Doesn't surprise me
I can't speak Chinese either
In very agreeable news for those who fear that everyone on homogenised Planet Earth will eventually end up speaking an unholy mix of English, Chinese Mandarin and Spanish – with a soupçon of Portuguese, Russian, Hindi and Javanese thrown in for good measure – the Chinese authorities have admitted that 400 million of their …
That is not a very scientific list obviously. With over 200 million speakers French is more widely spoken than Javanese or Portuguese. Similarly, Malay and Arabic should be in this list. But then, I don't think the author intended to provide an authoritative list, he just wanted to make a point.
That's true. If you go the South West of France you can tell that these people didn't speak French a century ago. Their great grandparents spoke Occitan, not entirely dead but most young people speak French with a pronunciation reminiscent of Occitan.
That said, no language is entirely uniform. As we know, English can be very different between various countries and most other widely dispersed languages have strong variations. It is not a given that a Moroccan Arabic speaker can understand an Iraqi Arabic speaker. In Latin America you can get dictionaries to help you translate Colombian Spanish to Chilean Spanish etc. The structure is the same but nouns can vary quite a lot with a couple of tricky pitfalls!
There were many other languages and dialects until they were stamped out by Paris.
The first opportunity for a clever use of the Reg's "Paris" icon, and you missed it. Maybe that explains the downvotes.
(I jest, of course. Nothing can explain the downvotes. Downvotes in Reg forums are ineffable.)
It's funny (not really) when naïve Québécois visit France for the first time. The French waiter, typically with the advanced Arts degree, tells them to (and I paraphrase), "Please stop. You're hurting my ears. Please - just use English."
In Quebec "oui" (yes) is pronouced "wha" (with phlegm), and " " (space) and "," (comma) are both pronounced "Fack!".
the hardest languages to learn are
please google to check though as my memory is not reliable
The main difficulties with English are too many exceptions to rules and words that sound identical but are spelt differently depending on meaning
again please check the above.
AFAIK Japanese beats Mandarin by a quite hefty margin, and then there is Navajo, Khoisan languages (hard for us damn vocalists), Cantonese is actually "harder" than Mandarin too, also Finnish has a quite fiendish reputation.
English and Russian are both quite "easy" languages to get the basics of (even though mastering English can be rather difficult; some of the darkest corners of the English language are positively ugly, and some even lack definitive rules).
It's true that English and Russian are both easy to pick up and difficult to master. I'm not sure Japanese beats Mandarin though. Japanese uses quite a few Chinese characters when it's written, but (I'm led to believe) it's easier than the Chinese languages because it isn't "sung", i.e. in Cantonese or Mandarin, pronouncing a word in a higher tone, or pronouncing the beginning of the word higher and going lower (and vice versa) can completely change the meaning. Getting the tone wrong can make your speech unintelligible. I started learning Cantonese, and even the basics are bloody difficult.
I read somewhere that someone can spend a lifetime learning to speak and write Mandarin, and can never fully master it.
"I read somewhere that someone can spend a lifetime learning to speak and write Mandarin, and can never fully master it.". That would apply to the English too. (and anybody else).
It's not a good sign if the Chinese Government starts to push Mandarin to hard. The Russian Empire (before the revolution) woke up to the fact that half the population spoke something else but Russian. They tried to change that forcefully and that was not popular at all. We inherit our native language, race, colour and "religion" when we are born and attack people about something like that probably pisses off people more than anything else. One of my English teachers why I like English, and I told him it's because there is no grammar. He was not amused at all.
Cantonese is tricky in that it has six or eight tones (depending upon how classified - high falling, low rising ....) and Mandarin has only, I believe, about four. But I had to learn and use Cantonese. It has some great advantages: no gender, number nor tense to speak of. The main difficulty is that "street" Cantonese is a crude, earthy, lively language which has about as much relationship to the formal form taught as Geordie to English.
As for English being hard: lots of irregularities (but lots of commonality with German, Dutch, Scandinavian languages and even French. I would separate learning to read and write it from speaking. Spoken, a reasonably sub-set will suffice and it is far less awkward than the spelling would suggest. However, that is not an argument for revising the spelling as then we end up like the Germans, changing the official spelling every decade or so just to keep up with changes in theories and usage, till before long one can not even read Dickens without a crib.
The big challenge with Japanese is that, once you've mastered the basics, you discover that there are (at least) 6 different honorific forms whose use depends on the social relationship between speakers (a bit like the French tutoyer/vouvoyer times three - but with different vocabulary and declension to go with it). Children (and foreigners) are only expected to use the basic 'familiar' form, but correct use of honorifics is vital for polite adult conversation. This is why they are so insistent on exchanging business cards - until you understand your social relationship to a person, it is impossible to speak to them.
there are (at least) 6 different honorific forms
I don't think there are that many, but maybe I'm wrong on that. You really only have to learn two form: the dictionary forms (like taberu, kiku, aru, iru, etc.) is informal, while (if you're a foreigner) the polite forms (tabemasu, kikimasu, arimasu, imasu, etc.) are perfectly fine for almost any social occasion. Conjugation of both forms follow some very simple rules, with a minimum of irregular verbs. It's only if you're talking with someone of very high standing or you want to ask someone to do a favour for you that you need to worry about other forms. Apart from a few set phrases (things like "itadakimasu", "gochisousamadeshita), knowing how to ask someone of higher status to do something for you or describing something they have done for you (conjugating agemasu and morau, to give and receive) and the odd time you might have to use "degozaimasu" instead of the regular copula "desu", there's really not much to it. The only other major pitfalls as regards levels of politeness are to do with avoiding using certain verbs when a more polite version is appropriate (sometimes in specific social circumstances, so one never uses the verb kiru, to cut, at a wedding, since it conjures up thoughts of divorce in that context, but generally because, eg, kuu, to eat, is conventionally vulgar, while taberu and itadaku are safer or more polite, respectively) or not using the honorific prefix o- (or, sometimes go-) when talking about certain things (or using honorific terms to describe yourself, which is never acceptable regardless of your rank).
I think that these three levels (dictionary form, polite -masu form and a smattering of more idiomatic phrases) are enough for most interactions in Japanese. I find that yakuza films and (to a lesser degree) older samurai films (since the language used can be a bit dated) are a handy way of picking up at least some of the ultra-polite expressions. Of course, as I said, as a foreigner you can get away with just using -masu forms for the most part, and you'll be forgiven for most mistakes. But then, even Japanese people have difficulties with ultra-polite language. There's a particularly good scene in "Ososhiki" (the funeral) where the next-of-kin have to watch an instructional video to learn the appropriate phrases for greeting mourners. It mightn't teach you any practical phrases, but I'd recommend the film nonetheless...
@I don't think there are that many
The forms you mentioned (-ru forms and -masu forms) exist for all verbs. However, polite conversation makes extensive use of humble and exalting variants of a few verbs (become, do, go, come, give and a few others) and combines these in idioms that are capable of expressing the six degrees of politeness another poster was mentioning. One never ever speaks in the same way to the Emperor, to one's parent, to one's friend, to one's company president, to one's direct boss, to one's assistant, to one's younger/newer colleague, to one's female colleague, to one's child, or indeed to someone else's child, and so on. If you do use an inappropriate level of politeness people feel offended, because if you are overly polite it is perceived as irony, and if you are insufficiently polite you are being rude. Foreigners get away with some inappropriateness, but past a certain limit you will lose goodwill and business. You will always be treated politely though, and even overly politely, if they want to have a laugh behind your back.
Well, at least that was what I learned while I was there, part of it 'the hard way'.
Hi.. thanks for that. I'd never actually considered the humble verb forms when I was counting up. I just lumped all of these things in as being idiomatically polite. And maybe, as you say, the proper distinction becomes increasingly important the longer your stay in Japan. I'm reminded of the Nihongo Notes series of books. They do a very good job of walking through the pitfalls in how the Japanese actually use the language, with Mr. Lerner making some mistake or other in each capsule lesson---sometimes, though by no means always, involving inappropriate levels of politeness.
I suppose that I was really more trying to get across that honorific speech in Japanese isn't actually as difficult as people think it is. More to the point, I actually think that Japanese is quite a simple language to learn on many fronts. It's got regular verb conjugation (with only a handful of tenses/modes to worry about), no male/female versions of words to learn, or even definite/indefinite articles. It's also got explicit topic and object/subject markers, so it's easy enough to parse. On the downside, adjectives and adverbs need to be conjugated (but they're all regular, with only two forms) and you have to count things differently depending on the type of object it is classed as (eg, days, bank-notes, plates, bottles, etc.). Other than that, I honestly think that learning Japanese grammar is a lot easier than for other languages.
I'm leaving aside the issue of learning to read and write, obviously, but even there Japanese is a whole lot easier than Chinese thanks to having hiragana and katakana for lots of the grammatical glue that holds the nouns, verbs and so on together. Chinese script just looks like an wall of hieroglyphs to me, despite being able to read a fair amount of kanji.
About politeness, in linguistics this refers to being polite, as in showing deference (and not only, this is called 'positive face), as well as being impolite or rude, or just critical of someone (this is 'negative face"). Of course, you can be polite or impolite towards your superiors as well as inferiors, and you can do that (intentionally or not) by using an inappropriate level of politeness. Imagine,for instance, someone of superior status being excessively polite towards someone of inferior status. The lower status person will be properly insulted, because he or she will interpret excessive politeness as unwarranted irony.
I think you are correct in saying that Japanese is syntactically regular and therefore easy to memorise, but the difficulty of the language lies in things like the politeness aspect, and other aspects outside syntax as such.
For me personally, another difficulty was learning the kanji, because, unlike in Chinese, most of them have more than one reading, so they each have to be learned together with as many contexts as you can remember.
With regard to counters, there are perhaps hundreds of them, but most of them are obscure linguistic curiosities, and in everyday life you can get away with twenty or so.
AFAIK Japanese beats Mandarin by a quite hefty margin
Spoken Japanese is quite an easy language to acquire reasonable proficiency in. Japanese was traditionally a tonal language, but tonal inflection has become largely vestigial, so most second-language speakers don't bother with it and have no trouble making themselves understood.
Written Japanese takes a bit of effort, but hiragana and katakana are only 46 symbols each and you only need to know about 1500 kanji to read nearly anything printed in the last century. Students learn to read and write Japanese as a second language with only a few years' coursework (which could be condensed into a much shorter timeframe). It's really not that hard.
There's a lot of folklore about what languages are "easy" or "difficult", and in my experience most of it is complete rubbish. Obviously you can make some general observations. Yes, tonal languages like Chinese require some practice for second-language speakers coming from non-tonal languages. Yes, the huge number of irregularities in English pronunciation and orthography mean a lot of memorization. But statements like "X, Y, and Z are the hardest languages" are patent nonsense.
No way English is one of the top three hardest languages to learn. Finnish and Czech have got to be harder, without even mentioning Navajo and Swiss German which cannot be pronounced if you did not hear them in the womb.
Though English does have this particularity that, say, a word ending in -ough can be pronounced in seven different ways:
- tough (as staff)
- trough (as scoff)
- though (as low)
- thorough (as law)
- through (as brew)
- bough (as how)
- hiccough (as cup)
Here's the doggerel that I know about it:
A Fresh Hack at an Old Knot
by Charles Battell Loomis
I'm taught p-l-o-u-g-h
S'all be pronouncé "plow."
"Zat's easy w'en you know," I say,
"Mon Anglais, I'll get through!"
My teacher say zat in zat case,
O-u-g-h is "oo."
And zen I laugh and say to him,
"Zees Anglais make me cough."
He say "Not 'coo' but in zat word,
O-u-g-h is 'off,'"
"Oh, Sacre bleu! Such varied sounds
Of words make me hiccough!"
He say, "Again mon frien' ees wrong;
O-u-g-h is 'up'
In hiccough." Zen I cry, "No more,
You make my t'roat feel rough."
"Non, non!" he cry, "You are not right;
O-u-g-h is 'uff.'"
I say, "I try to spik your words,
I cannot spik zem though."
"In time you'll learn, but now you're wrong!
O-u-g-h is 'owe'"
"I'll try no more, I s'all go mad,
I'll drown me in ze lough!"
"But ere you drown yourself," said he,
"O-u-g-h is 'ock.'"
He taught no more, I held him fast
And killed him wiz a rough.
No, it's eight different ways. You are of course forgetting "lough". Of course, this word is from one of the provinces and therefore the English don't believe it even exists and most of them can't pronounce it. I'm guessing you're American, though, based on your insane rhyming: "tough" with "staff" and "thorough" with "law"? Weirdo.
IBM came to the conclusion, when looking for a spoken language suitable for a computer, that the Finnish language was the number one language in that respect. To understand that you have to understand Finnish. Anyway I don't think any language is more, or less, easy to learn, it's all about to which group of languages your native language belongs, your age and how many other languages you are familiar with.
Kids learn their native tongue no matter the language. One of the advantages of Finnish is that it's written and pronounced the same way. If you do business with Finns you have to remember that they are awfully bad when it comes to spelling their names as they don't have to do it as it is spelled the way it's pronounced.
On the phone they will get your name and what ever wrong every second time and you will get it wrong too.
No way English is one of the top three hardest languages to learn
Given the number of NATIVE English speakers who are unable to speak it properly I'm inclined to disagree with you. I'm not just talking about uneducated Americans here. I've heard linguistic sins come from the mouths of Englishmen that would rival anything in one of Jeff Foxworthy's Southern words sketches. Idiots exist everywhere.
But when you set the difficulties of native speakers with unusual dialects aside, English still has a rather insane grammatical structure. Not to mention the inconsistent spelling rules and high number of common homonyms in the language. Add in all the regional dialects and pigeon tongues in the English speaking world, as well as the lack of anything remotely resembling a body of standards, and the whole language is a chaotic mess. It is, indeed, a very hard language to learn. I pity anyone trying to learn it as an adult.
I don't know how Polish compares to Russian, but I have been informed that it is pretty damn hard to learn. You have like 8 different ways you can say the word "Cat" depending on the context and who you're speaking to.
They do have some great sayings though. I have no idea how to spell it, but it's pronounced as "doo-pe nye oo-reeva", and it's essentially the same as an english person saying "eh, it doesn't blow my ass apart".
I tried Polish, talk about complexity! They even apply grammar to names of cities (easily four ways of spelling a city depending on whether you are from that city, are going to it, use it to describe an institution of that city etc.) and surnames (Magda Polanska is the wife of Tomasz Polanski etc.).
I am fluent in several very different languages, including both English and Russian. I speak these two from my very early childhood (from birth for practical purposes), and I use these and a couple of other languages (learned later) daily. From this prospective, I think the difficulties often stem from very different structure, and this is reflected in many comments here. Accordingly, the "difficulty" of a language is not absolute, but depend on what one knows or is used to.
- English is "analytical" on the sentence level. Sentences have a mostly fixed structure (subject-predicate-direct object, space-related clauses precede time-related ones, etc.), and exceptions are rather few and regular as well. This allows English to have, e.g., nouns that do not change between cases, i.e., the word's role in a sentence is derived from the position (and prepositions).
- In Russian words (nouns) change between cases (yes, proper names, and locations as well - I guess similar to Polish), and the specific form helps you identify the case and therefore the word's role in the sentence. Accordingly, the word order in a sentence is practically completely free, unlike in English.
- English pronunciation is very clear, especially the words' endings. Russians are very sloppy in their pronunciation (apart from vocals in stressed syllables), especially in the word endings. This makes good pronunciation very difficult for speakers of the other language. Russians may have more problems in Italy, but even the Brits may find that it is important to carefully pronounce the double ff when ordering "caffè" in a bar in Rome - more so than asking for "coffee" in London. This is something quite foreign to Russians who won't write or pronounce "кофе" with double anything.
- I don't think that the English "writing Liverpool and reading Manchester" is all that difficult, unless you are trying to guess how to pronounce a word you don't know (the 7 ways to pronounce *ough are a good example).
- Russians put multiple prefixes and suffixes to great use to convey nuances and personal attitudes where English-speakers will likely resort to multiple modifiers or give up altogether. This expressiveness in word-building is mind-boggling to foreigners and is extremely difficult to master. It is also very different from German word-building, completely unrelated.
- The power of English articles is completely foreign to Russian-speakers who don't know what articles are as their native language does not have them. Even Russians who speak pretty good English often don't use articles properly.
- English gender is usually neutral except for people and animals where biological functions are important. Russian has neutral gender but most words that would be neutral to English-speakers are actually feminine or masculine. It is exceedingly difficult to determine the gender from how the word is written or pronounced. Whether or not the fact that there is a neutral gender makes things easier or more difficult than in languages that don't do neutral (while French or Italian would benefit from some common European/Roman/Latin intuition, some more "exotic" language like Hebrew will not) I don't know, but dealing with gender is definitely difficult for anglophones. "Coffee" is neutral in English, but masculine in both Russian and Italian, though *lots* of Russians will mistakenly use neutral gender in their native language (confusing the Brits). On the other hand, translating from English into a language that *must* specify gender may be a problem without enough context, especially for dialogues/direct speech, when "I say/do/go" is unclear without knowing whether the speaker is male or female. Try translating subtitles without seeing the movie or having enough written hints. Translating into English will be simple in comparison.
And Asian languages add intonation as a means to convey meaning, non-alphabetic scripts, etc. I don't speak any Far-Eastern language to comment in more detail, but it is something completely different.
I suspect that learning Chinese/Mandarin may be easier for a native Japanese speaker than for either Russians or Brits. And Polish may be easier for Russians (but more useful for londoners?). And "la langue anglaise est une langue française mal prononcé" may be easier (to understand, not necessarily to accept or agree with) for English-speakers than for Russians or Chinese.
A very nice, cogent and obviously well-informed post. Thank you :)
I couldn't help but chuckle, though, when just after saying how fluent you were, you described having learned Russian and English from birth "for practical purposes". Not a criticism, just that it conjures up a completely different picture to having learned the languages "practically from birth" or "to all intents and purposes, from birth". I never considered infants making a concious decision which languages they're going to learn based on how practical they'll be :)
So, have an upvote for an informative post first, and the unintentional humour second.
Heathroi, I wonder if there are languages that use the Cyrillic script which have letters for English’s “h”, “w”, consonantal “y” (by itself), two “th” sounds, and the “ng” sound of ring, since Russian doesn’t have letters for these. (It doesn’t seem that using «нг» for “ng” would be any “better”.) The number of vowel sounds in English is greater than the number of Latin vowel letters (without diacritics), and I’d guess that the same would be true of Cyrillic vowel letters.
According to Steven Pinker, in one of his books, Hausa is an example of a really hard language.
Chinese is certainly not hard for everyone. I knew someone who got to the level of basic conversation in Chinese in a few months over the summer holidays.
However, it does seem to depend on the individual and not just on the linguistic background. Some English people insist that French is much easier than German, while others insist that German is much easier than French. I've heard that it's similar for Finnish people with English and Russian.
All the Slavic languages (Czech, Polish, Russian, etc) have the same ability to change words based on who, how, when, and sometimes where relative to the speaker, listener, and subject of the sentence. It is designed to confuse - in fact, one of my Czech language books says that the Czech language is one of the greatest weapons the country has! It isn't so much a language as a framework to add endings to ...
"I don't know how Polish compares to Russian, but I have been informed that it is pretty damn hard to learn. You have like 8 different ways you can say the word "Cat" depending on the context and who you're speaking to.
They do have some great sayings though. I have no idea how to spell it, but it's pronounced as "doo-pe nye oo-reeva", and it's essentially the same as an english person saying "eh, it doesn't blow my ass apart"."
Polish native speaker here.
The "8 way of saying cat" is probably a reference to declension (we have 7 cases for nouns, one which is the equivalent of the Saxon genitive). In English that's comparable to "who/whom", but for all nouns instead. Usually several cases of a noun have the same form (so "cat" has 5 distinct declination forms actually), but yeah, it's a lot to remember.
Polish phonology is MUCH simpler than English `though - if you know how to pronounce one sequence of letters in a word, you probably know how to pronounce them in all words.
And your rendition of "dupy nie urywa" made my day - it's quite close to how you should say it too! So in thanks, here's another, somewhat related Polish saying to amuse you:
W dupie był, gówno widział.
He was [only] in an arse, [so] he's seen shit.
At least with written English, everyone has the letters on their keyboards to translate. I've seen Japanese keyboards, with both the European characters and their own. And you only have 26 letters to chose from. You can at least type them into your phone for a translation.
Russian has some extra funky characters
Chinese, Arabic, etc are a little more script like.
>The main difficulties with English are too many exceptions to rules and words that sound identical
> but are spelt differently depending on meaning
"The hardest language to learn" does NOT mean "The hardest language to spell", or even "The hardest language to read" (which English is not).
English is difficult for many people to speak and understand because it has more distinct vowel sounds than many languages. They have (for example) difficulty understanding the difference between "ship" and "sheep".
Going from a language with many distinct sounds to one with fewer is easier than going from one with few distinct sounds to a language with many distinct sounds.
All people always have this difficulty when learning a language: English is more difficult in this respect because it has more distinct vowel sounds than many other languages.
This does not make English a very difficult language to learn: (like trade languages, it was simplified by it's multiple sources) but it is an aspect of English that many people have difficulty with.
Apart from that, it is interesting to note (1) That it takes a child something like 18 years to become a good English speaker: I compare the language of the 15yo's I work with to that of the 18yo's I work with.
And (2) That "difficulty in learning" has no effect on how many people actually learn a language. People always learn both easy and difficult languages if there is an economic or social benefit.
English may be tough for Foreigners, BUT the British are very tolerant of mistakes and will help a Foreigner who tries to speak English, and we're pretty good at understanding badly spoken English, I have to say I prefer it when they try to speak British English, but unfortunately the American accents and spellings get everywhere these days!
"English may be tough for Foreigners, BUT the British are very tolerant of mistakes " - AC 10:51
Indeed, the strength of English is that it's still more or less intelligible even when mangled, mainly because it came about by a mangling of a huge number of other languages. French is too homogenous- there's only really one 'French' so unless you're spot on people often won't quite get what you're saying for the first few goes.
Russian seem to be good like that too, I spent a while over there and utterly mangled the language and still got my (rather technical) point across.
Still the only language I've found where I failed the Big Mac Challenge*, though**.
*On your first trip to a country, go to a McDonalds and order a Big Mac or equivalent without resorting to English or pointing.
** I've not yet been to China, I assume it'll be even more difficult...
"unfortunately the American accents and spellings get everywhere these days!"
Their grammar too:
Their corrupted and ever more irregular grammar, with lots of unnecessary prepositons and the omission of necessary ones leading to verbosity and ambiguity.
Speaking German, as I do, I recognise the strong immigrant pidgin-English effect from German, East European and Yiddish (strong German influence) speakers.
The sad thing is, even the BBC is starting to use American grammar and vocabulary, let alone the younger people heavily influenced by film and computer.
...and the omission of necessary ones...
Skipping over the irony of a rant on grammar that misses the benefits of the same, I would like someone - anyone - to take the blame for the word "ones" as used here. I do not know who first decided to use "ones" to mean something other than "low denomination bills you leave as a tip," but it strikes me in much the same way as do "very unique" and "completely similar."
I would like someone - anyone - to take the blame for the word "ones" as used here. I do not know who first decided to use "ones" to mean something other than "low denomination bills you leave as a tip," but it strikes me in much the same way as do "very unique" and "completely similar."
It strikes you wrong. Plural pronoun "ones" in this sense goes back at least as far as the seventeenth century, per the OED; similar use with the singular number goes back several centuries before that. (I realize the entry for "one" occupies several pages in the OED, but really any educated English reader should be able to find this out with no more than fifteen minutes' research.)
If you don't like English, you're welcome to use another language. I realize we might miss out on some rants about your personal shibboleths, but I'm sure we'll survive.
Anonymous Coward of 13:40 GMT, would you please provide some examples of the corrupted and ever more irregular American grammar, where lots of unnecessary prepositions are included and necessary prepositions are omitted? Given your familiarity with German, which other telltale signs of German and Yiddish influence have you recognized in US English?
Primus Secundus Tertius, sentence adverbs have been a part of English since at least the 17th century. In the particular case of hopefully, I’ll quote from the The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:
Someone who says Hopefully, the treaty will be ratified makes a hopeful prediction about the fate of the treaty, whereas someone who says I hope (or We hope or It is hoped) the treaty will be ratified expresses a bald statement about what is desired. Only the latter could be continued with a clause such as but it isn’t likely.
Regarding meet vs. meet with, the latter is used only in the sense of “by previous arrangement”. Thus, I met Joe Bloggs could mean either that you encountered him by chance at your local market, or that you purposely got together to sort out how best to fix his leaky shed roof; but I met with Joe Bloggs avoids that ambiguity, since it would not be used in the random encounter sense.
Both of your examples do have German analogues, but they also have distinct purposes within English.
I am an Englishman who went to Cardiff High School, and so studied Welsh in the same way as I studied French, and then Latin, and finally German. I therefore say that Welsh is comparable in difficulty to those other languages; but many English people describe it as obscure.
Russian and Hungarian have reputations of being infested with grammatical paraphernalia, but perhaps it all seems natural if you grow up with it. Or perhaps it does not, and their schoolteachers have a hard time beating correct usage into their youngsters.
Certainly about half of British people don't 'do' reading and writing except under extreme pressure. (An overlapping half does not 'do' the Internet.) Full use of any language seems to be hard.
'Nonetheless, China's Education Ministry is poised to launch another Mandarin unification drive, with a spokeswoman saying it would be "focusing on the countryside and areas with ethnic minorities".'
No doubt concentrating on the Uighurs and their like who, despite there only being around eight million of them, continue to speak their own dialect, much to the fury of the Central Committee, who love homogeneity in all things - or at least among the masses.
If you consider the size of France and Germany (as a European example) and their short distance apart, we don't express surprise that the people in those two regions/countries speak in different languages. Then consider the size of the regions of China and their geographical separation from each other.
No they don't. There are 56 recognized ethnic groups (and probably many more self recognized) with almost 300 spoken languages, at least 30 written languages and more than 15 different scripts. Many of them (Mongolian, Manchu & Tibetan for example) bare more resemblance to Arabic than any of the three "Chinese" scripts.
While it is popular to believe that one day everyone will speak Chinese, most language experts doubt that will ever happen.
The barrier to entry for Mandarin is relatively high, it takes an unusually large lexicon (necessary, not optional like English), minor pronunciation differences can change a meaning dramatically, and then there is the very large character set one needs to learn just to reach the level of a ten year old. Even the Chinese are very prone to making mistakes in their own language and take a relatively long time to master it.
The future is more likely to be a dominated by languages with a low barrier to entry. This could be something akin to Spanish or combination of a number of languages which have become less complex than their original forms. If you compare modern Dutch to modern German for instance (two languages with a common ancestor) you'll see that Dutch has lost most of the complex grammar without losing the power or subtlety to express all important information. Not that anyone would be learning Dutch of course, it just shows that removing complexity doesn't have to negatively affect the usefulness. It might lose some beauty however...
The future is to simpler languages.
They tried that, didn't work, look up Esperanto. The future will be dominated by the most common language used by business AKA English.
PinYin is the main simplification and its what the kids start with. It's not uncommon for mandarin speakers to not know all of the 3000 odd common characters. Also the tones are not quite as essential people think, its contextual as well.
I see Esperanto as a remarkable success story. It has survived wars and revolutions and economic crises and continues to attract people to learn and speak it. Esperanto works! I've used it in speech and writing in about seventeen countries over recent years. I recommend it to anyone, as a way of making friendly local contacts in other countries.
There's a case for the wider use of Esperanto.
This map is enlightening.
the people in China who do not speak Mandarin, are the people in the southern coastal provinces. These places are where much of the recent economic growth has occurred. That is, the non-Mandarin speakers are the rich people. That is, the richer parts of China are also the parts of country that have the least in common with Beijing culturally. This is not necessarily a positive thing for Chinese stability. One thing that Beijing is attempting to do by pushing Mandarin is to assert its culture over that of its provinces. (Most of the time it will deny that these provinces have any culture at all).
Commenting here as a native English speaker from the UK. I learned German in school for a few years, but with no real purpose to the learning, I never really paid that much attention to it. I'm not a natural linguist. However, I moved to Finland a decade ago and found the language surprisingly easy. I've also learned a little Czech and a little Cantonese in that time, as well as bits and pieces of some other languages. I have to say, any variant of Chinese is a lot harder purely due to its tonality; having both tried many languages myself and see people from various countries trying English and other languages, it seems to me that the percieved difficulty of languages like Finnish come mostly from a point of view of unfamiliarity. People are wary of the unknown, and assume it will be hard because it's different. But really, anything with a Latin-compatible alphabet will be fairly easy for most English speakers. The single largest impediment to English speakers for learning *any* foreign language is how insular their own linguistic backgrounds usually are - in English-speaking countries, we don't get a lot of exposure to, and to be fair rarely have any real excuse to need, foreign languages. Books are translated, movies are dubbed, subtitles are 'too much effort', and you know, 'everybody speaks English anyway'.
All it takes is the right mindset and a little perseverence.
I lived in Finland for 16 months and was just about getting used to it at the end.
Not only is the grammar totally different to English but the letters are pronounced in the German rather than English manner.
On top of that the Finns weren't very error tolerant of mis-pronunciation and it wasn't just me; other foreigners found the same. I lived in Hyvinkää, pronounced Hoo-vink-uh. Pronounce it Hi-vink-ah and the would look at you like you were from Mars. I tried ordering a beer once in a pub using "sanko olut" and they couldn't even guess what I wanted.
And I got better at it than many of my ex-pat colleagues who had been there a lot longer. Finnish girlfriends became a bit a necessity.
There's an English film maker who lives there and is practically bilingual so it can be done.
If you travel in China, it's remarkable how Mandarin is known in the north, and incomprehensible to many in the south :-)
On the other hand, all the Chinese I know assume that Mandarin is the future on the basis it's easiest to type on a Western keyboard. Supposedly they attempted to convert the Chinese from using characters to the Roman alphabet in the 50's, but it failed :-)
just had a look at this - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wubi_method
The Wubi method allows computerisation of the pictograms - I suppose the information density is about the same as english et. al.
I think a better analogy for the discrepancy might be, in the UK, English being the state language and other people being happy with Cymraig, Kernowek, Gaelic, urdu, hindi etc.
I suspect that germans and british learning french, for example, are equally as bad as each-other.
We can blame the french for the "ough"
Compare Tochter, Gebracht, durch (german) with daughter, brought, through - the "ch" eliminated post norman invasion.
I understand that modern english owes a lot to where the vikings met the normans and all the gender, case endings etc pretty much disappeared. Possessive s and some case endings from the german remaining. This explains the chaotic 'english' spellings!
Mit wem? - with whom? The man's dog. Der Hund des Mannes
It used to be that French was the 'lingua franca', used internationally for diplomacy and trade. These days, English seems to have taken over. Interestingly though, it appears to be a subset of English, with simplified grammar, pronunciation and syntax that is used commonly between non-native English speakers, to the extent that native English speakers themselves find it hard to understand. Languages have a habit of obtaining words and phrases from each other (for example, English has 'beef' from the French boeuf, and French has 'le shopping'), so it is likely that if we do ever all end up speaking a common tongue, it will be a conglomeration of several languages, taking the grammar and words which are most useful, and easiest to master from each.
Yes, it is good to know other languages, but forcing people on your language is not such a good thing, you know, they may be what you say before, and because of the loss of its own language in the background noise, and You will not notice that they can plan nasty things you want to replace the Hibiscus Lemon Chicken.
But what do I know? Most people here talking about something that can be seen as a bad day in English, but Aberdeen you.
If the Chinese would all learn English (preferably the proper version, just to annoy the Americans) then they'd find life a lot easier when it came to typing and dealing with the rest of the world. Being a third-party neutral language it wouldn't be quite the same as forcing all the other Chinese regions to speak the one preferred Chinese language.
However, they're remarkably resistant, just like the Brits. I've been told that Chinatown in San Francisco has residents who cannot speak English but because they never leave their community, don't need to.
"preferably the proper version, just to annoy the Americans"
You know, for all that I see Brits say stuff like this, it's almost always they who rage against American English rather than the other way around. It's actually kind of amusing, given how much they mock the French for being lingually protective...
But dang, ain't no place a mine ta tell nobody when they done right speakin', I allas say.
Hey, I married one. We have regular discussions about the language and its evolution over the years. It can be quite enlightening when delving into the origin of words.
One example, which also shows how the English language steals words from other languages:
zucchini v courgette - zuccha is Italian for squash, and courge is the French equivalent. What you end up with is the diminutive of both, and chances are it was introduced to the US by Italian immigrants rather than French ones.
With the current widespread usage of English, I don't see it being usurped as the world's lingua Franca. That said, with making a living getting harder & harder in the Western world (& likely to continue so), learning a second language appropriate to areas with very high levels of economic activity (1.3 billion Chinese, that's a LOT of economic activity) can be the way forward for people with a little foresight.
Writing Chinese, at least beyond the basic level, isn't going to be that useful & bloody hard & time-consuming too. The spoken part can be picked up, to conversational level, in less than a year if enough effort is made.
You can't really blame the Chinese government for trying to do something that would tend to make all the people inside its borders think of themselves as Chinese though...
A Roman in the year DCCLX AUC would have thought that Latin had an assured future, with perhaps a minor role for Greek. But the old Latin is gone, replaced with descendant languages that are at best partially mutually intelligible. I am told that Italians and Spaniards can follow about half what the other chap says, but French is more remote (because it has borrowed more from the barbarians).
Most of the languages discussed are languages that have a close relationship with the race/ethnicity and culture of the people in the region where most of its speakers are.
In North American, for many of us who have English as a first language, it isn't about race or ethnicity. Even though my family (of Celtic origins) has spoken English for seven generations, I feel have more in common with a Francophone of Celtic origins than I have in common with a seventh generation English speaker descended from Slavic or Cyrillic speakers.
I´ve been technically supervising a union conference until one hour ago.
There was a guy using the same grammar like Yoda.
In German, with an Austrian accent.
16 interpreters got completly lost in the attempt to translate what this bloke was talking about.
I had to run outside. Hilarious!
To You Grammar Nazi Commentards: I´m Dschörmän and looking forward Your ´tars about my own grammar. Be with may you the encyclopedia britannica.
Apparently President Obama wants everyone to learn a foreign language, but which one should it be?
The British learn French, the Australians study Japanese, and the Americans prefer Spanish. Yet this leaves Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Hindi, out of the equation.
Perhaps it's time to move forward and adopt a neutral non-national language, taught universally in schools worldwide, in all nations? That truly would be a courageous step.
As a native English speaker, I would prefer the international language, Esperanto. Google the word "Esperanto" and find out how popular it is:)
In Hong Kong, the infrastructure (e.g. escalators) are designed for walking on the left; this matches their UK based Rules of the Road. But the recent influx of Mainlanders from China (Righties) has led to utter pedestrian chaos. The HK noobies naturally tend to the right. So in-between the forced realignment of moving sidewalks and escalators, everyone heads for the exact same square inch. I've not seen such unnecessary chaos in what once an organized City State.
I figure the sneaker-clad professional pedestrians of NYC would have a melt down if they parachuted into Tsim Sha Tsui without warning.
For laughs, Google Earth your way to the todger-shaped driving direction reversing highway between Macau to China. You can't say that they don't have a (Top Gear) sense of humour.
A guy I know who does tech support for a small, consumer-focused software company had an interesting experience. He and his company are American, and at one point he received a rather garbled English email from a customer. After several exchanges, while he appreciated the customer's struggling to use an unfamiliar language, it became clear that he needed to change tactics.
He emailed the customer and suggested that it might help if the customer used his native language, and he'd translate with help from coworkers and Google.
This did not go over well with the now-enraged customer, who tersely notified the tech that he had been born and raised in the United States.
Branching out a bit; I believe it's true that following Indian independence, the Indian parliament debated what language to designate as the 'official' one for government purposes. But because Hindi is primarily spoken in the North, and one or more of the other proposed languages (escapes me temporarily which ones) were predominantly in use in the South, they couldn't agree on an 'indigenous' language for the whole country, so went back to English.
Happy to be corrected on how this went down by others more knowledgeable.
This statement reveals the 'problem' areas.
Much of China is 'remote', particularly in the west, north-west and north-east.
These rural areas have absolutely minimal 'services' from the Central Government. No electricity, no TV, occasionally a regional short-wave broadcast transmitter, no water, no sewage treatment, absolutely nothing.
Houses are often made of grass sod (roofs are also do suspended on hand-hewn wooden beams). The people are dressed in 'clothing' made from a sacking-like material. When I visited the rural areas of GuangXi Province my camping gear looked like luxury accommodation. I had GPS and my Sony short-wave, along with cameras. My (unauthorised) satellite-phone, through satellite InterNet, let me show them ShangHai with it's tall, weird looking buildings which they couldn't accept as being real.
A friend I know in NanNing, GuangXi Province, took me with her on her annual vacation to her home village and was an experience that made me realise, and appreciate, things we consider 'normal'. I tell you, hauling a plastic drum of water from the river makes you appreciate conservation!
But with education comes demands for services and facilities. The question will be, Is the Chinese Government prepared to foot the bill?
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