Category Archives: Italo-Celtic-Tocharian

A Look at the Arabic Dialects

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 Arabic dialects in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Afroasiatic
Semitic
Central
South
Arabic

Arabic dialects,in the first place, are often not even dialects at all. Instead as many as 25-30 of them may be full-blown languages according to Ethnologue, which represents linguistic consensus or last word on whether something is a language or a dialect. Arabic dialects are often somewhat easier to learn than MSA Arabic. At least in Lebanese and Egyptian Arabic, the very difficult q’ sound has been turned into a hamza or glottal stop which is an easier sound to make. Compared to MSA Arabic, the dialectal words tend to be shorter and easier to pronounce.

Afroasiatic
Semitic
Central
South
Arabic
Central

To attain anywhere near native speaker competency in Egyptian Arabic, you probably need to live in Egypt for 10 years, but Arabic speakers say that few if any second language learners ever come close to native competency. There is a huge vocabulary, and most words have a wealth of possible meanings.

Egyptian Arabic is rated 4.5, very to extremely difficult.

Afroasiatic
Semitic
Central
South
Arabic
Maghrebi
Moroccan Arabic

Moroccan Arabic is said to be particularly difficult, with much vowel elision in triconsonantal stems. In addition, all dialectal Arabic is plagued by irrational writing systems.

Moroccan Arabic is rated 4.5, very to extremely difficult.

Afroasiatic
Semitic
Central
South
Arabic
Maghrebi
Siculo-Arabic
Maltese

Maltese is a strange language, basically a Maghrebi Arabic language (similar to Moroccan or Tunisian Arabic) that has very heavy influence from non-Arabic tongues. It shares the problem of Gaelic that often words look one way and are pronounced another.

It has the common Semitic problem of difficult plurals. Although many plurals use common plural endings (-i, -iet, -ijiet, -at), others simply form the plural by having their last vowel dropped or adding an s (English borrowing). There’s no pattern, and you simply have to memorize which ones act which way.

Maltese permits the consonant cluster spt, which is surely hard to pronounce.

On the other hand, Maltese has quite a few IE loans from Italian, Sicilian, Spanish, French and increasingly English. If you have knowledge of Romance languages, Maltese is going to be easier than most Arabic dialects.

Maltese is rated 4, very difficult.

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Filed under Afroasiatic, Applied, Arabic, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Maltese, Romance, Semitic

Sprung from Some Common Source

What is this famous quote taken from? The quote is from a famous speech. What is the speech? Who made the speech? When was the speech given (approximately)? Where was it given? What is the significance of this speech? Why is it so famous? What subfield of a popular Humanities field of studies was actually begun with this speech?

You don’t have to get all the answers right, but if you can tell us who made the speech, the approximate date and the significance of the speech that would be good enough.

That is actually all one sentence below. It seems like a run-on, but back in those days, people liked to write long twisting and turning sentences like that. I actually like the writing from this era a lot.

The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists: there is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothic and the Celtic, though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanskrit; and the old Persian might be added to the same family, if this were the place for discussing any question concerning the antiquities of Persia.

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Filed under Greek, History, India, Indic, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Irano-Armeno-Hellenic, Italic, Language Families, Linguistics, Regional, Sanskrit

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

Muran

Pirahã is a language isolate spoken in the Brazilian Amazon. Recent writings by Daniel Everett indicate that not only is this one of the hardest languages on Earth to learn, but it is also one of the weirdest languages on Earth. It is monumentally complex in nearly every way imaginable. It is commonly listed on the rogue’s gallery of craziest languages and phonologies.

It has the smallest phonemic inventory of any language with only seven consonants, three vowels and either two or three tones. Everett recently wrote a paper about it after spending many years with them. Previous missionaries who had spent time with the Pirahã generally failed to learn the language because it was too hard to learn. It took Everett a very long time, but he finally learned it well.

Many of Everett’s claims about Pirahã are astounding: whistled speech, no system for counting, very few Portuguese loans (they deliberately refuse to use Portuguese loans) and evidence for both the much-maligned the Sapir-Whorf linguistic relativity hypothesis, and violation some of Noam Chomsky’s purported language universals such as embedding. It also has the t͡ʙ̥ sound – a bilabially trilled postdental affricate which is only found in two other languages, both in the Brazilian Amazon – Oro Win and Wari’.

Initially, Everett never heard the sound, but they got to know him better, they started to make it more often. Everett believes that they were ridiculed by other groups when they made the odd sound.

Pirahã has the simplest kinship system in any language – there is only word for both mother and father, and the Pirahã do not have any words for anyone other than direct biological relatives.

Pirahã may have only two numerals, or it may lack a numeral system altogether.

Pirahã does not distinguish between singular and plural person. This is highly unusual. The language may have borrowed its entire pronoun set from the Tupian languages Nheengatu and Tenarim, groups the Pirahã had formerly been in contact with. This may be one of the only attested case of the borrowing of a complete pronoun set.

There are mandatory evidentiality markers that must be used in Pirahã discourse. Speakers must say how they know something – whether they saw it themselves, it was hearsay or they inferred it circumstantially.

There are various strange moods – the desiderative (desire to perform an action) and two types of frustrative – frustration in starting an action (inchoative/incompletive) and frustration in completing an action (causative/incompletive). There are others: immediate/intentive (you are going to do something now/you intend to do it in the future)

There are many verbal aspects: perfect/imperfect (completed/incomplete) telic/atelic (reaching a goal/not reaching a goal), continuative (continuing), repetitive (iterative), and beginning an action (inchoative).

Each Pirahã verb has 262,144 possible forms, or possibly in the many millions, depending on which analysis you use.

The future tense is divided into future/somewhere and future/elsewhere. The past tense is divided into plain past and immediate past.

Pirahã has a closed class of only 90 verb roots, an incredibly small number. But these roots can be combined together to form compound verbs, a much larger category. Here is one example of three verbs strung together to form a compound verb:

xig ab op = “take turn go” or “bring back.” This refers to when you take something away, you turn around and you bring it back to where you got it to return it.

There are no abstract color terms in Pirahã. There are only two words for colors, one for “light” and one for “dark.” The only other languages with this restricted of a color sense are in Papua New Guinea. The other color terms are not really color terms, but are more descriptive – “red” is translated as “like blood.”

Pirahã can be whistled, hummed or encoded into music. Consonants and vowels can be omitted altogether and meaning conveyed instead via variations in stress, pitch and rhythm. Mothers teach the language to children by repeating musical patterns.

Pirahã may well be one of the hardest languages on Earth to learn.

Pirahã gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

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Filed under Americas, Applied, Brazil, Language Families, Language Learning, Latin America, Linguistics, Portuguese, Regional, South America

Is Old High German Close to Old Persian?

I am going to republish this older piece that has been called into question. Supposedly this language is totally made up. However, that is almost certainly not true, although I am looking into it at the moment. A Croatian professor even wrote a 27,500 word dictionary of this language. I am enclosing here 97 different references that discuss this language in the hopes that this puts an end to the Gan-Veyan controversy once and for all.

Beatrix writes:

Robert,Is it true that 1,000 yrs ago a German & a Persian spoke basically the same language?

No, it is not  true at all that Old German and Old Persian were the same language 1,000 years ago.

However there are some Croatian dialects such as Archaic Islander Čakavian spoken on the islands off the coast of Croatia that are quite similar to Persian or Iranic. They are actually closer to Kurdish and Zazaki though. They are actually completely separate languages, as the lexical similarity with Croatian is only 4%! There is a theory that the pre-Slavic Croatians may have come originally from Persia, and there may be something to that.

These ancient tongues are the remains of the pre-Slavic languages spoken in this area before the Slavs came. The language that these tongues are closest to is called Liburnian. The Liburnians inhabited that region thousands of years ago. Liburnian is an ancient Indo-European language.

I did a study on one of those old languages, an Archaic Islander Čakavian tongue called Gan-Veyãn. I obtained a short dictionary of Gan-Veyãn and went through half of it from M-Z looking on my guesses as where the roots seemed to have originated. The results were remarkable and are listed in order with the language with the most roots first and the language with fewest roots last.

  • Indic
  • Persian
  • Avestan
  • Hittite
  • Akkadian
  • Basque
  • Tocharian
  • Sumerian
  • Lithuanian
  • Aramaic
  • Hurrian
  • Etruscan
  • Gothic
  • Russian
  • Ukrainian
  • Celtic
  • Kurdish
  • Armenian
  • Latin
  • Arabic
  • Mittani
  • Apian
  • German
  • Geez

I will go down the list now and describe these languages.

Indic means all of the Indo European or IE languages related to Hindi.

Persian is well known.

Avestan is best described as Old Persian.

Hittite is an ancient IE tongue formerly spoken in Turkey.

Akkadian is a language isolate formerly spoken in Iraq by the people of that name who had a kingdom there.

Basque is the well known language isolate and pre-IE language spoken in northeastern Spain. Although it formally has no relatives, I would say it is related to NE Caucasian languages like Chechen. In fact the placename Iberia has deep connections to the land of Georgia.

Tocharian is an ancient IE languages formerly spoken by Caucasian people who lived in what is now Xinjiang in far western China where the Uyghurs now live.

Sumerian is an ancient tongue, a language isolate formerly spoken in the Sumerian Kingdom in Iraq.

Lithuanian is interesting because for some reason it is one of the most archaic living IE languages.

Aramaic of course is the language of Jesus spoken in the Levant, Mesopotamia, Iran and Turkey. It is still spoken by Assyrian Christians in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey to this day.

Hurrian is an ancient IE language like Hittite formerly spoken in Turkey.

Etruscan is an ancient language isolate formerly spoken in Italy.

Gothic is the ancient Germanic language of the Visigoths who lived not only in Germany but also in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

Russian and Ukrainian are well known. This ancient language may have roots close to these two Slavic languages because in a way Russian and Ukrainian are ancient Slavic languages being heavily based on Old Church Slavonic, a liturgical language that originated in northeastern Greece with roots close to Old Slavic or even Proto-Slavic.

Kurdish is the well known Iranic language of the Kurds.

Armenian is a living language, but it is rather ancient and archaic as IE languages go.

Latin is well known and these islands were part of the Roman Empire for a while.

Arabic is well known and quite a few languages along the European coast of the Mediterranean Sea have some Arabic in them.

Mittani is a language isolate formerly spoken around northern Iraq and Iran that nevertheless seems to have some relationship with Indo-Iranian languages.

Apian is an ancient IE language formerly spoken in Italy.

German is well known. How German words got into this language is a head scratcher but Croatia itself is quite close to Germany as a former part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which had German as an official language.

Geez is the ancient language of the Ethiopian and Egyptian Coptic Christians which was thought to be long dead. However a family in Cairo was recently discovered who spoke Geez at home.

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Arabic, French and English Versions of ISIS’ Claim of Responsibility for the Paris Terror Attacks

The initial statement was released in French and Arabic:

Here is the Arabic version first:

Original Arabic version.

Original Arabic version.

The following is the French version:

French version.

French version.

It’s not perfect, but this is the best English translation I could come up with.

In the name of Allah the merciful, the very merciful Allah:

Allah the transcendent has said: And they thought their fortresses would truly shelter them against Allah, but Allah came to them from where they didn’t expect and put terror in their hearts. He demolished their houses by their own hands as well as those of the believers. Learn this lesson, ye who is blessed with foresight. Surat fifty nine second verse

In a holy attack made possible through Allah, a group of believers and soldiers of the Caliphate, from the Caliphate – blessed with power and triumph be it through Allah – targeted the capital of abominations and perversion, the one which bears the banner of the cross in Europe: Paris.

A group which tore asunder its earthly ties chased the foe, searching for death on the path of Allah for the sake of His faith, His prophets and His allies, and the willing humiliation His enemies. They have been true to Allah, and true we consider them. Allah has conquered by their hand, and instigated fears in the hearts of the Crusaders in their own land.

Eight brothers wearing explosive belts and bearing assault rifles attacked precisely chosen determined places in the heart of the French capital.

The targets were the Stade de France during a match between opposing Crusader countries, France and Germany, which was attended by the fool of France, François Hollande; the Bataclan, where hundreds of heathens were gathered for a most perverse party; and many in the 10th, 11th and 12th arondissements simultaneously. Paris has trembled under their feet, and the streets tightened in their wakes. The death toll is at least two hundred Crusaders with many more wounded, glory and praise be to Allah.

Allah made it easy for our brothers by allowing them martyrdom, so their explosive belts went off on the heathens when the ammunition ran out. May Allah accept them among the martyrs and allow us to join them.

France and those who tread its path must know that they remain the main targets of the Islamic State and that they will continue to smell the stench of death for having led the Crusade, insulted our Prophet (PBUH), and boasted about fighting Islam in France and striking the Muslims in the land of the Caliphate with their planes which were of no help in the reeking streets of Paris. This attack is only the beginning of the storm and a warning to those who heed the lesson to be learned.

Allah is the greatest. And power be to Allah and to his messenger as well as believers. But the hypocrites may never know. Surat 63 verse 8.

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Answers to the Languages of Spain Post

Map of the languages of Spain.

Map of the languages of Spain.

There are nine languages in the map above.

You folks were not able to answer all nine of them correctly, so I will give you the answers.

Pink – Catalan

Light green – Aranese or Occitan (no one got this one)

Purple – Aragonese (no one got this one)

Aquamarine – Basque

Red – Castillian

Green – Asturian-Leonese

Yellow – Galician

Dark green – Extremaduran (no one got this one)

Brown – Fala (no one got this one)

Aranese is the Aranese dialect of Occitan which is either a separate language or a dialect of Occitan depending on how you look at it. Fala is actually a dialect of Galician but it is considered a language for sociopolitical reasons. There is another part of the dark green Extremaduran language which is typically not recognized. This is Cantabrian, spoken to the east of the green Asturian-Leonese area and to the west of the aquamarine  Basque area.

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Linguistic/National Question

In what countries is the language spoken in the capital different from the language spoken by the majority of people in the rest of the country? As you can see, there is more than one country where this is the case.

Some cases from the past include

Austria-Hungary, where the capital Vienna spoke High German but most of the people spoke Czech, Slovak, Venetian, Slovenian, or Serbo-Croatian.

In Ireland, before English became popular in the early 1800’s, most people around the capital spoke English, while the majority of the population spoke Irish.

I found nine countries, two in Europe, two in Southeast Asia, two in South Asia, one in Oceania, one in the Caribbean, and one in Africa.

Hop to it!

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Myth: Latin Died a Long Time Ago

SD writes:

I presume you want an answer based on ‘raw’ knowledge, that is, without looking up on the internet. Latin has been a dead language for a long time. I think even during the Roman empire, classical Latin was a language that only the educated elite spoke, and even they probably spoke in their own dialects at home.

It really depends on where you want to draw the line between classical Latin and vulgar dialects, but classical Latin as we know it has not been spoken as a native language for at least 2000 years. I’m quite sure the language spoken in Roman marketplaces was quite different from what 19th century classics professors would present their obscure papers in.

This is a common myth, and like so many myths, it’s not even true.

but classical Latin as we know it has not been spoken as a native language for at least 2000 years.

No.

Incredible as it sounds, Latin lived as a native language into the 20th Century! He was born in Budapest, Hungary about 100 years before, maybe in 1836 or thereabouts. He was born into a very upper class, elite family, possibly with connections to Royalty. His family actually spoke Latin and the principal language of the home! So he was raised speaking Latin. Latin was his first language, and while he did learn a couple of other languages, Hungarian and maybe German, but Latin was the language that he was always most comfortable in. He said that his situation was not unusual among the class that he was born into.

At that time, Latin was widely spoken at least as a 2nd language. In earlier post, I pointed out that Latin was actually the official language of the Croatian Parliament until 1846!

He later moved to the US where of course he become a Classics Professor who specialiazed in teaching Latin at one of America’s most elite universities, possibly Harvard or Yale.

He died in 1936. I found his obituary and I believe it said he died when he was around 100 years old.

Latin lived as a native language until the 1930’s!

Incredible!

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Latin Is a Dead Language

What year did the last native speaker of Latin die?

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The Verb Gustar

I am having a disagreement with a friend here about the verb gustar. My friend says gustar is only conjugated in the 3rd person. There are no 1st and 2nd person conjugations of the verb gustar. I disagree.

1p sing

me gusto = I like myself.

te gusto = You like me.

le gusto = He, she, it, likes me. You like me.

les gusto = Y'all like me.

les gusto = You all, they like me.

2p sing

me gustas = I like you.

te gustas  = You like yourself.

le gustas = You like yourself. He, she it likes you.

nos gustas = We like you.

les gustas = They like you.

3p sing

me gusta = I like him, her, it, you.

te gusta = You like him, her, it.

le gusta = He, she, it likes him, her, it, you. You like her, him, it, yourself.

nos gusta = We like him, her, it, you.

les gusta = Y'all like him, her, it, you

les gusta = They like him,her, themselves.

1p pl

me gustamos = I like us. (weird)

te gustamos = You like us.

le gustamos = He, she, it, you like us.

nos gustamos = We like ourselves.

les gustamos = Y'all like us.

les gustamos = They like us.

2p pl

me gustan = I like y'all.

le gustan = He, she, it likes y'all.

nos gustan = We like y'all

les gustan = Y'all like yourselves.

les gustan = They like y'all.

3p pl

me gustan = I like them.

te gustan = You like them.

le gustan = He, she, it likes them.

nos gustan = We like them.

les gustan = Y'all like them.

les gustan = They like themselves.

Let me know if I am correct.

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