Category Archives: Austro-Tai

A Look at the Kam 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 Kam languages in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Tai-Kadai
Kam-Tai
Kam-Sui

The Kam languages people are three closely related languages – Northern Dong, Southern Dong and Cao Miao. They are spoken by 1.5 million Dong people in southwest China and by a tiny population in a single village in Northern Vietnam. These languages were rated by the Fudan University study referenced above under Wu as the 2nd most phonologically complex on Earth (Wang 2012). There are 32 stem initial consonants, including oddities like , tɕʰ, , pʲʰ, ɕ, , kʷʰ, ŋʷ, tʃʰ, tsʰ. Note the many contrasts between aspirated and unaspirated voiceless consonants, including bilabial palatalized stops, labialized velar stops, and alveolar affricates. There are an incredible 64 different syllable finals, and 14 others that occur only in Chinese loans.

There are an astounding 15 different tones, nine in open syllables and six in checked syllables (entering tones). Main tones are high, high rising, high falling, low, low rising, low falling, mid, dipping and peaking. When they speak, it sounds as if they are singing.

The Kam languages get a 6 rating, hardest of all to learn.

References

Wang, Chuan-Chao et al. 2012. Comment on ”Phonemic Diversity Supports a Serial Founder Effect Model of Language Expansion from Africa.” Science 335:657.

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Filed under Applied, Asia, China, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Regional, Tai-Kadai

A Look at the Malagasy 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 Malagasy language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Austronesian
Malayo-Polynesian
Greater Barito
East Barito
Malagasy

Malagasy, the official language of Madagascar, has a reputation for being even easier to learn than Indonesian or Malay.

Malagasy gets a 1 rating, easiest of all to learn.

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Filed under Applied, Austro-Tai, Austronesian, East Africa, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Madagascar, Malayo-Polynesian, Regional

A Look at the Kwaio 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 Kwaio language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Austronesian
Malay-Polynesian
Oceanic
Central-Eastern Oceanic
Southeast Solomonic
Malaita–San Cristobal
Malaita
Northern Malaita

Kwaio is an Austronesian language spoken by 13,000 people in the center of Malaita Island in the Solomon Islands. It has four different forms of number to mark pronouns – not only the usual singular and plural but also the rarer dual and the very rare paucal. In addition, there is an inclusive/exclusive contrast in the non-singular forms.

For instance:

1 dual inclusive (you and I)
1 dual exclusive (I and someone else, not you)

1 paucal inclusive (you, I and a few others)
1 paucal exclusive (I and a few others)

1 plural inclusive (I, you and many others)
1 plural exclusive (I and many others)

Pretty wild!

Kwaio gets a 5 rating, extremely hard to learn.

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A Look at the Sakao 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 Sakao language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Austronesian
Malayo-Polynesian
Central-Eastern Malayo-Polynesian
Eastern Malayo-Polynesian
Oceanic
Southern Oceanic
Northern Vanuatu
East Santo
North

Sakao is a very strange langauge spoken by 4,000 people in Vanuatu.  It is a polysynthetic Austronesian language, which is very weird. It allows extreme consonant clusters. Sakao has an incredible seven degrees of deixis. The language has an amazing four persons: singular, dual, paucal and plural. The neighboring language Tomoko has singular, dual, trial and plural. The trial form is very odd. Sakao’s paucal derived from Tomato’s trial:

jørðœl
“they, from three to ten”

jørðœl løn
the five of them” (Literally, “they three, five”)

All nouns are always in the singular except for kinship forms and demonstratives, which only display the plural:

ðjœɣ – “my mother/aunt” -> rðjœɣ – “my aunts”

walðyɣ – “my child” -> raalðyɣ – “my children”

It has a number of nouns that are said to be “inalienably possessed”, that is, whenever they occur, they must be possessed by some possessor. These often take highly irregular inflections:

Sakao 	  English
œsɨŋœ-ɣ   "my mouth"
œsɨŋœ-m   "thy mouth"
ɔsɨŋɔ-n   "his/her/its mouth"
œsœŋ-...  "...'s mouth"	

uly-ɣ 	  "my hair"
uly-m 	  "thy hair"
ulœ-n 	  "his/her/its hair"
nøl-...   "...'s hair"

Here, “mouth” is either œsɨŋœ-, ɔsɨŋɔ- or œsœŋ-, and “hair” is either uly-, ulœ- or nøl-

Sakao, strangely enough, may not even have syllables in the way that we normally think of them. If it does have syllables at all, they would appear to be at least a vowel optionally surrounded by any number of consonants.

i (V)
“thou”

Mhɛrtpr.
(CCVCCCC)
“Having sung and stopped singing, thou kept silent.”

Sakao has a suffix -in that makes an intransitive verb transitive and makes a transitive verb ditransitive. Ditransitive verbs can take two arguments – a direct object and an instrumental.

Mɨjilɨn amas ara./Mɨjilɨn ara amas.
He kills the pig with the club”/”He kills with the club the pig.”

Sakao polysynthesis allows compound verbs, each one having its own instrument or object:

Mɔssɔnɛshɔβrɨn aða ɛðɛ.
He-shooting-fish-kept-on-walking with-a-bow the-sea.”
“He walked along the sea shooting the fish with a bow.”

Sakao gets a 5 rating, extremely hard to learn.

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A Look at the Tagalog 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 Tagalog language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Philippine
Greater Central Philippine
Central Philippine
Tagalog

We recently looked at two easy languages, Bahasa Indonesia and Malay, which are actually two forms of the same language. A well-known nearby language is Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines. Tagalog is much harder than Malay or Indonesian. Compared to many European languages, Tagalog syntax, morphology and semantics are often quite different. Also, Tagalog is typically spoken very fast. Unlike Malay, verbs conjugate quite a bit in Tagalog. The main idea of Tagalog grammar is something called focus. Once you figure that out, the language gets pretty easy, but until you understand that concept, you are going to have a hard time. Everything is affixed in Tagalog.

However, articles and creation of adjectives from nouns is very easy.

Compare:

ganda –      “beauty” (noun)
maganda – “beautiful” (adjective)

Tagalog gets a 4 rating, very difficult.

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Filed under Applied, Austro-Tai, Austronesian, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Malayo-Polynesian, Philippine

A Look at the Malay and Bahasa Indonesia 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 Malay and Bahasa Indonesia languages in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Malayo-Polynesian
Malayo-Chamic
Malayic
Malay

Bahasa Indonesia is an easy language to learn. For one thing, the grammar is dead simple. There are only a handful of prefixes, only two of which might be seen as inflectional. There are also several suffixes. Verbs are not marked for tense at all. And the sound system of these languages, in common with Austronesian in general, is one of the simplest on Earth, with only two dozen phonemes. Bahasa Indonesia has few homonyms, homophones, homographs, or heteronyms. Words in general have only one meaning.

Though the orthography is not completely phonetic, it only has a small number of nonphonetic exceptions. The orthography is one of the easiest on Earth to use.

The system for converting words into either nouns or verbs is regular. To make a plural, you simply repeat a word, so instead of saying “pencils,” you say “pencil pencil.”

Bahasa Indonesia gets a 1.5 rating, extremely easy to learn.

Malay is only easy if you learn the standard spoken form or one of the creoles. Learning the literary language is quite a bit more difficult. However, the Jawi script, which is Malay written in Arabic script, is often considered to be perfectly awful.

Malay get a 2 rating for moderately easy.

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A Look at the Tsou 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 in the Tsou language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Austro-Tai
Austronesian
Tsouic

Tsou is a Taiwanese aborigine language spoken by about 2,000 people in Taiwan. It has the odd feature whereby the underlying glides y and w turn into or surface as non-syllabic mid vowels and in certain contexts:

jo~joskɨ -> e̯oˈe̯oskɨ  = “fishes”

Tsou is also ergative like most Formosan languages. Tsou is the only language in the world that has no prepositions or anything that looks like a preposition. Instead it uses nouns and verbs in the place of prepositions. Tsou allows more potential consonant clusters than most other languages. About 1/2 of all possible CC clusters are allowed.

Tsou has an inclusive/exclusive distinction in the 1st person plural and a very strange visible and non-visible distinction in the 3rd person singular and plural. Both adjectives and adverbs can turn into verbs and are marked for voice in the same way that verbs are. Verbs are extensively marked for voice. Nouns are marked for a variety of odd cases, often referring to perception, (visible/invisible) person, and place deixis. The place deixis cases can be seen below:

‘e –               visible and near speaker
si/ta –           visible and near hearer
ta –               visible but away from speaker
‘o/to –           invisible and far away, or newly introduced to discourse
na/no ~ ne – non-identifiable and non-referential (often when scanning a class of elements)

Tsou gets a 5 rating, extremely hard to learn.

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Some Notes on the Homeland and Early History of the Tai-Kadai Language Family

A fellow who I believe is Chinese came to the site a while back with some very interesting ideas about the earliest speakers of the Tai-Kadai languages, of which Thai and Lao are the most famous. His statement is in blockquotes below.

He argues for a close relationship between Austronesian and Tai-Kadai, two huge language families in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Tai-Kadai researchers have long opposed this notion, including a professor who I worked with quite a bit while obtaining my Master’s Degree.

French linguist Laurent Sagart has recently proven to my satisfaction that Austronesian and Tai-Kadai are indeed related. I have looked over the evidence, and it looks very good. Sagart is clearly an expert on the language families of the region, including Sino-Tibetan, Tai-Kadai and Austronesian.

However, the field has not yet accepted Austro-Tai. Historical Linguistics has become so conservative in recent years that one wonders whether any new prominent language families will ever be proven to the satisfaction of the field. In this sense, ultra-conservative “scientism” has clearly taken over Diachronic Linguistics, and the only people making any headway these days are the trailblazers who are practicing what boils down to “fringe science” and are expectedly being trashed from here to Kingdom Come for not going along with the ultra-conservative mindset of the day.

The problem is that like cryptozoology, psi, ghosts, UFO’s and so many other fields, ultraconservative people practicing scientism and not science have set up the biggest roadblocks imaginable for dismantling any paradigms or in fact discovering anything new or breathtaking.

Modern science reminds me of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. It’s  another faith-based fundamentalist philosophy. I guess we already know everything there is to know, and there’s nothing more to learn. In fact, incredibly, some scientistic practitioners are actually making statements along these lines.

Sagart’s new language would be called Austro-Tai, from which two branches, Tai-Kadai and Austronesian, descended. We know that the homeland of the Austronesians was in Taiwan and on the mainland adjacent to Taiwan possibly 5,000 YBP. From there, they mostly spread to the east – to Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia, with some going back to Mainland Southeast Asia (most prominently the Malay, but also the Chams, etc.)

That Tai-Kadai and Austronesian were together as a macro-language on and west of Taiwan over 5,000 years ago makes intuitive sense on a lot of levels. They split up, with Tai-Kadai moving west and inland and Austronesian moving out to the islands to the west as the Lapita Culture.

Here it is below, with some edits and additions:

I have some words about the Zhuang to tell you. First of all, your article claims that the Proto-Tai came from Central Asia. That’s a questionable study. The most recent research on linguistics has revealed that the Proto-Tai-Kadai migrated back from Taiwan and they are closely related to the Austronesians.

The basic lexicon between the two branches of Hlai and Kadai in Tai-Kadai language family shows a striking similarity to Austronesian, i.e. Indonesian. However, examining the Tai branch, linguists see that original lexicon in the Tai branch were replaced by some other linguistic stock. That shows a linguistic contact between Proto-Tai and other groups in the ancient times and the genetic mix-up may also have taken place.

In conclusion, according to linguistic studies, the original Tai-Kadai Uhrmeit may have been the Austronesian-inhabited in Taiwan island. Then later, when moving back to the mainland of Southern China, they probably mixed with other ethnolinguistic groups.

It’s also worth mentioning that a trace of old Kam-Tai language from 2-3,000 YBP, an earlier form of Proto-Tai, has been discovered in southern part of the ancient Chu State (1030 BC–223 BC) by comparing the non-Sinitic words on unearthed inscriptions materials with reconstructed Old-Chinese.

This indicates that the geographic distribution of Proto-Tai speakers may have been quite different from our current understanding. And the identity of the group that they mixed with that replaced much of their original Austro-Tai lexicon is still not known. The location of Tai-Kadai speakers, especially the present-day Tai speakers in Yunnan in South China is quite a ways away from the location of most Austronesian speakers such as Malay and Indonesian speakers in Mainland and Island Southeast Asia.

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Filed under Asia, Austro-Tai, Austronesian, Indonesia, Language Families, Linguistics, Malaysia, Micronesia, Pacific, Philippines, Polynesia, Regional, Science, SE Asia, Sino-Tibetan, Tai-Kadai, Taiwan

Is Dravidian Related to Japanese?

Thirdeye writes:

The Tamil-Japonic connection isn’t quite as off the wall as one might think at first glance. There’s apparently a strong Andaman-Indonesian language connection. The convention of repeat plurals seems to have found its way to Japan. There’s also some similarity between the Finno-Ugric languages, which are Uralic outliers in a sea of Indo-European languages, and Dravidian languages that have a remnant in Pakistan. Contact between proto-Dravidian-Uralic and Altaic languages is a real possibility.

If Uralic is close to anything, it is close to Altaic and Indo-European and probably even closer to Chukto-Kamchatkan, Eskimo-Aleut, Yukaghir and Nivkhi. Yukaghir may actually be Uralic itself, or maybe the family is called “Uralic-Yukaghir.”

There is no connection between Austronesian (Indonesian) and the Andaman Islanders. Austronesian is indeed related to Thai though (Austro-Tai); in my opinion, this has been proven. If the Andaman languages are related to anything at all, they may be related to some Papuan languages and an isolate in Nepal called Nihali. A good case can be made connecting Nihali with some of the Papuan languages.

Typology is not that great of way to classify. Typology is areal and it spreads via convergence. What you are looking in search genetic relationship among languages more more than anything else is morphology. After that, a nice set of cognates.

There is probably no connection between Dravidian and Uralic in particular. Dravidian is outside of most everything in Eurasia. It if is close to anything, it might be close to Afro-Asiatic. There also looks to be a connection with Elamite.

Dravidian and Afro-Asiatic are probably older than the rest of the Eurasian languages, and they were located further to the south. Afro-Asiatic is very old, probably ~15,000 YBP.

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Filed under Afroasiatic, Altaic, Andaman Islanders, Austro-Tai, Austronesian, Chukotko-Kamchatkan, Comparitive, Dravidian, Eskimo-Aleut, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Isolates, Japanese, Japonic, Language Classification, Language Families, Linguistics, Negritos, Paleosiberian, Race/Ethnicity, SE Asians, Tamil, Thai

A Look at the Hawaiian and Maori Languages

From here.

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

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

Maori and other Polynesian languages have a reputation for being quite easy to learn. The main problem for English speakers is that the sentence structure is backwards compared to English. In addition, macrons can cause problems.

One problem with Maori is dialects. The dialects are so diverse that this means that there are multiple words for the same thing. Swiss German has a similar issue, with up to 50 words for each common household item (nearly every major dialect has its own word for common objects):

ngongi, noni, koki, waiwater
whiri
, rarangi, hiri –  to plait, to twist, to weave
pai
, maitaigood
tu
, , tutehu, mātikato stand
mau
, mouto hold
pau
, pouto be exhausted
ika
, tohorāwhale
ika
, ngohifish
kāwei
, kāwailine
ori
, kori, keukeu, koukou, neke, nukuto move
haere
, hara, here, horo, whanoto go, to come
hara
, hapa, to be wrong
kōrerorero
, wānanga, rūnangato discuss
tohunga
, tahungapriest
matikuku
, maikukufinger nail
kanoh
i, konohi, mata, whatu, kamo, karueye, face

Entire Maori sentences can be written with vowels only.

E uu aau?
Are yours firm?

I uaa ai.
It rained as usual.

I ui au ‘i auau aau?’
E uaua!
It will be difficult/hard/heavy!

On the plus side, the pronunciation is simple, and there is no gender. The language is as regular as Japanese. No Polynesian language has more than 16 sounds, and they all lack tones. They all have five vowels, which can be either long or short. A consonant must be followed by a vowel, so there are no consonant clusters. All consonants are easy to pronounce.

Maori gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.

Marquesic

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

Hawaiian gets a 2 rating, very easy to learn.

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Filed under Applied, Austro-Tai, Austronesian, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Malayo-Polynesian, Maori