Category Archives: Indo-European

A Look at the Polish Language

From here.

A look at Polish to see how difficult it is for an English speaker to learn. Polish is probably the hardest I-E European language of all. Its only competition might be Albanian. Among non-IE European languages, we are looking at Basque, Finnish, and Hungarian as competition. The Poles are quite proud of their langauge and even take pride in its difficulty. It is certainly an amazing language.

Polish is similar to Czech and Slovak in having words that seem to have no vowels, but in Polish at least there are invisible vowels. That’s not so obviously the case with Czech. Nevertheless, try these sentences:

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

I and y, s and z, je and ě alternate at the ends of some words, but the rules governing when to do this, if they exist, don’t seem sensible. The letter ť is very hard to pronounce. There are nasal vowels as in Portuguese. The ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, sz, cz, dz, , sounds are hard for foreigners to make. There are sounds that it is even hard for native speakers to make as they require a lot tongue movements. A word such as szczescie is hard to Polish L2 speakers to pronounce. Polish written to spoken pronunciation makes little sense, as in English – 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 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.

Further, 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. There are seven different genders: male, feminine, neuter, animate and inanimate in the singular and animate and inanimate 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 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. There are four different participles, 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:

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
you (f.)  kupiłaś             kupowałaś
you (m.)  kupiłeś             kupowałeś
he        kupił               kupował
she       kupiła              kupowała
it        kupiło              kupowało

Plural
we (f.)   kupiłyśmy           kupowałyśmy
we (m.)   kupiliśmy           kupowaliśmy
you (f.)  kupiłyście          kupowałyście 
you (m.)  kupiliście          kupowaliście
they (f.) kupiły              kupowały
they (m.) kupili              kupowali

The verb above forms an incredible 28 different forms in the perfect and imperfect past tense alone.

The existence of the perfective and imperfective verbs themselves is the least of the problem. The problem is that each verb – perfective or imperfective – is in effect a separate verb altogether, instead of just being conjugated differently.

The verb to see has two completely different verbs in Polish:

widziec
zobaczyc

WidziałemI saw (repeatedly in the past, like I saw the sun come up every morning).
ZobaczyłemI saw (only once; I saw the sun come up yesterday).

Some of these verbs are obviously related to each other:

robić/zrobić
czytać
/przeczytać
zachowywać
/zachować
jeść
/zjeść

But others are very different:

mówić/powiedzieć
widzieć
/zobaczyć
kłaść
/położyć

This is not a tense difference – the very verbs themselves are different! So for every verb in the language, you effectively have to learn two different verbs. 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. 95% of verbs have these maddening dual forms, but for 5% of verbs that lack a perfective version, you only have one form.

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         grac       to play
Present            gram       I play 
Past               gralem     I played
Conditional        gralbym    I would play
Future             będę grać  I will play
Continuous future  będę grał  I will be playing
Perfective future  bogram     I will have played*
Perf. conditional  pogralbym  I would have played

*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.

Whereas in English we use one word for go no matter what mode of transportation we are using to get from one place to another, in Polish, you use different verbs if you are going by foot, by car, by plane, by boat or by other means of transportation.

In addition, there is an animate-inanimate distinction in gender. Look at the following nouns:

hat      kapelusz
computer komputer
dog      pies
student  uczen

All are masculine gender, but computer and hat are inanimate, and student and dog are animate, so they inflect differently.

I see a new hatWidze nowy kapelusz
I see a new student
Widze nowego ucznia

Notice how the now- form changed.

In addition to completely irregular verbs, there are also irregular nouns in Polish:

człowiek->ludzie

Let us look at pronouns. English has one word for the genitive case of the 1st person singular – my. In Polish, depending on the context, you can have the following 11 forms, and actually there are even more than 11:

mój
moje
moja
moją
mojego
mojemu
mojej
moim
moi
moich
moimi

Numerals can be complex. English has one word for the number 2 – two. Polish has 21 words for two (however, only 5-6 of them are in common use):

dwa (nominative non-masculine personal male and neuter and non-masculine personal accusative)
dwaj (masculine personal nominative)
dwie (nominative and accusative female)
dwóch (genitive, locative and masculine personal accusative)
dwom (dative)
dwóm (dative)
dwu (alternative version sometimes used for instrumental, genitive, locative and dative)
dwoma (masculine instrumental)
dwiema (female instrumental)
dwoje (collective, nominative + accusative)
dwojga (collective, genitive)
dwojgu (collective, dative + locative)
dwójka (noun, nominative)
dwójkę (noun, accusative)
dwójki (noun, genitive)
dwójce (noun, dative and locative)
dwójką (noun, instrumental)
dwójko (vocative)
dwojgiem (collective, instrumental)
dwójkach
dwójek
dwója
dwójkami

Polish also has the paucal form like Serbo-Croatian. It is the remains of the old dual. The paucal applies to impersonal masculine, feminine and neuter nouns but not to personal masculine nouns.

Personal Masculine

one boy    jeden chłopiec
two boys   dwóch chłopców
three boys trzech chłopców
four boys  czterech chłopców
five boys  pięciu chłopców
six boys   sześciu chłopców
seven boys siedmiu chłopców
eight boys ośmiu chłopców

Impersonal Masculine

one dog    jeden pies
two dogs   dwa psy
three dogs trzy psy
four dogs  cztery psy
five dogs  pięć psów
six dogs   sześć psów
seven dogs siedem psów
eight dogs osiem psów

In the above, two, three and four dogs is in the paucal (psy), while two, three or four men is not and is instead in the plural (chłopców)

Polish, like Hungarian and Finnish, can also have very long words. For instance:

pięćsetdwadzieściajedenmiliardówdwieścieczterdzieścisiedemmiloionów-trzystaosiemdzisiątpięćtysięcyczterystadziewięćdziesięciopięcioletni

is a word in Polish (There is no dash in the word – I was just dividing the line).

A single noun can change in many ways and take many different forms. Compare przyjacielfriend

                           Singular       Plural
who is my friend           przyjaciel    przyjaciele
who is not my friend       przyjaciela    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!              Przyajcielu!   Przyjaciele!

There are 12 different forms of the noun friend above.

Plurals change based on number. In English, the plural of telephone is telephones, whether you have two or 1,000 of them. In Polish, you use different words depending on how many telephones you have:

two, three or four telefony, but
five telefonów.

Sometimes, this radically changes the word, as in hands:

four ręce, but
five rąk.

There are also irregular diminutives such as

psiaczek -> 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 different 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 or 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. 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 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.

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Filed under Applied, Balto-Slavic, Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Polish, Slavic

A Look at the Albanian Language

From here.

A look at the Albanian language from the viewpoint of how hard it is to learn for an English speaker. Albanian is an ancient Indo-European language and it is said to be very hard to learn. Albanian may be up there with Polish as the hardest European language.

Albanian is another obscure branch of Indo-European. Albanian nouns have two genders (masculine and feminine), five cases including the ablative, lost in all other IE. Both definite and indefinite articles are widely used, a plus for English speakers. Most inflections were lost, and whatever is left doesn’t even look very IE. The verbal system is complex, having eight tenses including two aorists and two futures, and several moods, including indicative, imperative, subjunctive, conjunctive, optative and admirative. The last three are odd cases for IE. The optative only exists in IE in Ancient Greek, Sanskrit and Manx. Active and passive voices are used.

Similarly to Gaelic, Albanian is even harder to learn than either German or Russian. Albanian may be even harder to learn than Polish.

Albanian is rated 5, hardest of all.

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A Look at the Armenian Language

From here.

A look at the Armenian language focusing on how hard it is to learn for an English speaker.

An obscure branch of Indo-European, Armenian, is very hard to learn. Armenian is a difficult language in terms of grammar and phonetics, not to mention the very odd alphabet. The orthography is very regular, however there are some irregularities. For instance:

գրել , written grel but spoken gərel (schwa removed in orthography)
խոսել, written xosel but spoken xosal  (a changed to e in orthography)

However, the alphabet itself presents many problems. Print and cursive can be very different, and upper case and lower case can also be quite different. Here are some pairs of letters in upper and lower case:

Ա ա
Յ յ
Փ փ

All in all, this means you have to memorize as many as four different shapes for each letter. However, the grammar is very regular.

In addition, many letters very closely resemble other letters, which makes it very easy to get them mixed up:

գ and զ
ե
and է
դ
and ղ
ո
and ռ

There are voiced consonants and an alternation between aspirated and unaspirated unvoiced consonants, so some mix up the forms for b, p and , for instance.

There are many things about the grammar that seem odd compared to other IE languages. Part of the problem is that due to its location in the Caucasus, Armenian has absorbed influences from some of the wild nearly Caucasian languages. For instance, an extinct NE Caucasian Nakh language called Tsov is thought to have contributed to the Hurro-Ururtian substratum in Armenian. So in a sense when you learn Armenian, you are also learning a bit of Chechen at the same time.

People who have learned both Arabic and Armenian felt that Armenian was much easier, so Armenian seems to be much easier than Arabic.

Armenian is rated 4, very hard to learn.

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Filed under Applied, Armenian, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Indo-Irano-Armenian, Indo-Irano-Armeno-Hellenic, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics

A Look at the Faroese Language

From here.

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

North Germanic
West Scandinavian

Faroese is said to be even harder to learn than Icelandic, with some very strange vowels not found in other North Germanic languages.

Faroese has strong, weak and irregular verbs. It also has a strange supine tense.

The Faroese orthography is as irrational as Icelandic’s. There are so many rules to learn to be able to write Faroese properly. Faroese, like Icelandic, prefers to coin new words rather than borrow words wholesale into its language. Therefore the English speaker will not see a lot of obvious borrowings to help them out. Some argue against this nativization process, but maybe it is better than being buried in English loans like German and Dutch are at the moment.

computertelda (derived from at telja – to count. Icelandic has a similar term.
helicoptertyrla (derived from tyril – a spinning tool for making wool or loom.
musictónleikur
pocket 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.

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Cool Word of the Day

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.

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Animal Adjectives

Here.

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%.

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A Look at the Danish Language

Danish is a harder language to learn than one might think. It’s not that hard to read or even write, but it’s quite hard to speak. However, like English, Danish has a non-phonetic orthography, so this can be problematic. It has gone a long time without a spelling reform, so there are many silent letters and sounds, both vowels and consonants, that make no sense.

In addition, there are d words where the d is silent and other d words where it is pronounced, and though the rules are straightforward, it’s often hard for foreigners to get the hang of this. The d in hund is silent, for instance. In addition, the b, d,  and g sounds are somehow voiceless in many environments, which must be a hard sound to make. There are also the strange labiodental glide and alveopalatal fricative sounds. In certain environments, d, g, v, and r turn into vowels.

There are three strange vowels that are not in English, represented by the letters æ, ø and å. They are all present in other Scandinavian languages - æ is present in Icelandic and Norwegian, ø is part of Norwegian, and å is part of Norwegian and Swedish, but English speakers will have problems with them. Danish language learners often report having a hard time pronouncing Danish vowels or even telling one apart from the other.

One advantage of all of the Scandinavian languages is that their basic vocabulary (the vocabulary needed to converse at a basic level and be understood) is fairly limited. In other words, without learning a huge number of words, it is possible to have a basic conversation in these languages. This is in contrast to Chinese, where you have to learn a lot of vocabulary just to converse at a basic level.

As with Maltese and Gaelic, there is little correlation between how a Danish word is written and how it is pronounced.

Pronunciation of Danish is difficult. Speech is very fast and comes out in a continuous stream that elides entire words. Vowels in the middle and at the end of words are seldom expressed. There are nine vowel characters, and each one can be pronounced in five or six different ways. There is nearly a full diphthong set, and somehow pharyngealization as accent is used as an accent. Danish has a huge set of vowels, one of the largest sets on Earth. The sheer number of vowels is one reason that Danish is so hard to pronounce. Danish has 32 vowels, 15 short, 13 long and four unstressed: ɑ, ɑː, a, æ, æː, ɛ, ɛː, e, e̝ː, i, , o, , ɔ, ɔː, u, , ø, øː, œ, œː, ɶ, ɶː, y, , ʌ, ɒ, ɒː, ə, ɐ, ɪ, and ʊ.

There is also a strange phonetic element called a stød, which is a very short pause slightly before the vowel(s) in a word. This element is very hard for foreigners to get right.

Just about any word has at least four meanings, and can serve as noun, verb, adjective or adverb. Danish has two genders (feminine and masculine have merged into neuter), and whether a noun is common or neuter is almost impossible to predict and simply must be memorized.

From here.

This is a look at the Danish language from the viewpoint of how hard it is for an English speaker trying to learn the language.

Suggesting that Danish may be harder to learn than Swedish or Norwegian, it’s said that Danish children speak later than Swedish or Norwegian children. One study comparing Danish children to Croatian tots found that the Croat children had learned over twice as many words by 15 months as the Danes. According to the study:

The University of Southern Denmark study shows that at 15 months, the average Danish toddler has mastered just 80 words, whereas a Croatian tot of the same age has a vocabulary of up to 200 terms.

[...] According to the study, the primary reason Danish children lag behind in language comprehension is because single words are difficult to extract from Danish’s slurring together of words in sentences. Danish is also one of the languages with the most vowel sounds, which leads to a ‘mushier’ pronunciation of words in everyday conversation.

Danish gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.

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A Look at the Norwegian Language

From here.

This is a look at the Norwegian language from the POV of an English speaker trying to learn it. The truth is that Norwegian is probably one of the easiest languages for an English speaker to learn.

Norwegian is fairly easy to learn, and Norwegian is sometimes touted as the easiest language on Earth to learn for an English speaker.

This is confusing because Danish is described below as a more difficult language to learn, and critics say that Danish and Norwegian are the same, so they should have equal difficulty. But only one Norwegian writing system is almost the same as Danish the Danish writing system. Danish pronunciation is quite a bit different from Norwegian, and this is where the problems come in.

Nevertheless, Norwegian dialects can be a problem. Foreigners get off the plane having learned a bit of Norwegian and are immediately struck by the strangeness of the multiplicity of dialects, which for the most part are easy for Norwegians to understand, but can be hard for foreigners.

There is also the problematic en and et alternation, as discussed with Danish. Norwegian has an irrational orthographic system, like Swedish, with silent letters and many insensible sounds, both consonants and vowels. It has gone a long time without a spelling reform. It has the additional orthographic issues of two different writing systems and a multitude of dialects. Norwegian, like Danish and Swedish, has a huge vowel inventory, one of the larger ones on Earth. It can be confusing and difficult to make all of those odd vowel sounds: 18 contrasting simple vowels, nine long and nine short , , ɛː, ɑː, , , ʉ̟ː, , øː, ɪ, ɛ, a, ɔ, ʊ, ɵ, ʏ and œ.

Norwegian has very little inflection in its words, but the syntax is very difficult. Norwegian also has “tonemes” which distinguish between homophones.

tankenthe tank
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.

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Filed under Applied, Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Germanic, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Norwegian

A Look at the Italian Language

From here.

A look at the Italian language from the POV of an English speaker trying to learn it. Compared to other Romance languages, Italian is about average in difficulty.

Italian is said to be easy to learn, especially if you speak a Romance language or English, but learning to order a pizza and really mastering it are two different things. Foreigners usually do not learn Italian at anywhere near a native level.

For instance, Italian has three types of tenses, simple, compound, and indefinite. There are also various moods that combine to take tense forms – four subjunctive moods, two conditional moods, two gerund moods, two infinite moods, two participle moods and one imperative mood.

There are eight tenses in the indicative mood – recent past, remote pluperfect, recent pluperfect, preterite (remote past), imperfect, present, future, future perfect. There are four tenses in the subjunctive mood – present, imperfect, preterite and pluperfect. There are two tenses in the conditional mood – present and preterite.

There is only one tense in the imperative mood – present. Gerund, participle and infinite moods all take only present and perfect tenses. Altogether, using these mood-tense combinations, any Italian verb can decline in up to 21 different ways.

Italian has many irregular verbs. There are 600 irregular verbs with all sorts of different irregularities. Nevertheless, it is a Romance language, and Romance has gotten rid of most of its irregularity. The Slavic languages are much more irregular than Romance.

Counterintuitively, some Italian words are masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural. There are many different ways to say the:

Masculine:

il
i
lo
gli
l’

Feminine:

la
le
l’

Few Italians even write Italian 100% correctly. A problem with Italian is that meaning is inferred via intonation. If you mess up the intonation of your utterance, you’re screwed and will not be understood. However, there is no case in Italian, as in all of Romance with the exception of Romanian.

Italian is still easier to learn than French, for evidence see the research that shows Italian children learning to write Italian properly by age six, 6-7 years ahead of French children. This is because Italian orthography is quite sensible and coherent, with good sound-symbol correspondence. Nevertheless, the orthography is not as transparent as Spanish’s.

Italian has phrasal verbs as in English, but the English ones are a lot more difficult. The Italian ones are usually a lot more clear given the verb and preposition involved, whereas with English if you have the verb and the preposition, the phrasal verb does not logically follow from their separate meanings. For instance:

andare fuorito go + out  = get out
andare giù
- to go + down = get down

However, in a similar sense, Italian changes the meaning of verbs via addition of a verbal prefix:

scrivere
ascrivere
descrivere
prescrivere

mettere
smettere
permettere
sottomettere

porre
proporre

portare
supportare

In these cases, you create completely new verbs via the addition of the verbal prefix to the base. Without the prefix, it is a completely different verb. Italian is somewhat harder to learn than Spanish or Portuguese but not dramatically so. Italian has more irregularities than those two and has different ways of forming plurals, including two different ways of forming plurals that can mean different things depending on the context. This is a leftover from the peculiarities of the Latin neutral gender.

Italian pronunciation is a straightforward, but the ce and ci sounds can be problematic.

Italian gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.

Often thought to be an Italian dialect, Neapolitan is actually a full language all of its own. Neapolitan is said to be easier than Standard Italian. Unlike Italian, Neapolitan conjugation and the vocative are both quite simple and any irregularities that exist seem to follow definite patters.

Neapolitan gets a 2.5 rating, fairly easy.

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Filed under Applied, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italian, Italic, Italo-Celtic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Romance

A Look at the Icelandic Language

From here.

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:

-er
-ir
-re

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. 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 – , , 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 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.

 

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