Turkic Tungusic* Written Mongolian 1P sing.: nominative ban bi bi oblique stem man- min- min- 2P sing.: nominative san chi (<*ti) si oblique stem san- chiin- (<*tin) sin- (e.g. Evenki and Manchu)
The Altaic argument is one of the biggest controversies in current linguistics. It is said that Linguistics has decided that Altaic does not exist. Actually, the field has not decided that at all. The consensus in the field is that Altaic is still an open question. In other words, they are fighting about it.
The field is split up into Pro-Altaicists and Anti-Altaicists. It’s not true that the field has decided in favor of the Anti-Altaicists. The Antis say that there is no such thing as Altaic. The Pros said that Altaic exists, and here is the evidence. The consensus instead rejects both positions and says we don’t know if Altaic exists or not. There is a big difference between we don’t know if it exists (maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t) and it doesn’t exist. One statement is uncertainty and the other statement is negative.
According to Anti-Ataicists, every time a human can’t make up their mind about something yes or no, they actually are saying no. No they’re not! They’re not saying yes or no. They are rejecting both positions and saying instead that they are undecided. What the Anti-Altaicists are doing is akin to saying everyone who answers undecided on a political candidate poll is actually saying that want to vote against the person! The entire basis of political polling would change.
The Anti-Altaicists are typically quite vicious, while the other side is not. The safe position is Anti-Altaicism, so a lot of wimpy linguists too scared to stand up and fight have sought refuge in the negative position. Furthermore, Linguistics is like an 8th grade playground. Some positions are openly ridiculed. Pro-Altaicism is openly ridiculed, and taking that position is seen as prima facie evidence that a linguist is a crank, an idiot or a fool. I would imagine that if you told a hiring committee that you believed in Altaic, it would be harder to get hired than if you took the negative stand. And I could imagine that being pro-Altaic might keep you from getting tenure.
Not only are the Antis vicious (all of them are vicious, bar none), but many of them are complete idiots and fools, as seen above in the preposterous conflation of uncertain opinions with negative opinions above. The fools on Bad Linguistics Reddit are evidence of this. They all hate Altaic because they are wimps who are too afraid of a fight, so they take a safe position. They bashed me for saying Altaic was real, saying it was evidence of what a kook and crank I am, when in fact, Altaic exists is a completely acceptable position to take. Many famous linguists have supported Altaic in the past, and a number of top linguists currently support it.
Anti-Altaic papers are often vicious from an academic paper standpoint. In academic papers, you are supposed to be restrained and keep your strong opinions to yourself. Not so with anti-Altaicists. They are over the top insulting and ridiculing towards Altaicists.
Altaicists have accumulated quite a bit of evidence in support of their position. The pronouns above prove Altaic for me. All I have to do is look at those pronoun sets (and there are other pronouns that also line up precisely like above) and I know it’s real.
This is what Joseph Greenberg means when he says that proving whether language families exist and reconstructing proto-languages are two different things.
You figure out a language family by simple inspection. Greenberg uses the mass comparison method, and it has worked very well for him for African languages. His Amerindian languages proposals have not been well accepted, but it’s clear that there is a large family called Amerind. There is 1st person m and second person n all through the family, occurring ~450 times. Personal pronouns are rarely borrowed, and entire personal pronoun sets are almost never borrowed (Piraha did borrow all of its pronouns, but Piraha is bizarre in many ways).
Joanna Nichols, a current spokesperson for the conservative Linguistics Establishment as good as any other (and a fine linguist to boot) states that the current consensus is that there is no such thing as Amerind and that those 450 similar pronouns are all cases of borrowing. Wow! Personal pronoun sets (not just one pronoun but an entire paradigm) were borrowed 450 times in the Americas! That’s one of the most idiotic statements that one could make, but this is the current consensus of linguistic “science.” Dumb or what?
A much better position would be to say that Amerind is uncertain (maybe it exists, maybe it doesn’t), as the negative position is preposterous and idiotic right on its face. Nichols has also stated that all of the Altaic pronouns were borrowed.
That’s even more idiotic because unlike in the Americas, entire large pronoun paradigms exist in Altaic where they do not exist in Amerind. Paradigms, especially pronoun paradigms, are almost never borrowed, and paradigm evidence is considered excellent evidence of genetic relationship. English good, better, best is the same paradigm as German gut, besser, besten. That’s an odd way to set up comparatives, and the fact that that comparative set lines up perfectly is what is known as a paradigm. That one paradigm right there ought to be enough to prove the relatedness of English and German, even leaving out all other massive evidence for relatedness.
Greenberg says that after you decide that languages form a family, then you set about using the comparative method of reconstructing proto-languages, finding sound correspondences and whatnot. The current conservative or reactionary position of the field is that first you reconstruct the proto-languages and then and only then can you prove a language family. That’s absurd. They’re in effect doing everything ass backwards. Incidentally, long ago Edward Sapir agreed with Greenberg that language families were proven first by inspection and only later did reconstruction take place. Sapir also came up with the Amerind hypothesis decades before Greenberg. Sapir is quoted as saying:
Getting down to brass tacks, how are you going to prove Amerind 1st person m and second person n other than genetic relatedness?
– Edward Sapir, 1917?
Who was Edward Sapir? Only one of the greatest linguists in history.
I can look right there at that pronoun paradigm set and tell you flat out that those three language families are related. It’s not possible that all of those languages borrowed all of those pronouns. It didn’t happen. It didn’t happen because it couldn’t happen. It’s beyond the realm of statistical probability. A statement that is outside the realm of statistical probability is considered to be for all intents and purposes nonfactual. Ask anyone Statistics major.
Not only has Proto-Altaic been reconstructed at least in a tentative and initial form, but there are regular sound correspondences running through all of the comparative lexicon of the three proto-languages: Proto-Turkic, Proto-Tungusic and Proto-Mongolian.
Regular sound correspondences are another thing we look for. It would mean that every time you have VlV in Language A, you have VnV in Language B (V = vowel). We then say that Language A l -> Language B n. Regular sound correspondences are considered to be excellent evidence of genetic relatedness.
In fact, an entire etymological dictionary of Altaic has been produced, reconstructing a lot of Proto-Altaic lexicon along with the cognates in the daughter languages. This dictionary runs to over 1,000 pages, and it is a true work of art in the social sciences. The entire etymological dictionary has been rejected out of hand by the Anti-Altaicists. However, they have not directly attacked or tried to prove many of the etymologies wrong. They simply looked at it, said it’s junk, laughed at it and ridiculed it, and moved on.
This conservative or even reactionary mood has been the norm in Historic Linguistics for decades now. The field has become very stick in the mud about this.
However, in much of the rest of Linguistics, especially Sociolinguistics, Language Acquisition, and Applied Linguistics, the field has reached consensus on many a silly thing that makes little to no sense at all other than that it sounds very Politically Correct. Linguistics being a social science, PC and SJW Cultural Left culture has infected the field in an awful way.
You must understand that Cultural Left views did not just appear in a few select social sciences. Instead this ideology swept through the entire social sciences, sparing not a one. In terms of a March Through the Institutions for this ideology, it was akin to a rapid hostile takeover. Cultural Left and SJW views are now mandatory in Linguistics. If you refuse to go along, you will not get hired or get tenured. If your reputation is too bad, you may not be able to publish in academic journals or books.
Alas, my field has been poisoned with this Cultural Left toxin or venom like all the rest of them!
Steve: This is amazing. Well done. But how can you possibly know the degree of mutual intelligibility between two languages you don’t speak or know if something is a language or dialect when you don’t speak it? That seems strange. How is it worked out?
Linguists don’t speak all these languages we study. We just study languages, we don’t necessarily speak them. This is confused with the archaic use of the word linguist to mean polyglot. Honestly, many linguists do in fact speak more than one language, and quite a few of them have a pretty good knowledge of at least some of the languages that they study. But my mentor speaks only Turkish and English though he studies all Turkic languages. I don’t believe he has ever learned to speak any Turkic lect other than Turkish.
In reference to my paper here.
We are not looking for raw numbers. We just want to know if they can understand each other or not.
A lot of it is from talking to native speakers and also there was a lot of reading papers by other linguists. I also talked to other linguists a lot. Linguists typically simply state if two lects are intelligible or not. Also there is a basic idea among linguists of what the boundary is between a language and a dialect, and I used this knowledge a lot.
Can they understand each other? Yes or no. That’s pretty much about it. Also at some degree of structural difference, we can see the difference between a language and a dialect. It’s a judgement call, but linguists are pretty good at this.
There is a subsection of very loud linguists, mostly on the Internet, who like to screech a lot about this question cannot be answered by answered because of this or that red herring or some odd conundrums that work their way in. The thing is if you ask around enough, you will be able to get around all of the conundrums and you should be able to eventually reconcile all of the divergent responses to get some sort of a holistic or “big picture.” You finally “figure it out.” The answer to the question comes to you in a sort of a “seeing the answer as part of a larger picture” sort of thing.
The worst red herring is this notion that speakers from Group A will lie and say they do not understand speakers of Group B simply because they hate them so much. If this was such a concern, you would have think I would have run into it at some point. A much worse problem were ethnic nationalists who lie and say that they can understand neighboring tongues when they can’t.
The toxin called Pan-Turkism or Turkish ultranationalism comes into play here. It is almost normal for Turks to believe that there is only one Turkic languages, and it is called Turkish. All of the rest of the languages simply do not exist and are dialects of Turkish. I had to deal with regular attacks by extremely aggressive Ataturkists who insisted that any Turk could easily understand any other Turkic language. Actually my adviser told me that my piece would not be popular with the Pan-Turkics at all. I don’t really care as I consider them to be pond scum.
Granted, some of it was quite controversial and I got variable reports on intelligibility for some lects like Siberian Tatar vs. Tatar, the Altai languages, Kazakh vs. Kirghiz, Crimean Tatar vs. Turkish.
Where native speakers differ on such questions, often vociferously, you simply ask enough of them, talk to some experts and try to get a feel for that what best answer to the question is.
Some cases like Gagauz vs. Turkish probably need raw intelligibility testing. That’s the only one that is up in the air right now, but it is up in the air because the lects are so close. Intelligibility between Gagauz and Turkish is somewhere between 70-100%. In other words, they have marginal intelligibility at worst. My Gagauz expert who knows this language better than anyone though feels that Turkish intelligibility of Gagauz is less than 90%, which is where I drew the line at language and dialect.
It is also starting to look like Nogay is a simply a dialect of Kazakh instead of a separate language, but that might be a hard sell.
Some of these are seen as separate languages simply because they are spoken by different ethnies who do not want to be seen as part of the same group. Also they have different literary norms. Karapalkak is just a Kazakh dialect, but the speakers want to say they speak a separate language. Same with Bashkir, which is simply a dialect of Tatar. The case of Kazakh and Kirghiz is more controversial, but even here, we seem to be dealing with one language, yet the two dialects are spoken by different ethnies that have actually differentiated into two separate states, each with their own literary norm. Kazakhs wish to say they speak a language c called Kazakh and Kirghiz wish to say they speak a language called Kirghiz although they are probably really just one language.
We see a similar thing with Czech and Slovak. My recent research has proven that Czech and Slovak are actually a single language. But the dialects are spoken by different ethnic groups who claim different cultures and histories and they have actually divided into two different states, and each has its own literary norm.
It is here, where dialects become languages not via science by via politics, culture, history and sociology, that Weinrich’s famous dictum that “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy” comes into play.
Scientifically, these are all simply dialects of a single tongue but we call them languages for sociological, cultural and political reasons.
Carlos Lam: Congrats! However, isn’t language death a rather standard occurrence among societies?
It is, but we linguists don’t really like it. It is quite a debate going on, but the bottom line seems to be that ethnic groups and speaker groups have the right to ownership of their languages. We worry that a lot of speaker groups are being pressured into blowing up their languages prematurely. We like to study these languages and we are not real happy about seeing them vanish into the horizon. On the other hand, is cultural death a natural thing too? Both cultural death and language death are occurring at rates far beyond the normal background rates. English and some of the other major languages are like weapons of mass destruction in taking out languages. You really want a world with one language and one culture? I don’t.
The best position seems to be that speakers have the right to decide the fate of their languages. If speakers wish to continue speaking their languages, then governments and linguists should help them to preserve and continue to develop their languages. Quite a few groups do not seem to care that their languages are going are extinct or they are even driving or drove their languages extinct, and they have the full right to do so. In these cases, we will simply do salvage linguistics. There are many salvage linguistics projects going on in the world today.
You won’t get very far with linguists arguing that language death is a good thing. Most people don’t think so.
Occurring at the same time as language death is a lot of language revitalization. Even fully dead languages are being resurrected from the grave. Also in addition to language death, we are creating new languages all the time. In this piece, I created a total of net 13 new languages. And new languages are occurring on their own.
To give you an example. A group of Crimean Tatars moved from Crimea to Turkey about 200 years ago in the course of the Crimean War. They have been speaking Crimean Tatar in Turkey ever since, for 200 years now. But in that time, Crimean Tatar in Turkey and Crimean Tatar in Ukraine has diverged so much that Turkish Crimean Tatar is now, in my opinion, a fully separate tongue from the Ukrainian language. This is because in Turkey, a lot of Turkish has gone into Turkish Crimean Tatar which is not well understand in the Ukraine. And in the Ukraine, a lot of Russian has gone in which is not well understood in Turkey. Hence, Crimean Tatar speakers in Turkey and Ukraine can no longer understand each other well.
To give you another example, there are many Kazakh speakers in China. However, Kazakh speakers in China can no longer understand Standard Kazakh broadcasts from Kazakhstan because so many Russian loans have gone into Standard Kazakh that it is no longer intelligible with Chinese Kazakh speakers. I learned this too late for my paper, otherwise I would have split Chinese Kazakh off as a separate language.
There are many cases like this.
Further, many languages are being discovered. Sonqori, Western Khalaj, Todzhin, Duha, Dukha and Siberian Tatar are just a few of the new languages that I created. Khorosani Turkic was split into three different languages. Dayi was subsumed into one of the Khorosani Turkic languages. Altai was split from one into five separate languages, but the truth is that it is six languages, not five. Salar was split into Western Salara and Eastern Salar. Ili Turki was eliminated becuase it does not even exist. It is simply a form of Uighur. Kabardian and Balkar, Tatar and Bashkir, Kazakh and Kirghiz were some languages that were eliminated and subsumed into single tongues such as Tatar-Bashkir, Kazakh-Kirghiz, and Kabardian-Balkar. And on and on.
Languages and of course dialects are dying all the time, but new languages are being created by humans and by linguists as we continue our splitting projects. Many lects referred to as dialects are more properly seen as separate languages. Chinese is at least 450 separate languages, only 14 of which are recognized. German may be up to 130 separate languages, only 20 of which are recognized.
There are quite a few more languages to be created out there, but there is a lot of resistance to splitters like me from more conservative linguists and especially from linguistic nationalists. For while Chinese may well be over 1,000 languages, the Chinese government is anti-scientifically insistent that there is but one Chinese language and maybe 2,000 “dialects,” most of which are probably separate languages. The German government is quite resistant to the idea that there is more than one form of German, though I believe Bavarian and Swiss German have official status in Austria and Switzerland.
Answer from Quora:
I recently talked to a man who is learning Min Nan, which is a Sinitic language often called a dialect of Chinese. He told me that Min Nan speakers say that the tones are so hard that no one who doesn’t grow up speaking Min Nan ever seems to get it very well.
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 nine tones.
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 hard. Even Navajo children struggle quite a bit learning Navajo and don’t seem to get it well until maybe age 12. When Navajo children arrive at school, they often do not speak Navajo well yet.
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 100% accuracy, and everyone makes errors.
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!
Piraha, spoken in the Brazilian Amazon, is also very hard. Over the course of a few centuries, several Portuguese speaking priests had tried to learn Piraha, but they had all given up because it was too hard. And these same priests had been able to master a number of other Indian languages, but Piraha was just too much. Daniel Everett learned the language and wrote important papers on it. He is only of the only non-native speakers who was able to learn the language.
Tsez, spoken in the Caucasus, is also murderously hard. Every verb can have over 100,000’s of possible forms. I understand that even native speakers make regular errors when speaking Tsez.
From this post:
Ms: Same for niggardly or tar baby. You still have dindu, though.
Waiter: “These Blacks always leave niggardly tips!”
Boss: “Racist! You’re fired!”
Waiter: No! You don’t understand! Not niggerly tips, niggardly tips!
Boss: I’m calling the SPLC!
Waiter: “WTF did you flunk English 10?”
Interesting tidbit: The word “niggardly” apparently comes from the Old English word, nig, “stingy”, 1300, Middle English. Possibly borrowed from Scandinavian nygg, “stingy”, which may be from Old Norse nigla, “to make a fuss about small matters. -ard, Middle English “pejorative”. So nig + ard, “stingy” + “lowlife”. Niggard, “stingy lowlife,” niggardly, “acting like a stingy lowlife, miserly, tight, cheap, stingy, etc.”
I didn’t know nig meant stingy. I always thought it meant something else.
Philip Andrews writes:
It is surprising how little attention is paid to the influence of the Danelaw on the English language. no one in Old English academia seems to want to touch it. It’s a Norwegian article that has claimed English is a Scandinavian language.
Anglo-Saxon and the Early post-Norman Conquest English church put the dampers on the Scandinavian influence. Even the story of the Norman Conquest’ reads quite differently in the Norse Saga version to how it comes through the AS Chronicle.
AS lost most of its grammar to the Norse of the Danelaw. That’s why English has not the inflection system of Continental Germanic but rather that of Norse. I’m happy to think of English as Norse in grammar and Syntax but mostly Latin-French in vocabulary. About 60+% of English derives from Latin-French.
Personally I question the old story of the Normans being ‘Northmen’. Another AS/Norman manipulation. It was 1,000 years ago but the Normands were in what is now France earlier. Records 1,000 years ago as now were subject to political manipulation.
Why did William go to the Pope for a Blessing for a Crusade? Because he was intent on driving the pagan Vikings out of England and Christianizing the place under Norman tutelage. Hence the Harrying of the North. Yorkshire is still far more ‘Norse’ than any other part of England. Listening to people north of Watford speak English and you’re listening to Norse accents speaking English. With Norse words in dialects. If William hadn’t come with mounted archers (from the East) he could never have defeated the Vikings.
Much of English history abroad (empire etc.) equates to versions of Viking raiding. Old Norse habits die hard.
I don’t really agree with this, but it is an interesting idea anyway.
I did some research on this question recently. England was settled by the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes.
There is a Low German language called Anglish which is spoken in an areas of the far north of Germany called Schlesweig-Holstein. Anglish is apparently the remains of the Low German language spoken by the Angles. This is a peninsula that connects Germany with Denmark. The southern half of the peninsula is Germany, and the north half is Denmark. Anglish is not readily intelligible with any other Low German language, even those nearby.
The Saxons were found a bit to the south, but I believe that they also came from this peninsula.
And it is interesting that in this part of Germany, especially around Fleisburg on the border, the dialect of Low German that they speak is more or less intelligible not with Danish but with a Danish dialect called South Jutnish that is so divergent that in my opinion, it is a separate language from Danish. Danish speakers have poor intelligibility of South Jutnish. From the Net:
Sønderjysk is often seen as very difficult for other speakers of Danish even other Jysk or Jutnish dialects to understand. Instead of the normal Danish stød, it has tonal accents like Swedish. Many of the phonemes are also different, including velar fricatives much like in German. It also has the definite article before the noun, as opposed to the standard Danish postclitic article. South Jutlandic is surely a separate language.
So in this part of Germany, there are Low German lects that are actually intelligible with Danish lects. So here is where “German” and “Danish” are nearly transitional. However, Standard German and Standard Danish are not intelligible with each other at all. Nevertheless, German speakers can pick up Danish and other Scandinavian languages pretty easily.
And South Jutnish itself is interesting in that Jutnish was one of the languages spoken by one of the tribes that invaded England, the Jutes. So one of “Anglo-Saxon” tribes that invaded England actually spoke something like “Danish.” South Jutnish itself is said to be quite a bit like English, especially the older forms of English. There are stories about speakers of the pure Scots language spoken in Scotland going to the South Jutnish area and being able to converse with South Jutnish speakers.Scots can be thought of as English from 500 years ago because Scots split from English about 500 years ago. So in this case we have West Germanic and North Germanic speakers who are able to actually converse.
There is also a suggestion based on the fact that North Germanic South Jutnish is intelligible with whatever odd West Germanic Low German lect is spoken near Fleisburg that South Jutnish itself may be nearly German-Danish transitional.
A few take-home points: the “Anglo-Saxons” actually something a lot more like Low German than Standard German. Low German and Standard German are separate languages and German speakers cannot understand Low German. And the “Anglo-Saxons” also spoke something like “Danish” in the form of Jutnish. Also all of these Low German lects that made up “Anglo-Saxon” came from the far north of Germany where “German” and “Danish” start to nearly blend into each other or better yet where West Germanic and North Germanic are almost transitional.
In addition to the evidence coming from the Danelaw area of England where actual Danish speakers settled, it appears that the Scandinavian or North Germanic influence in English is more with Danish than with any other Scandinavian language.
However, 2/3 of the Anglo-Saxon components were actually from West Germanic Low German lects which are not readily intelligible with any Danish, not even with South Jutnish.
It is often said that the closest language to English is West Frisian, spoken in the northwest of the Netherlands. This is a Germanic language that is close to Dutch. In fact, some say that West Frisian itself is straight up from Old Saxon, which is the language that the Saxons of the Anglo-Saxons spoke. A man who is able to speak Old English went to the West Frisia area of the Netherlands and spoke to an old farmer there who spoke good West Frisian. They were actually able to hold a conversation in English from 1,000 years ago and West Frisian of today. West Frisian of course is a West Germanic language.
However, if you look into the mater a bit more, the language that is closest to English is the endangered North Frisian, with 66% cognates with English in the most frequently used words, a bit more than West Frisian. Nevertheless, 66% cognates in the most frequently used words doesn’t do any good for intelligiblity. I listened to a 10 minute broadcast of an old woman speaking North Frisian and I could not understand one word.
North Frisian, which actually may be up to five separate languages, is also spoken in that same peninsula of far northern Germany that Anglish, Saxon and Jutnish were spoken in. However, it is spoken on the east coast of the peninsula whereas Anglish and Saxon were spoken more to the west. So once again with North Frisian and English we see one more connection with this far northern part of Germany that borders on Denmark. Yet North Frisian is a West Germanic language, not a North Germanic Scandinavian language.
A language called Ingeavonic was spoken long ago in this region, and some put “Anglo-Frisian” in a West Germanic node under Ingeavonic. For a long time there was something called the North Sea Fisherman’s lect that originated in this same part of Germany but over on the west coast by Fleisburg rather than on the east coast by the North Frisian language. It was said that fishermen from all over the North Sea from the nations of Germany, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, Norway and Sweden spoke this lingua franca or trade language. This North Sea Fisherman’s language is said to have looked a lot like Ingaevonic.
I am going to republish this older piece that has been called into question. Supposedly this language is totally made up. However, that is almost certainly not true, although I am looking into it at the moment. A Croatian professor even wrote a 27,500 word dictionary of this language. I am enclosing here 97 different references that discuss this language in the hopes that this puts an end to the Gan-Veyan controversy once and for all.
Robert,Is it true that 1,000 yrs ago a German & a Persian spoke basically the same language?
No, it is not true at all that Old German and Old Persian were the same language 1,000 years ago.
However there are some Croatian dialects such as Archaic Islander Čakavian spoken on the islands off the coast of Croatia that are quite similar to Persian or Iranic. They are actually closer to Kurdish and Zazaki though. They are actually completely separate languages, as the lexical similarity with Croatian is only 4%! There is a theory that the pre-Slavic Croatians may have come originally from Persia, and there may be something to that.
These ancient tongues are the remains of the pre-Slavic languages spoken in this area before the Slavs came. The language that these tongues are closest to is called Liburnian. The Liburnians inhabited that region thousands of years ago. Liburnian is an ancient Indo-European language.
I did a study on one of those old languages, an Archaic Islander Čakavian tongue called Gan-Veyãn. I obtained a short dictionary of Gan-Veyãn and went through half of it from M-Z looking on my guesses as where the roots seemed to have originated. The results were remarkable and are listed in order with the language with the most roots first and the language with fewest roots last.
I will go down the list now and describe these languages.
Indic means all of the Indo European or IE languages related to Hindi.
Persian is well known.
Avestan is best seen as the oldest form of Proto-Persian. This is the language from which all of the Iranic languages derived.
Hittite is an ancient IE tongue formerly spoken in Turkey.
Akkadian is a language isolate formerly spoken in Iraq by the people of that name who had a kingdom there.
Basque is the well known language isolate and pre-IE language spoken in northeastern Spain. Although it formally has no relatives, I would say it is related to NE Caucasian languages like Chechen. In fact the placename Iberia has deep connections to the land of Georgia.
Tocharian is an ancient IE languages formerly spoken by Caucasian people who lived in what is now Xinjiang in far western China where the Uyghurs now live.
Sumerian is an ancient tongue, a language isolate formerly spoken in the Sumerian Kingdom in Iraq.
Lithuanian is interesting because for some reason it is one of the most archaic living IE languages.
Aramaic of course is the language of Jesus spoken in the Levant, Mesopotamia, Iran and Turkey. It is still spoken by Assyrian Christians in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey to this day.
Hurrian is an ancient IE language like Hittite formerly spoken in Turkey.
Etruscan is an ancient language isolate formerly spoken in Italy.
Gothic is the ancient Germanic language of the Visigoths who lived not only in Germany but also in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.
Russian and Ukrainian are well known. This ancient language may have roots close to these two Slavic languages because in a way Russian and Ukrainian are ancient Slavic languages being heavily based on Old Church Slavonic, a liturgical language that originated in northeastern Greece with roots close to Old Slavic or even Proto-Slavic.
Kurdish is the well known Iranic language of the Kurds.
Armenian is a living language, but it is rather ancient and archaic as IE languages go.
Latin is well known and these islands were part of the Roman Empire for a while.
Arabic is well known and quite a few languages along the European coast of the Mediterranean Sea have some Arabic in them.
Mittani is a language isolate formerly spoken around northern Iraq and Iran that nevertheless seems to have some relationship with Indo-Iranian languages.
Apian is an ancient IE language formerly spoken in Italy.
German is well known. How German words got into this language is a head scratcher but Croatia itself is quite close to Germany as a former part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which had German as an official language.
Geez is the ancient language of the Ethiopian and Egyptian Coptic Christians which was thought to be long dead. However a family in Cairo was recently discovered who spoke Geez at home.
- Anonymous. 1988. Verbânske Štatûti 1388 (Glagoljica + Prijevod). Krčki Zbornik 10: 1-173. Povijesno Društvo Otoka Krka.
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Judith Mirville,commenter, weighs in on English spelling reform. I really love this person’s wild prose.
It would be far easier to force Americans into Anglish, that is to say, English as it would have looked liked had William the Conqueror’s invasion of England never taken place. Or better still had The Normans themselves feared more for words of French, Latin and Greeks origin to give ideas of Greek democracy, Roman law and French sensuality to their subjects, than for their own Anglo-Saxon parlance to produce Robin Hoods. And seen in Anglo-Saxon a language having remained closer to their own forebears’ that the French-like one they had been forced to adopt in Normandy proper for political reasons.
I am now surrounded by people who are so intent on seeing Greece stifled with more economic sanctions, and are so resentful against that country for having given the world the idea of democracy (whatever the efforts I deploy to prove that their accusation to that effect is downright false: no other city than ancient classical Athens did more to vindicate the notions of Heaven-willed human inequality and human powerlessness as well as to make the quest of sheer contempt towards the downtrodden the noblest aim in life of all), that they have asked me, as an amateur linguist, to devise Greekless versions of English, French and other Western languages.
The World elites seem dead intent on suppressing the very notion of humanism not only as a form of benevolence towards fellow humans but also in the older Renaissance sense of the word meaning open-mindedness through knowledge of classical languages and cultures.
To that effect they have tried several times to disfigure etymological orthography in many languages, but the Anglo-Saxon egregor could never be convinced to accept what other European languages submitted to under the pretext of making school learning easier. So the thing to do with English is to bring it back to a purely Barbarian one so to speak, where scientific, political and other specialized terms would derive only from Germanic or Scandinavian roots through Nordic and Indic, not Greek-inspired metaphors, with the exception of a few monosyllables easy to seam into the fabric, such as joke, graph, rate…
The only rather proximate language I know of to be nearly devoid of Renaissance-inspired terms compounds is Arabic, safe for a few dozens no more of Greek words such as philosophy, democracy, geography that are half-heartedly accepted as temporary linguistic manpower so to speak, more to be humiliated as pariah words denoting concepts that will remain always alien and to be considered as foreign propaganda concepts than to render real communication service, it is the language now closest to the anti-humanistic ideal fostered by the world elites, a language where the higher level of cultural reference always refers to dogma, scripture, and military strategy at the service of predation, never to history or to former cultures of open-mindedness and research, a language where any notion of historical or political consciousness sounds like pollution by foreign intruders.
Hebrew hasn’t made such a meritorious effort and is half-Western, half-Oriental to the point it is now called an Euromitic language rather than a Semitic one (I rather say an emetic one, for modern Hebrew is downright ugly, vulgar, unwieldy, and unfit for information rendering, it is doomed to become rapidly a modern low-grade Westernized Arabic dialect like Casablanca Moroccan bound to flow into Globish).
The changes I would bring or bring back to English would be the following:
First of all, to make back English into a full-fledged Germanic language the passive form with “to be” should get replaced with “to get” as the most correct form, as is more or less the popular tendency.
German has the marvelous auxiliary verb “werden”, unfortunately the English cognate “worth” (“wirth”, “werth”) is worn out phonetically, but hadn’t it been for the late Latin style awkward French model with be (for it being ambiguous between perfect and present meaning and therefore less used in conversation for clarity’s sake) it would have been the medio-passive form of get, to git, I gat, which should be reestablished as the most regular form (many ghetto people already use git plus participle to form passives and do form it more frequently that active forms).
All Latin words such as allusion should be rebuilt for that instance as onplay, and Greek ones such as misogyny should be clearly understood as for that instance bitch-hunting, but forgotten medieval-sounding words should also be introduced to bring to the new language a more lurid and barbaric aspect as is the case with video games.
Social class distinctions as there are in Japanese should be implemented, by more regular and stringent rules than nowadays in class-conscious Britain four or five levels of status should be defined for each concept.
The ghetto and lower middle class people should be left out more or less with their vulgar parlance provided it be purged from forbidden elements, but the higher classes applying for qualified jobs should be given or imposed the luxury version of the language with a syntax imitated more or less from Icelandic minus the declensions, so as to smack of a perpetual Dungeons and Dragons game.
The highest version of it together with many terms should be forbidden of use by the lower ranks. Women should also be given a different version of the language, as well as different rules for pronunciation and this can be marketed through feminism before it be too late for these girls when they realize they have closed themselves back into gunaikeions smacking of Old Constantinople.
Of course I am speaking like some psychopathic nerd who would have been given the job to redesign English like is done with a computer programming language threatened with obsolescence and also, as a frustrated non-Anglo, with the afterthought of curbing the world-wide imperialistic prevalence of that language through ridiculous and gratuitous ideological impediments, with the most probable practical effect of breaking it for good into one thousand impoverished broken dialects no longer capable of intercommunication and yielding to a more civilized civilization language to come, I just want to give the American Republicans the neuroleptic dosage of obscurantism they need no longer to be able to use Monsanto’s products, I want them to become exactly like Haitian sorcerers in the middle run in the name of Jewish and Aryan racism not for real.
It must be noted as you showed it yourself that High German as has been imposed as Germany’s common language is a very artificial and quite recent and very ideological creation, with among others the objective to get the language rid of as many foreign coinages as possible, as if it were to become the new classical language owing nothing to any foreign one.
This objective has misfired as since the defeat of 1945 German is being flooded with English importations and with Greek and Latin terms again that come through English.
It is time for English itself to embark upon that kind of task, and the German experience that could have been successfully completed had the Nazis won over is the proof that it can work with a sufficiently fanatical regime acting at the behest of corporations dead intent on bringing back obscurantism and cut everybody, especially the new bailiff class, from the literary works of the free-thinking past.
Can you read this?
Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez “c,” “y” and “x”–bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez–tu riplais “ch,” “sh,” and “th” rispektivli.Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.
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.
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.
German: NO. Finn, you go away!!
Finnish: Koira, koiran, koiraa, koiran again, koirassa, koirasta, koiraan, koiralla, koiralta, koiralle, koirana, koiraksi, koiratta, koirineen, koirin.
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.
English: Okay, now you’re just making things up!
Finnish: And now the plural forms…..”
‘Alt Hoch Deutsch’ (Old High German) sounds a bit like the Plattdeutsch my older Mennonite relatives spoke. But they left West Prussia for the Ukraine in 1802.
Plattdeutsch is a Low German language, and yes, it is an East Low German language with roots in far northeastern Germany and Prussia across the border into what is now Poland. It is close to Pomeranian, a dying East Low German language formerly spoken in that area that died out with the ethnic cleansing of the Germans there after WW2.
It is not intelligible with Standard German or really with any other German language, including other Low German languages. Low German is a completely different language from Standard German. German speakers cannot understand it at all.
Dutch speakers can actually understand Low German languages better than Germans can. That is because in some ways they are quite close to Dutch even though one is Old Franconian and the other is Old German. But there are also German “dialects” that are straight up from Franconian also, especially those spoken in northwest Germany near the borders of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. There are dialects (or really languages in that area that are quite difficult to characterize as either:
I am thinking specially of the languages spoken where German, the Netherlands and Belgium all come together around Kerkrade, Aachen and Stolberg.
Ik gihorta dat seggen,
dat sih urhettun ænon muotin
Hiltibrant enti Hadubrant untar heriun tuem.
Sunufatarungo iro saro rihtun,
garutun se iro gudhamun, gurtun sih iro suert ana
helidos, ubar hringa, do sie to dero hiltiu ritun.
Modern German Language
Ich hörte (glaubwürdig) berichten,
dass zwei Krieger, Hildebrand und Hadubrand, (allein)
zwischen ihren beiden Heeren, aufeinanderstießen.
Zwei Leute von gleichem Blut, Vater und Sohn, rückten da ihre Rüstung zurecht,
sie strafften ihre Panzerhemden und gürteten ihre
Schwerter über die Eisenringe, die Männer,
als sie zu diesem Kampf ritten.
Alothochdeutsch was the first form of the |German language and it can be called Old German. It existed from 500-1000 CE. It is probably somewhat analogous to Old English, but I doubt if the two languages would have been intelligible. The passage above is from 900, written about the same time as Beowulf was written.
It is truly amazing how much German has changed. Old German for all intents and purposes is a completely different language. The two languages look nothing alike at all and there is no way that modern Germans would understand a passage spoken in Old German. In that sense they are analogous to the relationship between English and Old English.
The modern German language called Hochdeutsch or High German is based on the language that Martin Luther used in his Bible translation. Luther was from Saxonia and the language he used was an Upper Saxon dialect modified to make it intelligible to as many Germans as possible.
Presently Standard German is a mix of Upper Saxon and Thuringian spoken with a Northern German accent. No one ever spoke this way naturally as part of their dialect from their home region. For hundreds of years, Hochdeutsch was only a written language. Various German writers used variations of it to try to make their written German as intelligible to as many Germans as possible.
Only around 1800 did Hochdeutsch begin to be used as a spoken language. At this time it began to be taught in schools and for a long time, German students learned it as a what amounted to a foreign language, their first language being whatever German dialect was spoken in their region.
In the 20th Century, Hochdeutsch began to be a common first language for many Germans who grew up speaking it either alongside their regional dialect or instead of the dialect. It was also during the past century that Hochdeutsch began t supplant many German dialects. The truth is that many German dialects are not dialects at all but instead they are full blown language in terms of both intelligibility and structure. Ethnologue lists 20 different German dialects as separate languages and the truth is that there are many more than that.
In what countries is the language spoken in the capital different from the language spoken by the majority of people in the rest of the country? As you can see, there is more than one country where this is the case.
Some cases from the past include
Austria-Hungary, where the capital Vienna spoke High German but most of the people spoke Czech, Slovak, Venetian, Slovenian, or Serbo-Croatian.
In Ireland, before English became popular in the early 1800’s, most people around the capital spoke English, while the majority of the population spoke Irish.
I found nine countries, two in Europe, two in Southeast Asia, two in South Asia, one in Oceania, one in the Caribbean, and one in Africa.
Hop to it!
There probably wasn’t really any such thing as “Croatia” back then, but anyway, let us discuss what was happening in the territory we currently refer to as the nation of Croatia.
- What was the official language (Slavic)?
- What were the two other languages that were widely spoken everyone or nearly everyone along with the official one (both Slavic)?
- What was the language most commonly spoken by educated people, especially in cities? For instance, if you went into a bookstore in Zagreb, the books would mostly be in this language (non-Slavic)?
- What was the language of science and the ultra-elites? As an example of how this language was used, what was the official language for the Croatian Parliament? (non-Slavic)?
- What was the official religion?
Five questions, five whole questions, now hard could it be?
Have fun kids!
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 100% accuracy, and everyone makes errors.
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.
Look at the map above. Much of the mostly-Russian speaking area is in rebellion. Lugansk and Donetsk Oblasts are at the far right. Those along with Kharkiv and Zaporozhye Oblasts, also have significant populations that not only speak Russian but are actually ethnically Russian. Lugansk and Donetsk are in open revolt, and in the past week, guerrilla actions have spread to Kharkiv, where sabotage has been going on for some time. Just now guerrilla activities are being reported in Zaporozhye, the furthest to the south and west of the four yellow-brown striped regions. Between Zaporozhye and Crimea, which is mostly in brown is Kherson Oblast, where guerrilla activities have also begun this week.
To the far southwest is Transcarpathia, in red stripes with green on the border. The red stripes are Rusyns, who have gotten sick and tired of this new Ukrainian ethnostate. I also understand that there is a lot of unrest by Hungarians in Transcarpathia (in green). Slovaks in that state (not shown, but presumably next to Slovakia to the northwest of Transcarpathia, are also quite unhappy.
Although the region declared its independence around the same time that Donetsk and Lugansk did, about half of the regions in Transcarpathia are now in open armed rebellion. Checkpoints have been set up all over these rebellious regions and gunmen guard them, only letting people they know come through. Today, Ukrainian troops have been ordered into Transcarpathia to deal with the armed revolt there. What will happen? Will there be another region embroiled in civil war as in the east?
You can see that Odessa is also majority Russian-speaking. This of course is the scene of the Nazi massacre of a large number of unarmed pro-federalist protestors in the Labor Ministry of the capital city. Conceivably, armed actions could also spread to Odessa. There are also Romanians, Moldovans and Bulgarians in this part of the Ukraine. There was a recent video out of the Romanian part of Bukovina (the area in red in the southwest with grey creeping up into the red). They were very unhappy about their sons being drafted to fight in the East. Many were burning their family draft call-up papers.
However, guerrilla activities have not yet spread to Odessa and Bukovina.
To the west of Odessa is a region called Transdniestria, on the far east of Moldova. The Russian majority here has been in armed rebellion since 1991 when they ceded away from Moldova. There is a significant Russian force there, and the region has its own significant militia along with quite a bit of military hardware. There are calls by the same idiots who started this mess for Moldova to go in with its military and reconquer this rebellious area.
Upper Sorbian is a Slavic language spoken in Eastern Germany in Lusatia. Upper Sorbian is in pretty good shape and may have as many as 40,000 speakers, but Lower Sorbian is not in good shape and has only ~8,000 speakers, most of them elderly. I would expect Upper Sorbian to live at least until 2100 since children are being brought up speaking it. However, the outlook for Lower Sorbian seems to be quite poor.
East Germany always supported the Sorbian language, and the Sorbs had their own schools set up for them. However, upon German reunification, most of the Sorb schools were shut down for some dumb reason. This was just wrong.
Stanislaw Tillich is a major German politician with the Christian Democratic Party in Germany and he is also a Sorbian native speaker. It appears that children are still being brought up speaking Upper Sorbian.
Sorbian has a close relationship with both Czech and Polish. Its roots were in a movement of Slavic speakers into Lusatia in the 500’s, so it seems to have been split from the rest of Slavic for possibly 1,500 years. Lower Sorbian at least has undergone heavy German influence. Czechs say that they cannot understand a single word of Sorbian, but Poles say they can understand it quite well. I think the Poles are exaggerating though,and Sorbian-Polish intelligibility must not be complete. In fact, I doubt if even Lower and Upper Sorbian have full intelligibility.
I must say that this language sounds rather odd. To my untrained ears, it sounds something like a mixture of Polish and German. Anyone else have any impressions?
This poem was written in and is being read in a language called Scots, which is not a dialect of English as many people think. Scots split off from English in ~1500, or 500 years ago. This is approximately what two languages sound like when they have been split apart for 500 years. I listened to this, although I can make out some words and even phrases here and there, honestly, I do not have the faintest idea what he is talking about, and I am missing most of this language. I can hear ~25% of it, if that. However, a good friend of mine from England listened to it and she said she could make out ~70%. So there you go. See if you can make heads or tails of this stuff.
Hmm, let’s see now. If you want to find an English speaker, leaving aside the UK and Ireland for now, what are your best bets? It turns out that more people in The Netherlands speak English than in any other European country. Close behind are Sweden and Denmark. After that, it is Austria, Cyprus and Finland. Further behind still are Slovenia, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Greece and Estonia.
Bringing up the rear are Latvia, and then even further behind are Lithuania, France, Poland, Italy and Romania.
The worst places of all to find someone to speak English to are Portugal, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Spain and Hungary.
Of course, your mileage may vary. A friend of mine from Sweden, who speaks English well, was just visiting his brother in Barcelona, Spain. The brother speaks Swedish, Spanish and Catalan now. My friend does not know Spanish or Catalan so he has to try to communicate with people in English, but he told me it was hard because “no one speaks English here.”
It is pretty amazing that Spaniards are some of worst in Europe at speaking English.
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:
križišče – crossroads
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 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
I = Instrumental
Masculine inanimate gender
D L I dvama
D L I dvema
D L I dvoma
Masculine animate gender
D L dvojici
D L dvojci
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:
s – with
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 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:
- Wszczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie i Szczebrzeszyn z tego słynie.
- Wyindywidualizowaliśmy się z rozentuzjazmowanego tłumu.
- 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, dź, dż 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:
Widziałem – I saw (repeatedly in the past, like I saw the sun come up every morning).
Zobaczyłem – I saw (only once; I saw the sun come up yesterday).
Some of these verbs are obviously related to each other:
But others are very different:
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. 95% of verbs have these maddening dual forms, but for 5% of verbs that lack a perfective version, you only have one form. The irregular forms may date from archaic Polish.
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 hat – Widze nowy kapelusz
I see a new student – Widze nowego ucznia
Notice how the now- form changed.
In addition to completely irregular verbs, there are also irregular nouns in Polish:
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:
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)
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)
dwojgiem (collective, instrumental)
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:
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 przyjaciel – friend:
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
Sometimes, this radically changes the word, as in hands:
four ręce, but
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 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.
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.
computer – telda (derived from at telja – to count. Icelandic has a similar term.
helicopter – tyrla (derived from tyril – a spinning tool for making wool or loom.
music – tónleikur
pocket calculator – telduhvølpur (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.
Recrudescence – it means something like there was once this bad thing around, and it went away, and now here it is coming back again, thanks a lot! Or the return of some lousy thing we thought we got rid of once and for all.
I was once having an email war with this insane anti-Cuban Zionist Jew from Florida. I forget what it was all about. He went and read one of my articles and saw that word. He wrote me back and he said he had decided that he liked me now after all because I taught him a new word! One of the rare cases where you brain can transform an enemy into a friend.
Amazing, a whole bunch of English words you’ve never even heard of before. These are adjectives describing certain animals, meaning: like a, similar to, in the way of or relating to [animal name].
Here are the a’s just to get you started:
Animal Adjective agouti dasyproctine (like an agouti) ant formicine/myrmecine (ant-like) anteater myrmecophagine (similar to an anteater) antelope antilopine (as an antelope) armadillo tolypeutine (relating to armadillos) asp aspine (in the way of an asp) ass asinine (like an ass) auk alcidine (about auks)
Most of you have probably only heard of a handful of those words, and you have probably used an even smaller number.
I have only heard of: asinine, acciptrine, taurine, feline, bovine, vaccine, canine, aquiline, elephantine, piscine, hominine, murine, passerine, porcine, serpentine, bufotenine. There are ~246 words there, and I got 16 of them. 7%.
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, iː, o, oː, ɔ, ɔː, u, uː, ø, øː, œ, œː, ɶ, ɶː, y, yː, 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.
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.
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 iː, eː, ɛː, ɑː, oː, uː, ʉ̟ː, yː, 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.
tanken – the tank
tanken – the 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.
A look at Icelandic from the view of how hard it is to learn for an English speaker. Icelandic is often considered to be one of the hardest languages on Earth to learn.
Icelandic is very hard to learn, much harder than Norwegian, German or Swedish. Part of the problem is pronunciation. The grammar is harder than German grammar, and there are almost no Latin-based words in it. The vocabulary is quite archaic. Modern loans are typically translated into Icelandic equivalents rather than borrowed fully into Icelandic.
There are four cases: nominative, accusative, dative and genitive – as in German – and there are many exceptions to the case rules, or “quirky case,” as it is called. In quirky case, case can be marked on verbs, prepositions and and adjectives. The noun morphology system is highly irregular. Articles can be postfixed and inflected and added to the noun. In fact, Icelandic in general is highly irregular, not just the nouns.
Verbs are modified for tense, mood, person and number, as in many other IE languages (this is almost gone from English). There are up to ten tenses, but most of these are formed with auxiliaries as in English. Icelandic also modifies verbs for voice – active, passive and medial. Furthermore, there are four different kinds of verbs – strong, weak, reduplicating and irregular, with several conjugation categories in each division. Many verbs just have to be memorized.
Adjectives decline in an astounding 130 different ways, but many of these forms are the same.
The language is generally SVO, but since there is so much case-marknig, in poetry all possibilities – SVO, SOV, VSO, VOS, OSV and OVS – are allowed. There is also something odd called “long distance reflexives,” which I do not understand.
In addition, Icelandic has the typical Scandinavian problem of a nutty orthography.
Icelandic verbs are very regular but the sounds change so much, especially the vowels, that the whole situation gets confusing pretty fast. In addition, there are three different verbal paradigms depending on the ending of the verb:
Icelandic verbs are commonly cited as some of the hardest verb systems around, at least in Europe. Even Icelandic people say their own verbs are difficult.
Icelandic has a voiceless lateral l – l̥. This can be a hard sound to make for many learners, especially in the middle of a word. In addition, there are two alveolar trills (the rolled r sound in Spanish), and one of them is voiced while the other is voiceless. Learners say they have problems with both of these sounds. In addition to voiceless l‘s and r‘s, Icelandic also has four voiceless nasals – n̥, m̥, ɲ̊, and ŋ̊ – the n, m, ny (as in Spanish nina), and ng sounds.
There are also contrasts between aspirated and nonaspirated stops including the odd palatal stops cʰ and c. In addition, there is a strange voiceless palatal fricative ç (similar to the h in English huge). In addition, Icelandic has a hard to pronounce four consonant cluster strj- that occurs at the beginning of a word.
Icelandic does have the advantage of being one of the few major languages with no significant dialects, so this is a plus. Icelandic has been separated from the rest of Scandinavian for 1,100 years. Icelandic is spoken over a significant region, much of which has inhabited places separated by large expanses of uninhabitable land such as impassable glaciers, volcanoes, lava flows, geysers and almost no food. How Icelandic managed to not develop dialects in this situation is mysterious.
Icelandic has traditionally been considered to be one of the hardest languages on Earth to learn.
Icelandic gets a 5 rating, hardest of all to learn.
A look at Swedish from the POV of how hard it is for an English speaker to learn it. Compared to other languages, Swedish is pretty easy to learn.
Swedish has the disadvantage of having hundreds of irregular verbs. Swedish also has some difficult phonemes, especially vowels, since Swedish has nine vowels, not including diphthongs. Pronunciation of the ö and å (and sometimes ä, which has a different sound than å) can be difficult. Swedish also has pitch accent. Pronunciation is probably the hardest part of Swedish.
Words can take either an -en or an –ett ending, and there don’t seem to be any rules about which one to use. The same word can have a number of different meanings.
Swedish, like German, has gender, but Swedish gender is quite predictable by looking at the word, unlike German, where deciding which of the three genders to use seems like a spin of the Roulette wheel.
Word order is comparatively free in that one can write a single sentence multiple ways while changing the meaning somewhat. So I didn’t know that can be written the following ways:
det visste jag inte
det visste inte jag
jag visste inte det
jag visste det inte
inte visste jag det
The different ways of writing that sentence depend on context. In particular, the meaning varies in terms of topic and focus.
There is a 3-way contrast in deixis:
Swedish also has the same problematic phrasal verbs that English does:
att slå - beat/hit slå av turn off slå fast settle/establish slå igen close/shut slå igenom become known/be a success slå in wrap in, come true slå ner beat down slå på turn on slå runt overturn slå till hit/strike/slap, strike a deal slå upp open (a book), look s.t. up
Swedish orthography is difficult is learning how to write it, since the spelling seems illogical, like in English. The sj sound in particular can be spelled many different ways. However, Swedish spelling is probably easier than English since Swedish lacks a phonemic schwa, and schwa is the source of many of the problems in English. Where allophonic schwa does appear, it seems to be predictable.
One nice thing about Swedish grammar is that it is similar to English grammar in many ways.
Swedish can be compared to a tube in terms of ease of learning. The basics are harder to learn than in English, but instead of getting more difficult as one progresses as in English, the difficulty of Swedish stays more or less the same from basics to the most complicated. But learning to speak Swedish is easy enough compared to other languages.
Swedish gets a 2.5 rating, easy to average difficulty.