Category Archives: Indo-Hittite

A Look at the Armenian Language

From here.

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

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

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

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

Ա ա
Յ յ
Փ փ

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

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

գ and զ
ե
and է
դ
and ղ
ո
and ռ

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

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

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

Armenian is rated 4, very hard to learn.

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A Look at the Faroese Language

From here.

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

North Germanic
West Scandinavian

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

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

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

computertelda (derived from at telja – to count. Icelandic has a similar term.
helicoptertyrla (derived from tyril – a spinning tool for making wool or loom.
musictónleikur
pocket calculator
telduhvølpur (Lit. computer puppy), roknimaskina (Lit. calculating machine)

Faroese has the advantage of having no verbal aspect, and verbal declension does not differ much according to person. However, Faroese has a case system like Icelandic.

Faroese gets a 5 rating, hardest of all.

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Cool Word of the Day

Recrudescence – it means something like there was once this bad thing around, and it went away, and now here it is coming back again, thanks a lot! Or the return of some lousy thing we thought we got rid of once and for all.

I was once having an email war with this insane anti-Cuban Zionist Jew from Florida. I forget what it was all about. He went and read one of my articles and saw that word. He wrote me back and he said he had decided that he liked me now after all because I taught him a new word! One of the rare cases where you brain can transform an enemy into a friend.

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Animal Adjectives

Here.

Amazing, a whole bunch of English words you’ve never even heard of before. These are adjectives describing certain animals, meaning: like a, similar to, in the way of or relating to [animal name].

Here are the a’s just to get you started:

Animal    Adjective
agouti    dasyproctine (like an agouti)
ant       formicine/myrmecine (ant-like)
anteater  myrmecophagine (similar to an anteater)
antelope  antilopine (as an antelope)
armadillo tolypeutine (relating to armadillos)
asp       aspine (in the way of an asp)
ass       asinine (like an ass)
auk       alcidine (about auks)

Most of you have probably only heard of a handful of those words, and you have probably used an even smaller number.

I have only heard of: asinine, acciptrine, taurine, feline, bovine, vaccine, canine, aquiline, elephantine, piscine, hominine, murine, passerine, porcine, serpentine, bufotenine. There are ~246 words there, and I got 16 of them. 7%.

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A Look at the Danish Language

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From here.

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

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

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

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

Danish gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.

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A Look at the Norwegian Language

From here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

tankenthe tank
tanken
the thought

have two different meanings, even though the stress and pronunciation are the same. The words are distinguished by a toneme.

However, Norwegian is a very regular language.

Norwegian gets a 2 rating, moderately easy to learn.

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A Look at the Italian Language

From here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Masculine:

il
i
lo
gli
l’

Feminine:

la
le
l’

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

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

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

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

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

scrivere
ascrivere
descrivere
prescrivere

mettere
smettere
permettere
sottomettere

porre
proporre

portare
supportare

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

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

Italian gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.

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

Neapolitan gets a 2.5 rating, fairly easy.

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A Look at the Icelandic Language

From here.

A look at Icelandic from the view of how hard it is to learn for an English speaker. Icelandic is often considered to be one of the hardest languages on Earth to learn.

Icelandic is very hard to learn, much harder than Norwegian, German or Swedish. Part of the problem is pronunciation. The grammar is harder than German grammar, and there are almost no Latin-based words in it. The vocabulary is quite archaic. Modern loans are typically translated into Icelandic equivalents rather than borrowed fully into Icelandic.

There are four cases: nominative, accusative, dative and genitive – as in German – and there are many exceptions to the case rules, or “quirky case,” as it is called. In quirky case, case can be marked on verbs, prepositions and and adjectives. The noun morphology system is highly irregular. Articles can be postfixed and inflected and added to the noun. In fact, Icelandic in general is highly irregular, not just the nouns.

Verbs are modified for tense, mood, person and number, as in many other IE languages (this is almost gone from English). There are up to ten tenses, but most of these are formed with auxiliaries as in English. Icelandic also modifies verbs for voice – active, passive and medial. Furthermore, there are four different kinds of verbs – strong, weak, reduplicating and irregular, with several conjugation categories in each division.  Many verbs just have to be memorized.

Adjectives decline in an astounding 130 different ways, but many of these forms are the same.

The language is generally SVO, but since there is so much case-marknig, in poetry all possibilities – SVO, SOV, VSO, VOS, OSV and OVS – are allowed. There is also something odd called “long distance reflexives,” which I do not understand.

In addition, Icelandic has the typical Scandinavian problem of a nutty orthography.

Icelandic verbs are very regular but the sounds change so much, especially the vowels, that the whole situation gets confusing pretty fast. In addition, there are three different verbal paradigms depending on the ending of the verb:

-er
-ir
-re

Icelandic verbs are commonly cited as some of the hardest verb systems around, at least in Europe. Even Icelandic people say their own verbs are difficult.

Icelandic has a voiceless lateral l. This can be a hard sound to make for many learners, especially in the middle of a word. In addition, there are two alveolar trills (the rolled r sound in Spanish), and one of them is voiced while the other is voiceless. Learners say they have problems with both of these sounds. In addition to voiceless l‘s and r‘s, Icelandic also has four voiceless nasals – , , ɲ̊, and ŋ̊ – the n, m, ny (as in Spanish nina), and ng sounds.

There are also contrasts between aspirated and nonaspirated stops including the odd palatal stops and c. In addition, there is a strange voiceless palatal fricative ç (similar to the h in English huge). In addition, Icelandic has a hard to pronounce four consonant cluster strj- that occurs at the beginning of a word.

Icelandic does have the advantage of being one of the few major languages with no significant dialects, so this is a plus. Icelandic has been separated from the rest of Scandinavian for 1,100 years. Icelandic is spoken over a significant region, much of which has inhabited places separated by large expanses of uninhabitable land such as impassable glaciers, volcanoes, lava flows,  geysers and almost no food. How Icelandic managed to not develop dialects in this situation is mysterious.

Icelandic has traditionally been considered to be one of the hardest languages on Earth to learn.

Icelandic gets a 5 rating, hardest of all to learn.

 

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A Look at the Romanian Language

From here.

A look at Romanian from the viewpoint of an English speaker trying to learn the language.  Romanian is one of the hardest languages to learn in the Romance family.

Surprisingly enough, Romanian is said to be one of the harder Romance languages to speak or write properly. Even Romanians often get it wrong. One strange thing about Romanian is that the articles are attached to the noun as suffixes. In all the rest of Romance, articles are free words that precede the noun.

English  telephone the telephone
Romanian telefon   telefonul

Romanian is the only Romance language with case. There are five cases – nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, vocative – but vocative is not often use, and the other four cases combine as two cases: nominative/accusative and dative/genitive merge as single cases.

Nominative-Accusative aeroportul
Genitive-Dative       aeroportului

The genitive is hard for foreigners to learn as is the formation of plurals. The ending changes for no apparent reason when you pluralize a noun and there are also sound changes:

brad (singular)
brazi (plural)

Many native speakers have problems with plurals and some of the declensions. Unlike the rest of Romance which has only two genders, masculine and feminine, Romanian has three genders – masculine, feminine and neuter (the neuter is retained from Latin). However, neuter gender is realized on the surface as masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural, unlike languages such as Russian where neuter gender is an entirely different gender.

The pronunciation is not terribly difficult, but it is hard to learn at first.

Romanian is harder to learn than Spanish or Italian and possibly harder than French. However, you can have odd sentences with nothing but vowels as in Maori.

Aia-i oaia ei, o iau eu?
That’s her sheep, should I take it?

It may have the most difficult grammar in Romance. Romanian has considerable Slavic influence.

Romanian gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.

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A Look at the French Language

From here.

A look at the French language from the viewpoint of an English speaker trying to learn the language. French is one of the hardest Romance languages to learn.

French is pretty easy to learn at a simple level, but it’s not easy to get to an advanced level. For instance, the language is full of idioms, many more than your average language, and it’s often hard to figure them out.

One problem is pronunciation. There are many nasal vowels, similar to Portuguese. The eu, u and all of the nasal vowels can be Hell for the learner. There is also a strange uvular r. The dictionary does not necessarily help you, as the pronunciation stated in the dictionary is often at odds with what you will find on the street.

There is a phenomenon called liaisons, or enchantainment in French, which is similar to sandhi in which vowels elide between words in fast speech. There are actually rules for this sort of thing, but the rules are complicated, and at any rate, the liaisons themselves are either obligatory, permitted or forbidden depending on the nature of the words being run together, and it is hard to remember which category various word combinations fall under.

The orthography is also difficult since there are many sounds that are written but no longer pronounced, as in English. Also similar to English, orthography does not line up with pronunciation. For instance, there are 13 different ways to spell the o sound: o, ot, ots, os, ocs, au, aux, aud, auds, eau, eaux, ho and ö.

In addition, spoken French and written French can be quite different. Spoken French uses words and phrases such as c’est foututhe job will not be done, and on which you might never see in written French.

The English language, having no Language Committee, at least has an excuse for the frequently irrational nature of its spelling.

The French have no excuse, since they have a committee that is set up in part to keep the language as orthographically irrational as possible. One of their passions is refusing to change the spelling of words even as pronunciation changes, which is the opposite of what occurs in any sane spelling reform. So French is, like English, frozen in time, and each one has probably gone as long as the other with no spelling reform.

Furthermore, to make matters worse, the French are almost as prickly about writing properly as they are about speaking properly, and you know how they are about foreigners mangling their language.

Despite the many problems of French orthography, there are actually some rules running under the whole mess, and it is quite a bit more sensible than English orthography, which is much more chaotic.

French has a language committee that is always inventing new native French words to keep out the flood of English loans. They have a website up with an official French dictionary showing the proper native coinages to use. Another one for computer technology only is here.

On the plus side, French has a grammar that is neither simple nor difficult; that, combined with a syntax is pretty straightforward and a Latin alphabet make it relatively easy to learn for most Westerners. In addition, the English speaker will probably find more instantly recognizable cognates in French than in any other language.

A good case can be made that French is harder to learn than English. Verbs change much more, and it has grammatical gender. There are 15 tenses in the verb, 18 if you include the pluperfect and the Conditional Perfect 2 (now used only in Literary French) and the past imperative (now rarely used). That is quite a few tenses to learn, but Spanish and Portuguese have similar situations.

French is one of the toughest languages to learn in the Romance family. In many Internet threads about the hardest language to learn, many language learners list French as their most problematic language.

A good case can be made that French is harder to learn than Italian in that French children do not learn to write French properly until age 12-13, six years after Italian children.

This is due to the illogical nature of French spelling discussed above such that the spelling of many French words must be memorized as opposed to applying a general sound-symbol correspondence rule. In addition, French uses both acute and grave accents – `´.

French gets a 3 rating for average difficulty.

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