Category Archives: Indo-European

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.


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!



Filed under Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Linguistics, Sociolinguistics

Latin Is a Dead Language

What year did the last native speaker of Latin die?


Filed under Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Linguistics, Sociolinguistics

Croatia, 1846

There probably wasn’t really any such thing as “Croatia” back then, but anyway, let us discuss what was happening in the territory we currently refer to as the nation of Croatia.

  • What was the official language (Slavic)?
  • What were the two other languages that were widely spoken everyone or nearly everyone along with the official one (both Slavic)?
  • What was the language most commonly spoken by educated people, especially in cities? For instance, if you went into a bookstore in Zagreb, the books would mostly be in this language (non-Slavic)?
  • What was the language of science and the ultra-elites? As an example of how this language was used, what was the official language for the Croatian Parliament? (non-Slavic)?
  • What was the official religion?

Five questions, five whole questions, now hard could it be?

Have fun kids!


Filed under Balto-Slavic, Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Europe, European, German, History, Indo-European, Language Families, Linguistics, Modern, Regional, Religion, Serbo-Croatian, Slavic, Sociolinguistics

Last Word on Phoenicians, Phonetics, Etc.

It looks like we finally got the answer to whether Phoenician and phonetic, phonology, phone, phoneme, etc. are related – they are not, but both are from Greek words. Phonetic, phone, phonology, phoneme, etc. are derived from Greek Phonein, which means quite logically “to sound.” Phoenician, on the other hand, derives from a Greek word Phoenikoi for the people and region, derived from the word Phoenix which originally meant a particular conch shell that yielded a nice purple dye and later acquired the meaning via legend of a bird that rises from the ashes after it dies. I am not sure what the Phoenikoi were named after – perhaps the conch shell?

Anyway, the roots have no relationship to each other, but it was a nice hypothesis anyway. “Scientists” always like to chortle with ridicule at the notion of a “bad hypothesis” but I think in many cases, most hypotheses that seem prima facie reasonable are not bad hypotheses. Furthermore, I dislike the very notion of bad hypotheses as it smacks of the horrific arrogance all of the sciences engage in these days, even the ridiculous fake social “sciences” like my own pitiful specialty, Linguistics.

Miville writes:

Phonein (to sound) should first be sounded as the ancient Athenians did: not phoney-in, but pf-hone-een (or pf-honey-an as the Spartans did): the important thing is to try to sound out an f not with the teeth against the upper lip but with both lips as gently as to let off a beautiful soap bubble instead of ordinary spittle.

The Romans despite being the new lords on the block felt they were no match for Greece however decadent and derelict so they made that effort to sound the Greek ph the Greek way rather than like their own f, at least so as to spit gracefully down upon their own people, hence the spelling we inherited from them despite the fact no longer any Roman nor Greek knows any other sound than our own vulgar present f.

Phonein in Greek is written with an Omega, which was sounded Oh like in OMG in Athens and like Awe or (Golden) Dawn in Sparta. Phoenicia is derived, as regards the Greek language, from Phoenix, which was written with the false diphthong (original simple sound lacking a proper letter in the alphabet and therefore written two ones) oi which bore but little relationship whatever with either simple o or Omega and was rather sounded œ as in German Goethe or u as in turn depending on the city. Phonein meant to sound, phoenix rather derives from a word meaning a conch, the particular one whence came a very precious dark red dye, purpur or purple.

It also meant a legendary bird capable of rebirth after having passed through burnt offering. The legend was common (and still is in works such as the One and Thousand Nights) to all Near and Middle Eastern countries and the red color also pictured the Rising Sun, the Orient, hence the name given to the mariners stemming from the land of the rising sun also most renowned for its production of purple dye from the conch and for having given to Greece the alphabet.

The Phoenicians themselves called their own language and nationality Cana’an, so the name we use is a pure Greek creation, like the name Greek which is a Roman appellation for a people who call themselves Hellenes. The letters, of Phoenician origin, meant sounds, or phonemata.

The conch could also be used as a sounding horn, as is the symbol of the primeval creating divine vibration in many cultures, apart from the fact that in many languages a telephone receiver can be called a conch (Muschel in German). The proximate sounds, however, prove no common etymology, even though they are marvelous for poetry.

The early Roman soldiers when it came to name the same people that had settled Carthage did not make the effort their betters made when trying to pronounce Greek names and sounded Phoenikoi like Punici, simplifying the very peculiar Greek ph into p rather than into f. By regressive derivation they likened the word to their own poena, a punishment, and to the verb punire, but there is no common etymology.


Filed under Afroasiatic, Ancient Greece, Antiquity, Greek, Hellenic, History, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Indo-Irano-Armeno-Hellenic, Language Families, Linguistics, Roman Empire, Science, Semitic

The Roots of the Alphabet(s)

Probably most of you do not know that we are all using a variant of the ancient Phoenician alphabet. Actually I am not sure if that is precisely true, as I think the Phoenician alphabet was preceded by an Assyrian one. But at any rate, our classic Western alphabets all came out of the Levant and Mesopotamia in some way or other. Indeed, it is even theorized that many of the syllabaries in use in Central, South and Southeast Asia are also rooted in this original alphabet from the Levant.

Of course, Chinese and consequently Korean and Japanese alphabets have another origin.

One might wish to throw the odd SE Asian orthographies such as Thai, Lao, Burmese, Vietnamese, Javanese, Sundanese and Khmer there, but my understanding is that all of those SE Asian orthographies were actually derived from syllabaries originally designed in India.

A few writing systems such as Georgian, Armenian and Cree may have been created de novo, but I might have to look that up. The only non-Middle Eastern derived orthography that immediately comes to my mind is the Chinese ideographs.

The origins of the Assyrian/Phoenician alphabet appear to have been ultimately in Egyptian hieroglyphics. So the ancient Egyptians really started it all when it comes to writing down words, at least for the West.

Chinese ideographs may date from even earlier. Chinese bone writing goes way back.

Very early European writing such as runic systems and similar systems in Asia such as the Turkic Orkhon inscriptions may not be related to the Phoenician system at all. The Yukaghir in Siberia and the Yi in South China may also have designed de novo systems.


Filed under Africa, Afroasiatic, Algonquian, Altaic, Antiquity, Armenian, Asia, Austro-Asiatic, China, Chinese language, Cree, Egypt, Europe, History, India, Indo-Irano-Armenian, Indo-Irano-Armeno-Hellenic, Japanese, Japonic, Khmer, Korean language, Language Families, Linguistics, Mon-Khmer, North Africa, Regional, Semitic, Sinitic, Sino-Tibetan, South Asia, Turkic, Vietnamese, Writing

Is There a Language That Is Almost Impossible to Learn Without Growing Up with It?

A question was recently asked on Quora. Here is my answer.

Hello, I recently talked to a Westerner who is learning Min Nan, which is a Sinitic language often called a dialect of Chinese. He already speaks Mandarin but he told me Min Nan if vastly harder than Mandarin. At age 35, he was studying it 2 hours a day and at some point, he hit a wall and he didn’t seem to be making any progress. He kept adding more study hours to the day with little effect. Finally when he was studying it for 8 hours a day, he started making some good progress. I believe he said contour tones and tone sandhi where the major roadblocks.

Min Nan speakers say that even Cantonese is easier than Min Nan, and Cantonese is deadly hard. They also say that Min Nan tones are so hard that no one who did not learn Min Nan growing up gets anywhere near native fluency.

Cantonese is a similar language that is very difficult. It is much harder than Mandarin, and many native Mandarin speakers say they tried to learn Cantonese and gave up on it because it was too hard. Cantonese has 9 tones. The general consensus among Chinese is that Cantonese is much harder to learn than Mandarin.

Basque is said to be very hard to learn unless you grow up with it. There is a joke that the Devil spent 7 years trying to learn Basque, and he only learned how to say Hello and Goodbye.

Navajo would also be murderously hard. Even Navajo children struggle quite a bit learning Navajo. When they show up at school at age 5-6, they are still struggling with Navajo. There are reports that Navajo children don’t seem to get Navajo well until maybe age 12.

Korean is a surprise, but apparently it is very hard to learn well. A native Korean speaker told me that Korean is so hard that no Korean speaker ever speaks it with 100% accuracy, and everyone makes errors.

As another respondent pointed out, Japanese is also quite notorious, and most Westerners get nowhere near native fluency.

Czech is also hard. Even most Czech speakers never get Czech all the way. They have TV contests in Czechoslovakia where they try to stump native speakers with hard forms in the language. If you can last 30 minutes without making even one error, you win. I think only two men have been able to do it, but one was a non-native speaker! Czech also has a strange r sound found only in one other language on Earth. It is said that no native speaker ever gets this phoneme quite right.

Piraja is also very hard as another respondent pointed out. Only 2 non-natives have ever been able to speak Piraha with any fluency. When Daniel Everett went to study the language he found a number of reports from priests who had tried to learn Piraha since the early 1800’s and only one had succeeded. The others tried to learn but gave up because they said it was too hard.

Tsez, spoken in the Caucasus, is also murderously hard. Every verb can have 10’s of 1,000’s of possible forms. Reports say that even native speakers make regular errors when speaking Tsez.


Filed under Altaic, Applied, Balto-Slavic, Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Basque, Cantonese, Chinese language, Czech, Dene-Yenisien, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Isolates, Korean language, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Mandarin, Min Nan, Na-Dene, Navajo, NE Caucasian, Sinitic, Sino-Tibetan, Slavic, Tsez

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.


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

Check Out Belarussian

Here is a sample of the Belarussian language from a Belarussian TV commercial. For those of you who speak a Slavic language, I would like you to listen to this clip and tell me how much you can understand of it.

I decided to post my section on Belarussian from a recent paper of mine. My charming critics say that I am “promoting misinformation,” and have banned all links to me. They also say that everyone should ignore every single word that I write because nothing that I say is true, not even one sentence. However, some averred that in an entire paper, I might state one or two true things.

If any of you know anything about the subject below, tell me if they are right. Tell me if every single sentence below is true or false. In fact, tell me if you can find one false sentence below.


Belarussian is one of the most recent East Slavic lects to come into existence, as the earliest Belarussian texts are from only the 1500’s. So the split between Belarussian and Ukrainian and Russian is shallower than that between Spanish and Portuguese.

Belarussian intelligibility with both Ukrainian and Russian is a source of controversy. On the one hand, Belarussian has dialects that are intelligible with dialects of both Russian and Ukrainian.

Reports of the endangerment or looming death of Belarussian are usually politically motivated attacks on President Lukashenko accusing him of killing the language.

On the contrary, Belarussian, while in a disappointing situation, is very much alive. Almost all Belarussians can speak the language, but only 15% do so in day to day conversation. Most of the rest more often play the role of passive speakers although they can speak the language if they need to (Mezentseva 2014).

Belarussian knowledge of their language benefits them because it gives them a head start on learning other Slavic languages (Mezentseva 2014).
Belarus was actually part of Poland at one time, as was Western Ukraine. Belarussians see themselves as a different people from Russians.

For centuries, they called themselves Tutejshiya “our people” (Mezentseva 2015).

Part of the blame for the decline of Belarussian lies with Belarussians themselves because despite the statements in the paragraph above, Belarussians have a very strong attachment to Russia and only a weak attachment to their own land (Mezentseva 2014). The result of this is that although 85% of Belarussians can speak Belarussian, and Russian is the preferred language in the country (Pavlenko 2006).

In 1991, Belarus only had one official language, Belarussian, though Russian was in wide use. In 1994, the people voted to have two official languages, Belarussian and Russian. Russian-language media and politicians quickly took advantage of the situation and used to opportunity to make Russian the dominant language in the country (Mezentseva 2014).

Lukashenko regularly wins elections by 75-80% margins, and polls show about the same support. The very unpopular opposition are regarded by most Belarussians as traitors and anti-Russian, pro-US tools of the West out to destroy the country.

One major problem for the language is that Belarussian is now associated with the opposition in the country. This association of the language with the unpopular opposition has hurt the language and is a major reason why state support for Belarussian has been lukewarm at best (Mezentseva 2014).
However, the linguistic situation in the country is complicated, and there are Belarussian-language TV stations and a number of daily newspapers (Mezentseva 2014).

The Western media reports that Belarussian is dying, but this is politicized discourse.

The truth is that Belarussian is becoming more and more popular these days, as it is coming to be seen as the prestigious “language of the intelligentsia” as opposed to the Soviet era in the 1970’s and 80’s when it was regarded as a “village language.” Belarussian language advocates say that they are not pessimistic at all about the state of the language and in fact they are optimistic. Belarussian is used in the educational system, and advocates expect its use there to expand. Independent Belarussian classes have been springing up to assist Belarussians who want to promote the language and culture. (Mezentseva 2014).

Russian nationalists often state that Belarussian is a dialect of Russian. However, this judgement is based more on national chauvinism than linguistics (Mezentseva 2014), as Russian lacks full intelligibility of Belarussian.

However, the statement is partly true if we are discussing Trasianka and Russian. Trasianka is Belarussian dialect based on a a mix of Russian and Belarussian that arose during the Sovietization of Belarus. It resembles Russian spoken with a Belarussian accent and is spoken mainly by rural dwellers who moved to towns and started to watch a lot of Russian TV. It is also widely spoken in Eastern Belarus near the Russian border (Mezentseva 2014).

West Polesian or West Palesian is a transitional Belarussian dialect to Ukrainian. Some think that West Polesian is a microlanguage, but the majority of Belarussian linguists say it is a dialect of Belarussian (Mezentseva 2014). But see the analysis of Polesian in the Ukrainian section above under Ukraine for a fuller account of this very confusing lect. Belarussian and Ukrainian have 84% lexical similarity.

Pronunciation is also very similar between the two languages. Some of the grammatical categories do differ. Belarussian intelligibility of Ukrainian is high at 80% (Mezentseva 2014).

Belarussian has many Polish borrowings, hence Belarussian has a fairly high intelligibility of Polish at 29%. Written intelligibility is higher at 67% (Mezentseva 2015).

Although Polish is notorious for being one of the hardest languages in Europe for foreigners to learn, Belarussians can actually learn it fairly easily due to the similarities between the two languages (Mezentseva 2014).

Testing Belarussian intelligibility of Russian is not realistically possible.
The vast number of Belarussians speak Russian, and of those who do not, all or nearly all have at least passive knowledge of Russian. At the moment there are few to no Belarussian monolinguals. If they exist at all, there may be a few elderly female monolinguals in the far west of the country by the Polish border (Mezentseva 2015) , but it would be difficult to study them.

MI figures:

Belarussian: Oral intelligibility: 80% of Ukrainian and 29% of Polish.Written intelligibility: 67% of Polish.


Mezentseva, Inna. English teacher, Belarussian and Russian speaker, Vitebsk, Belarus. BA in Education and Linguistics. Vitebsk State University, Vitebsk, Belarus. December 2014. Personal communication.
Mezentseva, Inna. English teacher, Belarussian and Russian speaker, Vitebsk, Belarus. BA in Education and Linguistics. Vitebsk State University, Vitebsk, Belarus. May 2015. Personal communication.
Pavlenko, A. 2006. Russian as a Lingua Franca. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 26: 78-99.

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Filed under Applied, Balto-Slavic, Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Belarus, Belorussians, Dialectology, Europe, Europeans, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Multilingualism, Polish, Politics, Race/Ethnicity, Regional, Russian, Russians, Slavic, Sociolinguistics, USSR

I Have Been Working on This Paper Lately


It is 65 pages now, and it has 34 references, 6 personal communications and 28 cites. A number of the judgements are now from linguists, articles in linguistics journals, people with graduate degrees who took a vast number of linguistics courses, grad students in philology, and language teachers with BA’s in Linguistics. There are also a number from people who I personally tested. And I do have one result from a formal intelligibility study, but I could only find one of them for Slavic. These types of studies are almost never done with major languages.

Leave a comment

Filed under Applied, Language Families, Linguistics, Scholarship, Slavic

Judith Mirville on Language

I really enjoyed this piece. Those idiots at Badlinguistics are going to hate this post so much, but nevertheless, I think she is mostly correct here. This post is definitely Beyond Highbrow! Something to strive for, commenters! Reach for the skies!

Judith Mirville writes:

English has on one hand grown easier by shedding most of the heavy declension and conjugation-based Germanic grammar of old Anglo-Saxon and old Norman French it also derives fully from, but on the other hand it has grown into one of the most difficult languages of the earth due to the fact that to master it in a workable way, you have to work with roots coming from just too many linguistic horizons, each one having its own rules of combination.

You have more words of French origin in English than remain in French proper. For instance jeopardy and legerdemain are no longer understood in French, and poisonous is no longer correct. More words of Latin and Greek origin than allowed for in real Latin and Greek, apart from the simpler one-syllable, quite often more purely Saxon words that form more numerous prepositional idioms in the popular language than there are words formed likewise in German or Dutch, not counting a larger array than in other languages of purely exotic words having no common roots with any of the main ingredients of English.

The only other one language I know to be quite difficult for foreigners wanting to go beyond the cafeteria level for that very same reason is Hindi. Its grammar has retained only very few of the original complex Indo-European forms, and you cannot master its vocabulary without understanding that even though a few words of daily usage were originally Sanskrit or Pali, they have now undergone much transformation not necessarily for the simplest.

Yet most of the everyday vocabulary used in polite conversations is deformed Arabic imported through Persian, itself a compound language from Old Iranian and Semitic languages.

There is also a whole array of more recently learned terms artificially derived from Classical Sanskrit when it comes to science or Hinduism.

There is also quite a wide array of even more recently learned terms artificially derived from Classical Arabic when it comes to political science, economics, politics or Islam of course, which is an obligatory subject of conversation for all even those who combat it.

This is not counting an even wider array of words imported from English since the British era which is now widening with the advent of globalization. Each of those variegated language sources imposes its own ways of lexical derivation and quite often its grammatical forms.

Hindi, like English, seems somewhat easier than Sanskrit or Tamil as you begin, though it is never as easy as broken or basic English. But like higher-level English, you never, ever come close as a foreigner to master a working knowledge of it for universities or big enterprises.

In German (as well as in many Indian languages other than Hindi), by contrast, you have a much harder time mastering the grammatical machinery as you start, quite like a Mercedes engine, but once you do and you also master the root word combination system, you access very rapidly the highest realms of German philosophical thought.

I perfectly agree with you in stating that the idea put forth by many linguists that all languages are equal in terms of difficulty and ease of learning is a piece of utter fallacy and mendacity.

This is somewhat true only in the very specific context of automated learning of everyday language reflexes to be used without thinking in various situations, as if one were a spy working among a very distant people, and having learned to pronounce with the right accent most automated answers to daily practical situations like ordering toasts and coffee, paying a traffic ticket… one has also to pass more unnoticed in that environment than another person speaking a neighboring and similar dialect with less ease but more ability to express his thought.

This linguistic egalitarianism only works with people who will never bother to express anything they love to say but rather conceal what they know and camouflage it under nonsensical conversation of the kind that will never elicit any suspicion of unorthodoxy, as was the case in early Soviet Union.

And it comes to no surprise that such a linguistic theory came along together with Marxism. This theory can also work quite well in the context of enforced intellectual limitation by a ruling empire over all cultures to be stultified in the same way. But as soon as you are bothering to excel in a language and say everything you would love to say in your own or want to make serious intellectual research, this is simply untrue.

Some languages are really hard to learn, and some others quite easy, though the reasons may vary. Some languages are more difficult due to their lack of relationship with your native one, and some are quite difficult even to their own native speakers.

This PC view about languages just tells us about the limitation of all language they want to impose on us: prohibiting real self-expression and allowing only for a narrow range of practical commands. As they do when they say all races are equal and should mix with each other: what they tell is not the truth, but their aim instead is for the creation of a general stultified world citizen where all possible ancestral talents cancel out each other in favour of sheer mediocrity except for the cunning to make money by fraud and accepting bribes from the higher strata.

Anyway it won’t work: the most mongrelized White-African-Arabic new underclass they wanted to promote as model to be followed by all in France turned out to have lost all personal qualities and prejudices by race and culture mixing … except conspiracy-finding antisemitism as a natural federating factor as epitomized by Dieudonné. The result is that the new-fashioned intellectual Jewish elite of Paris are panicking, developing their own local version of neoconservative thought and telling the White Frenchmen to preserve their heritage from Africanization and mongrelization.

What I cannot stand though is the contrary point of view manifested by race realists such as Gedalia Braun that Negro languages are always more simple and primitive in structure and lacking in the power to express many concepts making civilization possible like metric graduation in the expression of distance in space and time and the notion of appointment and faithfulness as well as a vocabulary needing a dictionary to be relied upon and maintained.

I happen to be a passionate speaker of Haitian Creole of the most purely hillbilly kind as the language of my main love in life, and what Gedalia Braun says is 100% dead wrong even though Creole is supposed to be the zero ground in terms of general linguistics and mental development.

First of all, there is an elaborate tense system in Creole. It seems non-existent only relative to French verbs. Actually it works quite in the same way as English in terms of  morphology and auxiliaries though the shades of tense and aspect meaning are as elaborate as in Classical Spanish. It is much more refined and detailed in expression than the tense system of German or of Hebrew which is without any refinement in its modern form. And we are not even talking about the East Asian languages which are said to devoid of the notion of taste and actually more like what one caricatures as a Negro language.

Like English, and for the same reasons, Creole vocabulary is actually huge and of complex derivation, even though it seems easy to catch it when you begin as a traveling salesman, before long, you realize you will never be over with it.

You’ve got three main levels of language.

One that outwardly looks like simplified French but is combined very differently according to syntactic rules more like Semitic languages, possibly Aramaic, and of semantic rules more like Germanic languages. It is also very detailed, accurate and flexible as regards the expression of movement in space and time. A few engineers I know say it is seducing as an instrument for expressing equations.

The second level is the voodoo one, which works according to a different syntax copied from the Gbe language where the determinant comes before the determined as in German, not afterwards as in the first level, and is used for psychic manipulation purposes and power politics.

A third level of language is used for reasons of communication and compatibility with the surrounding modern sophisticated world and comprises all terms of Latin and Greek etymology present in either French, English and Spanish, generally with a rather French pronunciation but the same meaning as in English, and also a greater freedom in forming new terms by Pseudo-Latin derivation.

I don’t know anything about the Piraha language of Amazonia, but after having read a book by a pastor (Everett) who said he had witnessed the marvel of nonthinking people using it, and it had only three vowels, ten consonants, and no structured sentences, I can assure you this guy has been played with by those “primitives.” After all, as an American Evangelist missionary, he deserved to be shot by a poisoned arrow, but they defended themselves in a grander way by neutering his brain, maybe by the use of other less poisonous botanicals.

What that missionary says in a frantic, ecstatic mood is pure delusion.

First of all, there is a consecrated non-wordy, non-analytic, non-recursive way of expression most delicious to use whenever feasible in many languages closer to ours.

Portuguese is one of the best known examples of it.

Even though Portuguese is a very intricate and rich, complex language as regards its literary form proper, it possesses a register of expression that is very difficult to pick up. You have to develop extrasensory modes of communication to do it.

In this register, you exchange only one-word whispered sentences (like so pode) conveying each one a world of implications, making the conversation more like birds’ concert so to speak. Maybe the Portuguese Catholic Inquisition made that a matter of survival at some time, but its reputation for mortal totalitarian control has been grossly exaggerated compared to other control-freaks like the Judaeo-Anglo-Saxon PC crowd.

Everett has remained in the same kind of racist outlook with direction only reversed. Actually, the Pirahas he has met with have always known much more about his culture and his world, together with many other ones that have been threatening them into extinction for centuries, and which they have circumvented through manipulation so far, than he has about theirs, even after all he thinks he has discovered. I suspect the Pirahas to be a very cunning and not so charming and benevolent crowd, though capable of huge good practical jokes: not at all the last castaways from Eden that Everett still imagines as a former Evangelical.

There is certainly a huge higher initiation level of language the Pirahas are dead intent on reserving to themselves, which as high in left brain content as KGB Russian, the same level as in Portuguese, and my beloved Creole. Haitians even used to have computer-like programming languages long before computers, except that they were used to program humans made into zombies, and the purpose of them was always evil.

Arabic, among the languages of worldwide use, is one of the most difficult technically, not only because of its non-relationship with any roots we know in our own languages or its very heavy and irregular morphology as regards plurals, conjugations, declensions and its convoluted syntax, but also because very simple notions in most other languages even in supposedly closely-related Hebrew never can be said in clear simple terms in Arabic and need a cumbersome grammatical apparatus to be conveyed.

To express the concept of doing again or re-doing something, you have to fully conjugate the two verbs re- and do (prepositions are conjugated too, with as many special rules as with verbs), you cannot add something like un- or de- to express the undoing of something.

Instead you have to use a full clause like I am undoing the attachment of my shirt instead of I am untying it. You cannot say I have done it already, instead you have to say something like It is already overtaken by my doing it. You generally don’t say I must do it (even though you could in theory), instead you more commonly say There is no alternative for me apart from doing so.

One thing I like about Arabic though is its closure towards foreign admixture and the difficulty for foreign words to get naturalized, with the result that the semantic universe is simpler than elsewhere and more coherent.

The most difficult aspect though is that you cannot form compound terms and verbs the way you do in English and Romance languages by using suffixes and prefixes, especially when as a stranger or a beginner you are short of the exact term and would use a synonymous compound word instead. Even the negation of adjectives is not guaranteed, and you have to learn the contrary ones which have independent roots.

One thing remarkable about Arabic is the utmost difficulty of expressing in it the idea of excess or of extremism as being an undesirable thing, and conversely, of moderation as being a virtue. The word too or too much simply doesn’t exist. Phrase books and Google translation recommend to use the word very (jiddan) instead, but it has nearly always a laudatory connotation, and if you insist in using it for meaning too much you are spotted as a clumsily-speaking foreigner.

The problem is that practically all comparatives and superlatives that are used to render the idea of relative excess to a situation, like a truck too high for a tunnel to pass through, are also by themselves as elatives having an admirative value. When you say akbar for instance, it is very big or bigger than expected, but it can never really be too big. It is always something like “Wow my Gosh, how it’s big!” Even apart from the worldwide known religious and terroristic use of Allahu Akbar proper, it is just too big eventually for the sum of money it would cost or some other accidental impediment like a ceiling.

In theory, in very Classical (though non-Koranic) Arabic, you could also use a difficult conjugated verb in a serial clause for expressing the simple adverb too much (the verb ifrat:a, meaning overdoing) as is the case with most simple English adverbs, but  that would sound as pedantic, unnatural and unusual as Shakespearean “multitudinously” (except as verbal nouns to form scientific compound terms used in universities only) and make everybody around laugh, even among religious speakers of Classical Arabic only.

The word “moderate” is generally recommended to be translated in journalistic lingo as mutaäddil.

But if you leave the Western-style university class for the university cafeteria and say Ana muslimun mutaäddil (I am a moderate Muslim), your colleague from a non-Western culture-related subject will understand something completely different.

He will know that your appetites are well moderated by your faith in Islam, that you have renounced all alcohol, you no longer smoke, you skip one meal out of two and fast for the whole Ramadan, you never indulge in erotic or profane literature and try live a spartan life in order to spare money for the Hajj, which things are not a promise of tolerant conduct towards non-believers.

All good translators into Arabic will tell you of the challenge to render such an expression as too much or of the general concept that an extremist point of view (mutat:arrif) might be condemnable.

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