Category Archives: Language Learning

Primitive People Are Smarter Than You Think

We have a very primitive but wise group of Asians living amongst us around here called Hmong. This is a Chinese minority group that has moved down into Laos in the last 300 years. They did not even have a written language until the 1950’s and they have always lived quite a primitive life in the jungles.

Nevertheless, they are quite wise. I read an ethnography on them one time. It said that the Hmong believe that women who get pregnant before 19-20 are more likely to have problems in childbirth. The people who figured this out had no knowledge of modern medicine. But we now know that females continue to develop until age ~18-19. Pregnancies before this age are more problematic because the female’s hips are not wide enough to carry a baby yet. The final widening of the hips sufficient to carry a baby does not occur until age ~19.

You will notice this if you see 16-18 year old girls with killer curves and skinny bodies. They look incredibly hot but their bodies are not natural. It’s not normal to be skinny and curvy. You want curves, you got a bigger woman. You want thin, you get a stick. These girls look this way because the body in a formal sense is fully developed by age 16 in the sense of sex drive, full breast and pubic hair development, menarche and the full curvy body shape with narrow stomach, wider hips and a projecting butt is present by age 16.

Except for one thing. The hips have not yet widened to full adult proportions. So the 16-18 year old girl look is not natural or normal. It is a phase of incomplete development and makes little sense biologically. Since it is not biologically correct, there are increased pregnancy issues at this age range.

When I learned that the Hmong have a traditional belief that females should not get pregnant until 19-20, I was stunned. These humans had learned this via trial and error over the centuries. They didn’t need modern medicine to tell them the facts. They figured them out on their own.

Similarly, the Hmong have a traditional belief that one cannot learn a new language after age 40. This has been a problem in my area because non-English speaking Hmong in this age group simply refuse to enroll in English classes and so never learn to speak English much at all. The men often pick up a bit of English anyway because they are often working, but the women tend to stay at home, so older Hmong women are often Hmong monolinguals.

I told my mother of this Hmong belief and she said, “Aha! See? They figured that out on their own. And they are probably right. By age 40, it will be awfully hard to pick up a new language.” And studies in formal linguistics are showing this to be true.

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Filed under Anthropology, Applied, Asians, Biology, Cultural, Girls, Health, Hmong, Hmong, Hmong-Mien, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Medicine, Race/Ethnicity, SE Asians

Sanskrit: A Language of Perfection

I disagree on one thing though. I believe that Sanskrit was learned as a first language for a long time in India. I can’t prove it, but this is what I believe.

In fact there is a village in India to this very day where Sanskrit is spoken as a first language. The entire village consists of Sanskrit native speakers. What’s odd is that it seems to be a low caste village in a rural area. The idea that Sanskrit is some super-language that is too complex to be learned by humans is negated by the fact that these impoverished, possibly malnourished (note effects on brain development) 82 IQ low caste rural learn Sanskrit perfectly well as a first language.

The truth is that there is no natural human language that is too wild, nutty, or complex to be learned by children. If a language was developed naturally by humans,  then it can be learned by human children. Any human children. Anywhere. Period. The child’s brain is like a sponge up until age 7-8 and any human language can be picked up quite effortlessly during this age range. There is indeed a Critical Period for language learning that begins to close at age 8 and continues to close until mid-adolescence when it is closed for good. However, I still believe that you will learn a language better if you start learning it at age 15 than at age 40.

Judith on Sanskrit, magic and the quest for the perfect language.

Judith Mirville: I learned Sanskrit (mostly in the intention to demystify the present-day New Age system of magic that claims of ancient Indian lore and just cannot.

For instance chakras as we claim to know them were just unknown to classical expounders of yoga, when you find the word used only once by Patanjali it only means the body’s axis of rotational momentum as both dancers and judokas learn to know to achieve perfect balance, it has nothing to do with any invisible organ made of subtle matter) : it is not so difficult if you realize first it was never meant to be spoken as a natural language, but learned as a second language as a kind of Esperanto that actually worked.

It is an artificial, contrived language that cannot have anything to do with divinity (actually the word deva can mean any spirit like the Greek daimon), though some part of it can be used for magic, which is something very different (and even as a language for magic, classical Arabic or Greek is superior).

It is not true it is too complicated for humans, it is complicated to use it because human bureaucrats (not divine beings) built it like a perfect computer programming language without allowing any divine intervention : it is perfect for the expression of all forms of political correctness first and foremost.

If you are a good computer programmer mastering several coding languages you can pick up Sanskrit much faster, because its rules are formulated in the same way as in a computer language manual (but that doesn’t fetch into very high mathematics, more into mere accounting, hence my analogy with computer languages). Unfortunately there is no divine imprint on Sanskrit, due to its utter lack of simplicity and also to its lack of cleanliness of design.

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Filed under Applied, Asia, India, Indic, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Irano-Armenian, Indo-Irano-Armeno-Hellenic, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Regional, Sanskrit, South Asia

Simplification of Language with Increasing Civilization: A Result of Contact or Civilization Itself

Nice little comment here on an old post, Primitive People Have Primitive Languages and Other Nonsense? 

I would like to dedicate this post to my moronic field of study itself, Linguistics, which believes in many a silly thing as consensus that have never been proved and are either untrue or probably untrue.

One of the idiocies of my field is this belief that in some way or another, most human languages are pretty much the same. They believe that no language is inherently better or worse than any other language, which itself is quite a dubious proposition right there.

They also believe, incredibly, that no language is more complex or simple than any other language. Idiocy!

Another core belief is that each language is perfectly adapted for its speakers. This leads to their rejecting claims that some languages are unsuitable for the modern world due to lack of modern vocabulary. This common belief of many minority languages is obviously true. Drop a Papuan in Manhattan, and see what good his Torricelli tongue does him. He won’t have words for most of the things around him. He won’t even have verbs for most of the actions he sees around him. His language is nearly useless in this environment.

My field also despises notions that some languages are better suited to poetry, literature or say philosophy than others or that some languages are more or less concise or exact than others or that certain concepts or ways of thinking are better expressed in one language as opposed to another. However, this is a common belief among polyglots, and I would not be surprised if it was true.

The question we are dealing with below is based on the notion that many primitive languages are exceeding complex and the common sense observation that as languages acquire more speakers and civilization increases, one tends to see a simplification of language.

My field out and out rejects both statements.

They will tell you that primitive languages are no more complex than more civilized tongues and that there is no truth to the statement that languages simplify with greater numbers of speakers and increased civilization. However, I have shot these two rejected notions to many non-linguists, and they all felt that these statements had truth to them. Once again, my field violates common sense in the name of the abstract and abstruse “we can’t prove anything about anything” scientific nihilism so common in the intellectually degraded social sciences.

Indeed, some of the most wildly complex languages of all can be found among rather primitive peoples such as Aborigines, Papuans, Amerindians and even Africans. Most language isolates like Ket, Burashaski and Basque are pretty wild. The languages of the Caucasus are insanely complex, and that region doesn’t exactly look like Manhattan. Siberian languages are often maddeningly complex.

Even in China, in the remoter parts of China, language becomes highly differentiated and probably more complex. I know an American who was able to learn Cantonese and Mandarin who told me that at age 35, for an American to learn Hokkien was virtually impossible. He tried various schemes, but they all failed. He finally started to get a hold of the language with a strict eight hour a day study schedule. Anything less resulted in failure. Hokkien speakers that he spoke too said you needed to grow up speaking Hokkien to be able to speak the language well at all. By the way, this is another common sense notion that linguists reject. They say there are no languages so difficult that it is very hard to pick them up unless you grew up with them.

The implication here is that Min Nan is even more complex than the difficult Mandarin or even the forbidding Cantonese, which even many Mandarin speakers give up trying to learn because it is too hard.

Min Nan comes out Fujian Province, a land of forbiddingly high mountains where language differentiation is very high, and there is often difficult intelligibility even from village to village. In one area, fifteen years ago an American researcher decided to walk to a nearby village. It took him six very difficult hours over steep mountains. He could have taken the bus, but that was a four-day trip! A number of these areas had no vehicle roads until recently and others were crossed by vast rivers that had no bridges across them. Transportation was via foot. Obviously civilization in these parts of China is at a more primitive level, and it’s hard to develop Hong Kong-style cities in places with such isolating and rugged terrain.

It’s more like, “Oh, those people on the other side of the ridge? We never go there, but we heard that their language is a lot different from ours. It’s too hard to go over that range so we never go to that area.”

In the post, I theorized that as civilization increased, time becomes money, and there is a need to get one’s point across quickly, whereas more primitive peoples often spend no more than 3-4 hours a day working and the rest sitting around, playing  and relaxing. A former Linguistics professor told me that one theory is that primitive people, being highly intelligent humans (all humans are highly intelligent by default), are bored by their primitive lives, so they enjoy their wildly complex languages and like to relax, hang out and play language games with them to test each other on how well they know the structures. They also like to play tricky and maybe humorous language games with their complicated languages. In other words, these languages are a source of intellectual stimulation and entertainment in an intellectually impoverished area.

Of course, my field rejects this theory as laughably ridiculous, but no one has disproven it yet, and I doubt if the hypothesis has even been tested, hence it is an open question. My field even tends to reject the notion of open questions, preferring instead to say that anything not proven (or even tested for that matter) is demonstrably false. That’s completely anti-scientific, but that’s the trend nowadays across the board as scientistic thinking replaces scientific thinking.

Of course this is in line with the terrible conservative or reactionary trend in science where Science is promoted to a fundamentalist religion and scientists decide that various things are simply proven true or proven not true and attempts to change the consensus paradigm are regarded derisively or with out and out fury and rage and such attempts are rejected via endless moving of goalposts with the goal of making it never possible to prove the hypothesis. If you want to see an example of this in Linguistics, look at the debate around  Altaic. They have set it up so that no matter how much existing evidence we are able to gather for the theory, we will probably never be able to prove it as barriers to proof have been set up to make the question nearly unprovable.

It’s rather senseless to set up Great Wall of China-like barriers to proof in science because at some point,  you are hardly proving anything new, apparently because you don’t want to.

Fringe science is one of the most hated branches of science and many scientists refer to it as pseudoscience. Practitioners of fringe science have a very difficult time as the Scientific Establishment often persecutes them, for instance trying to get them fired from professorships. Yet this Establishment is historically illiterate because many of the most stunning findings in history were made by widely ridiculed fringe scientists.

The commenter below rejects my theory that increased civilization itself results in language simplification, as it gets more important to get your point across as quickly  as possible with increasing complexity and development of society. Instead he says civilization leads to increased contact between speakers of different dialects or language, and in such cases,  language must be simplified, often dramatically, in order for any decent communication to occur. Hence increased contact, not civilization in and of itself, is the driver of simplification.

I like this theory, and I think he may be onto something.

To me the simplification of languages of more ‘civilized’ people is mostly a product of language contact rather than of civilization itself. If the need arises to communicate with foreign people all of the time, for example in trade, then the language must become more simple in order to be able to be understood by more people.

Also population size matters a lot. It has been found that the greater the number of speakers, the greater the rate of language change. For example Polynesian languages, although having been isolated centuries or even millennia ago, still have only minor differences from one another.

In the case of many speakers, not all will be able to learn all the rules of a language, so they will tend to use the most common ones. And if the language is split in many dialects, then speakers of each dialect must find a compromise in order to communicate, which might come out as simple. If we add sociolects, specific registers for some occasions, sacred registers, slang etc, something that will arise in a big and stratified civilization, then the linguistic barriers people will need to overcome become greater. So it is just normal that after some centuries, this system to simplify.

We don’t need to look farther than Europe. Most languages of the western half being spoken in countries with strong trade links to one another and with much of the world later in history are quite analytic, but the languages of the more isolated eastern part are still like the older Indo-European languages. Basques, living in a small isolated pocket in the Iberian Peninsula, have kept a very complex language. Icelanders, also due to isolation, have kept a quite conservative Germanic language, whereas most modern Germanic languages are ridiculously simplified. No one can argue in his sane mind that Icelanders are primitives.

On the other hand, Romanian, being spoken in the more isolated Balkans, has retained more of the complex morphology of Latin compared to West Romance languages. And of course advance of civilization won’t automatically simplify the language, as Turkish and Russian, both quite complicated languages compared to the average European tongue, don’t seem to give up their complexity nowadays.

On the other hand, indigenous people were living in a much more isolated setting compared to the modern world, the number of speakers was comparatively low, and there was no need to change. Also, neighboring tribes were often hostile to one another, so each tribal group sought to make itself look special. That is the reason why places with much inter-tribal warfare like New Guinea have so many languages which are so different from one another. When these languages need to communicate, we get ridiculously simple contact languages like Hiri Motu.
So language simplification is more a result of language contact rather than civilization itself.

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Filed under Aborigines, Altaic, Amerindians, Anthropology, Applied, Asia, Basque, Cantonese, Caucasus, China, Chinese language, Cultural, Dialectology, Europe, Germanic, Indo-European, Isolates, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Mandarin, Min Nan, Near East, Papuans, Race/Ethnicity, Regional, Russian, Science, Siberian, Sinitic, Sino-Tibetan, Sociolinguistics, Turkic, Turkish

A Look at the Xhosa, Ndebele and Zulu languages

Method and Conclusion. See here.

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

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

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

This post will look at the Xhosa, Ndebele and Zulu languages in terms of how difficult they would be for an English speaker to learn them.

Benue-Congo
Bantoid
Southern
Narrow Bantu
Central
S
Nguni

Xhosa, Ndebele and Zulu are closely related languages that are widely spoken in South Africa. Some think that they are not even separate languages and instead of being three languages here, there are only one or two languages and one or two dialects of the other tongue(s).

Xhosa, a language of South Africa, is quite difficult, with up to nine click sounds. Clicks only exist in one language outside of Africa – the Australian language Damin – and are extremely difficult to learn. Even native speakers mess up the clicks sometimes. Nelson Mandela said he had problems making some of the click sounds in Xhosa. The phonemics in general of Xhosa are pretty wild.

Xhosa gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

Zulu and Ndebele also have these impossible click sounds. However, outside of click sounds, the phonology of Nguni languages is straightforward. All Nguni languages are agglutinative.

Ndebele gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

Zulu has pitch accent, tones and clicks. There are nine different pitch accents, four tones and three clicks, but each click can be pronounced in five different ways. However, tones are not marked in writing, so it’s hard to figure out when to use them. Zulu also has depressor consonants, which lower the tone in the vowel in the following syllable. In addition, Zulu has multiple gender – 15 different genders. Some nouns behave like verbs. It also has 12 different noun classes, but 90% of words are part of a group of only three of those classes.

These languages also make plurals by changing the prefix of the noun, and the manner varies according the noun class. If you want to look up a word in the dictionary, first of all you need to discard the prefix.

For instance, in Zulu:

“river” umfula
“rivers” imifula, but
“stone” ilitshe
“stones” amatshe, yet
“tree” isihlahla
“trees” izihlahla

Zulu gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

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Filed under Africa, Applied, Bantu, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Niger-Congo, Niger-Kordofanian, Regional, South Africa, Xhosa

A Look at the Inuktitut Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

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

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

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

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

Eskimo-Aleut
Eskimo
Inuit-Inupiaq

Inuktitut is extremely hard to learn. Inuktitut is polysynthetic-agglutinative, and roots can take many suffixes, in some cases up to 700. Verbs have 63 forms of the present indicative, and conjugation involves 252 different inflections. Inuktitut has the complicated polypersonal agreement system like Georgian and Basque. In a typical long Inuktitut text, 92% of words will occur only once. This is quite different from English and many other languages where certain words occur very frequently or at least frequently. Certain fully inflected verbs can be analyzed both as verbs and as nouns.

Words can be very long.

Inuktituusuungutsialaarungnanngittuaraaluuvunga.
“I truly don’t know how to speak Inuktitut very well.”

You may need to analyze up to 10 different bits of information in order to figure out a single word. However, the affixation is all via suffixes (there are no prefixes or infixes), and the suffixation is extremely regular.
Inuktitut is also rated one by linguists one of the hardest languages on Earth to pronounce. Inuktitut may be as hard to learn as Navajo.

Inuktitut is rated 6, hardest of all.

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Filed under Applied, Eskimo-Aleut, Inuktitut, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics

A Look at the Swahili Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

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

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

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

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

Benue-Congo
Bantoid
Southern
Narrow Bantu
Central
G
Swahili

For unknown reasons, Swahili is generally considered to be an easy language to learn. The US military ranks it 1, with the easiest of all languages to learn. This seems to be the typical perception. Why Swahili is so easy to learn, I am not sure. It’s a trade language, and trade languages are often fairly easy to learn. There’s also a lot of controversy about whether Swahili can be considered a creole, but that has not been proven. For the moment, the reasons why Swahili is so easy to learn will have to remain mysterious.

On the down side, Swahili has many noun classes, but they have the benefit of being more or less logical.

Swahili gets a 2 rating, moderately easy.

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Filed under Africa, Applied, Bantu, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Niger-Congo, Niger-Kordofanian, Regional, South Africa

A Look at the Ju|’hoan Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

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

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

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

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

Khoisan
Southern Africa
Southern
Northern

Ju|’hoan, a Khoisan language spoken by 5,000 people in Botswana, has one of the wildest phonological inventories on Earth. Some question whether these segments actually exist and say that they are instead spoken with a “breathy-voice.” However, voiced aspirated consonants do appear to be real.

In addition, Ju|’hoan has a closed class of only 17 adjectives since descriptive functions are done by verbs. They are the following:

female
male
other (those remaining)
other (strange)
true
old
new
a certain
each
all
some
the numbers one through four

Ju|’hoan scored very high on a study of the weirdest languages on Earth.
Ju|’hoan gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

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Filed under Africa, Applied, Khoisan, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Regional, Southwest Africa

A Look at the Taa Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

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

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

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

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

Khoisan
Southern Africa
Southern
Hua

!Xóõ (Taa), spoken by only 4,200 Bushmen in Botswana and Namibia, is a notoriously difficult Khoisan language replete with the notoriously impossible to comprehend click sounds. Taa has anywhere from 130 to 164 consonants, the largest phonemic inventory of any language. Of this vast wealth of sounds, there are anywhere from 30-64 different click sounds. There are five basic clicks and 17 accompanying ones. Speakers develop a lump on their larynx from making the click sounds.

In addition, there are four types of vowels: plain, pharyngealized, breathy-voiced and strident. On top of that, there are four tones. Taa appears on many lists of the wildest phonologies and craziest languages period on Earth.

Taa gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

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Filed under !Xóõ, Africa, Applied, Khoisan, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Namibia, Regional, Southwest Africa

A Look at the Basque Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

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

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

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

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

Basque

Basque, of course, is a wild language. There is an old saying that the Devil tried to learn Basque, but after seven years, he only learned how to say “Hello” and “Goodbye.” Many Basques, including some of the most ardent Basque nationalists, tried to learn Basque as adults. Some of them succeeded, but a very large number of them failed. Based on the number that failed, it does seem that Basque is harder for an adult to learn as an L2 than many other languages are. Basque grammar is maddeningly complex, and it often makes it onto craziest grammars and craziest language lists.

There are 11 cases, and each one takes four different forms.

The verbs are quite complex. The verbal complexity is because it is an ergative language, so verbs vary according to the number of subjects, the number of objects and if any third person is involved.

This is the same polypersonal agreement system that Georgian has. Basque’s polypersonal system is a polysynthetic system consisting of two verb types – synthetic and analytical. Only a few verbs use the synthetic form.

Three of Basque’s cases – the absolutive (intransitive verb case), the ergative (transitive verb case) and the dative – can be marked via affixes to the verb. In Basque, only present simple and past simple synthetic tenses take polypersonal affixes.

The analytical forms are composed of more than one word, while the synthetic forms are all one word. The analytic verbs are built via the synthetic verbs izan “be”, ukan “have” and egin “do”.

Synthetic:

d-akar-ki-o-gu “We bring it to him/her.” The verb is ekarri “bring”.

z-erama-zki-gu-te-n “They took them to us.” The verb is eraman “take”.

Analytic:

Ekarriko d-i-o-gu = “We’ll bring it to him/her.” Literally: “We will have-bring it to him/her.” The analytic verb is built from ukan “have”.

Eraman d-ieza-zki-gu-ke-te “They can take them to us.” Literally: “They can be taking them to us.” The analytic verb is built from izan “be”.

Most of the analytic verbs require an auxiliary which carries all sorts of information that is often carried on verbs in other languages – tense, mood, sometimes gender and person for subject, object and indirect object.

Jaten naiz.
“Eat I-am-doing.”
“I am eating.”

Jaten nintekeen.
“Eat I-was-able-to.”
“I could eat.”

Eman geniezazkiake.
“Give we-might-have-them-to-you-male.”
“We might have given them to you.”

In the above, naiz, nintekeen and geniezazkiake are auxiliaries. There are actually 2,640 different forms of these auxiliaries!

A language with ergative morphosyntax in Europe is quite a strange thing, and Basque is the only one of its kind.

The ergative itself is quite unusual:

Gizona etorri da. “The man has arrived.”

Gizonak mutila ikusi du. “The man saw the boy.”

gizon “man”
mutil “boy”
-a “the”

The noun gizon takes a different form whether it is the subject of a transitive versus an intransitive verb. The first sentence is in absolutive case (unmarked), while the second sentence is in the ergative case (marked by the morpheme -k).

If you come from a non-ergative IE language, the concept of ergativity itself is difficult enough to conceptualize, not to mention actually learn in an ergative language. Consequently, any ergative language will automatically be more difficult than a non-ergative one for all speakers of IE languages.

Ergativity also works with pronouns. There are four basic systems:

Nor: verb has subject only
Nor-Nork: verb has subject + direct complement
Nor-Nori: verb has subject + indirect complement.
Nor-Nori-Nork: verb has subject + direct + indirect complement

Some call Basque the most consistently ergative language on Earth.

If you don’t grow up speaking Basque, it’s hard to attain native speaker competence. It’s quite a bit easier to write in Basque than to speak it.

On the plus side, Basque verbs are quite regular. There are only a few irregularities in conjugations, and they have phonetic explanations. In fact, the entire language is quite regular. In addition, most words above the intermediate level are borrowings from large languages, so once you reach Intermediate Basque, the rest is not that hard. In addition, pronunciation is straightforward.

Basque is rated 5.5, nearly hardest of all.

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Filed under Applied, Basque, Isolates, Language Learning, Linguistics

A Look at the Ndali Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

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

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

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

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

Niger-Kordofanian
Niger-Congo
Volta-Congo
Benue-Congo
Bantoid
Southern
Narrow Bantu
Central
M
Nyika-Safwa

Ndali is a Bantu language with 220,000 speakers spoken in Northern Malawi and Southern Tanzania. It has many strange tense forms. For instance, in the past tense:

Past tense A: He went just now.
Past tense B: He went sometime earlier today.
Past tense C: He went yesterday.
Past tense D: He went sometime before yesterday.

Future tense is marked similarly:

Future tense A: He’s going to go right away.
Future tense B: He’s going to go sometime later today.
Future tense C: He’s going to go tomorrow.
Future tense D: He’s going to go sometime after tomorrow.

Ndali gets a 5 rating, extremely hard to learn.

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Filed under Applied, Bantu, East Africa, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Niger-Congo, Niger-Kordofanian, Regional, Tanzania