit of vocabulary just to speak simple sentences.
Chinese phonology is not as easy as some say. There are too many instances of the zh, ch, sh, j, q, and x sounds in the language such that many of the words seem to sound the same. There is a distinction between aspirated and nonaspirated consonants which does not exist in English.
Chinese orthography is probably the hardest orthography of any language. The alphabet uses symbols, so it’s not even a real alphabet. There are at least 85,000 symbols and actually many more (although this is controversial), but you only need to know about 4-6,000 of them, and many Chinese don’t even know 1,000. To be highly proficient in Chinese, you need to know 10,000 characters, and probably less than 5% of Chinese know that many.
The Communists tried to simplify the system (simplified Mandarin), but they simply decreased the number of strokes needed for each symbol. The Communists’ spelling reform left much to be desired.
To make matters worse, there are different ways to write each symbol – different styles of Chinese calligraphy. For instance, Classical Chinese may be written in so called “grass-style” calligraphy or in another style altogether.
It’s a real problem when you encounter a symbol you don’t know because there is often no good way to sound out the word as the system simply is not very phonetic. The Chinese alphabet is probably only 25% phonetic, and many frequently-used characters give tell you nothing about how to pronounce them. Further, you need to learn at least 300 characters before you can start to use the meager phonetics of the writing system at all.
Furthermore, word boundaries are not obvious, as one character does not necessarily equal one word. Therefore it is hard to tell where one word starts and stops and another one begins.
Similarly, a dictionary is not necessarily helpful when trying to read Chinese. You can have a Chinese sentence in front of you along with a dictionary, and the sentence still might not make sense even after looking it up in the dictionary.
Furthermore, merely learning how to look up words in the dictionary in the first place takes new Chinese learners several months and learning how to use a dictionary well is typically not possible until a year of study. Even people who have studied for several years sometimes encounter characters that they simply cannot find in the dictionary. In China, dictionary look-up contests are often held, showing that the process is not transparent at all.
A good student of Chinese often has more than one dictionary, and some have up to 20 different dictionaries. There are separate dictionaries for simplified and traditional characters and dictionaries that have both. There are entire dictionaries just for Classical Chinese particles and others for four character idioms (chéngyǔ), a type of allegorical sayings with two parts (xiēhòuyǔ), and another for proverbs (yànyǔ). There are separate dictionaries for terms that entered Chinese during the Chinese era and others for specifically Buddhist terms. There is an easier way to use a Chinese dictionary called four-part look-up, but it takes a long time to learn it and most learners never master it for whatever reason.
To solve all of these problems with the ideographic writing system, numerous romanization schemes have been invented. At last count, there were a dozen or so of them, but a number of those are rarely used. Certainly, there are 2-3 heavily used ones and that is not counting the bomofu phonetic alphabet used in Taiwan. One of the main problems with these romanization systems is that none of them are very good and they all have serious limitations. Furthermore, the romanization system you studied as a Chinese learner tends to affect your accent in Chinese.
Writing the characters is even harder than reading them. One wrong dot or wrong line either completely changes the meaning or turns the symbol into nonsense. The writing system is often so opaque that even native speakers forget how to write the characters of eve commonly used words.
Even leaving the characters aside, the stylistic and literary constraints required to write Chinese in an eloquent or formal (literary) manner would make your head swim. And just because you can read Chinese does not mean that you can read Classical Chinese (wenyanwen) prose. It’s actually written in a different language, so to learn to read Chinese properly like an educated Chinese person does, you will have to learn not one language but two.
One rejoinder is that Classical Chinese to Chinese people is similar to Greek and Latin to an English speaker, but this is a bad analogy, as Classical Chinese is widely studied in Chinese secondary schools and some of the finest Chinese prose is written in this language (see the Confucius and Mencius examples below). Further, after studying French for a few years, you should be able to read French authors who wrote 300 years ago, but after a similar period of studying Chinese, you will not be able to read Confucius or Mencius.
Hence most educated Chinese would be expected to know something about Classical Chinese, and if you wanted to learn Chinese like an educated Chinese speaker, you would have to learn this other language also.
In addition, you need to learn Classical Chinese even if you do not aspire to be an educated Chinese speaker because  one encounters Classical Chinese often in modern Chinese society, often in paintings or character scrolls.
The tones are often quite difficult for a Westerner to pick up. If you mess up the tones, you have said a completely different word. Often foreigners who know their tones well nevertheless do not say them correctly, and hence, they say one word when they mean another.
One problem with the tone system is that when you want to change the meaning of a sentence in a subtle manner via changing intonation of a word, you are bound to change the tone of the word in Chinese. Merely by placing semantic emphasis on a single word, you may deliver a gibberish sentence. Chinese speakers have their own way of using tone as a way of generating subtle semantic meaning, but they do so in an entirely different way than speakers of non-tonal languages do.
However, compared to other tone systems around the world, the tonal system in Chinese is comparatively easy.
A major problem with Chinese is homonyms. To some extent, this is true in many tonal languages. Since Chinese uses short words and is disyllabic, there is a limited repertoire of sounds that can be used. At a certain point, all of the sounds are used up, and you are into the realm of homophones.
Tonal distinctions are one way that monosyllabic and disyllabic languages attempt to deal with the homophone problem, but it’s not good enough, since Chinese still has many homophones even with the tones, and in that case, meaning is often discerned by context, stress, rhythm and intonation.
Chinese, like French and English, is heavily idiomatic.
It’s little known, but Chinese also uses different forms to count different things, like Japanese.
There is zero common vocabulary between English and Chinese, so you need to learn a whole new set of lexical forms and have no cognates to fall back on.
In addition, nouns often show relatedness or hierarchy. For instance, in English, you can simply say my brother or my sister, but in Chinese, you cannot do this. You have to indicate whether you are speaking of an older or younger sibling.
mei meiyounger sister
jie jie
older sister
ge ge
older brother
di di
younger brother
Many agree that Chinese is the hardest to learn of all of the major languages. In a recent international survey of language professors worldwide, these teachers rated Chinese as the hardest language to learn among languages that are commonly studied.
Mandarin gets a 5 rating for extremely hard.
However, Cantonese is even harder to learn than Mandarin. Cantonese has nine tones to Mandarin’s four, and in addition, they continue to use a lot of the older traditional Chinese characters that were superseded when China moved to a simplified script in 1949. Furthermore, since non-Mandarin characters are not standardized, Cantonese cannot be written down as it is spoken.
In addition, Cantonese has verbal aspect, possibly up to 20 different varieties. Modal particles are difficult in Cantonese. Clusters of up to the 3 sentence final particles are very common. 我食咗飯 and 我食咗飯架啦喎 are both grammatical for I have had a meal, but the particles add the meaning of I have already had a meal or answering a question or even to imply I have had a meal, so I don’t need to eat anymore.
Cantonese gets a 5.5 rating, close to hardest of all.
Min Nan is also said to be harder to learn than Mandarin, as it has a more complex tone system, with five tones on three different levels. Even many Taiwanese natives don’t seem to get it right these days, as it is falling out of favor and many fewer children are being raised speaking it than before.
Min Nan gets a 5.5 rating, close to hardest of all.
A recent 15 year survey out of Fudan University utilizing both the departments of Linguistics and Anthropology looked at 579 different languages in order to try to find the most complicated language in the world. The result was that a Wu language dialect (or perhaps a separate language) in the Fengxian district of Shanghai (Fengxian Wu) was the most complex language of all, with 20 separate vowels. The nearest competitor was Norwegian with 16 vowels.
Fengxian Wu gets a 5.5 rating, close to hardest of all.
Classical Chinese is still read by many Chinese people and Chinese language learners. Unless you have a very good grasp on modern Chinese, classical Chinese will be completely wasted on you. Classical Chinese is much harder to read than reading modern Chinese.
Classical Chinese covers an era extending over 3,000 years, and to attain a reading fluency in this language, you need to be familiar with all of the characters used during this period along with all of the literature of the period so you can understand all the allusions. Even with a knowledge of Classical Chinese, you need to read it in context. If you are good at Classical Chinese and someone throws you a random section of it, it will take you a good amount of time to figure it out unless you know context.
The language is much more to the point than Modern Chinese, but this is not as good as it sounds. This simplicity leaves a room for ambiguity and context plays an important role. A joke about some obscure historical or literary anecdote will be lost you unless you know what it refers to. For reading modern Chinese, you will need at least 5,000 characters, but even then, you will still need a dictionary. With Classical Chinese, there are no lower limits on the number of characters you need to know. The sky is the limit.
Classical Chinese gets a 5.5 rating, close to hardest of all.