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Language Complexity

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Language Complexity

Postby tronDB » Thu Feb 28, 2008 1:55 am

I'm very new to this site and to these forums, but I'd like to see what informed opinions I can gather about a question that's really been on my mind over the past year. As I'm nearing completion of Learn to Read Latin as well as Hansen and Quinn's Greek course, I can't help but wonder how people could have possibly spoken these languages. They're too complex for me to speak at a reasonable pace. I'd really like to know why this is. Is it that people have simply gotten dumber through the ages; that our age and the people who live in it are somehow inferior to those who lived in the distant past? Why do Greek and Latin seem so complex to me? Is it that Indo-European languages have over time traded morphological complexity for syntactical complexity, as it were? Would it be just as difficult for an ancient Athenian to learn modern English as it is for me to learn ancient Greek? Or is this just my modern ego trying to save itself from imploding due to some massive inferiority complex?

If there are any linguists out there who have thought about this I'd love to hear what you have to say!
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Postby MiguelM » Thu Feb 28, 2008 2:23 am

In my opinion, though I am no specialist, they aren't inherently harder or easier than most modern languages. It's a different thought structure that permits the language, and children growing with it would just use it naturally. They can't be assumed to have been "smarter" or that we are "dumber". For all effects, Finnish still possesses a total of 15 cases, to which Latin or Greek are nothing.

It is difficult to you because it is not only a different language being learnt after the "childhood" phase, in which children have the maximized potential for language learning (in fact, children living today in bilingual environemnts can, from a young age, speak those languages in a natural way, and being perfectly capable of telling one language from another (a feat we so try to emulate by dabbling over our foreign languages with Grammar books and exercises); because you don't have either a Latin or Greek environment surrounding you and so you can't be constantly being bombarded by the languages (in the way that spending time in a country whose language you are trying to learn will help you acquire it at an immensely faster rate, due to both active use of it and also passive reception); and because it is a language structure, being both highly inflected languages, to which you are not used to. I have no data, but I could certainly argue that the Finnish people whose example I gave above have an easier time learning these languages (as do certainly other's whose languages still contain reminiscences of the case system, as is the case of Romenian, German, or most Romances anyway).
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Re: Language Complexity

Postby nov ialiste » Thu Feb 28, 2008 10:17 am

tronDB wrote: Is it that Indo-European languages have over time traded morphological complexity for syntactical complexity, as it were? Would it be just as difficult for an ancient Athenian to learn modern English as it is for me to learn ancient Greek? Or is this just my modern ego trying to save itself from imploding due to some massive inferiority complex?

The Romance and Germanic languages have become more analytical than their ancestral languages with English perhaps the most analytical. I don't believe that there is a real inherent difference in their dificulty. English is in fact not an especially easy language, in spite of comments to the contrary. Bad English is fairly easy, but that's not the same.

I agree with MiguelM's comment. In fact my main foreign language is Finnish as I live in Finland (English is my native language). I started learning Finnish from books with all the paradigms and stuff, but would experience real "wild" Finnish on a daily basis (not understanding much for the first one or 2 years).

However, as you really learn such a language and then use it a lot in real life, you actually tend to forget the paradigms and rules as such. I might have to think a bit to write out a certain noun declension, in spite of knowing it without thinking in real use. I suppose this is approaching the situation with native speakers, who learn from masses of repetition within real live contexts from when they are babies.

The noun declensions of Finnish are probably more difficult than Latin. For me at least, this is not due to the greater number of cases (15 cases is normally quoted). I have no difficulty with multiple cases: it's simply having something after the core of the word instead of before it (like prepositions in English). Also the endings are largely consistent across different noun declensions. The difficulty for the beginner is the large number of different ways in which the stem changes according to the case and ending. There are about 35 different declensions not counting vowel harmony (which is fairly straightforward).

Verbs also are subject to this consonant gradation.

So the beginner has masses of morphology to learn before he can really begin to use the language.

Natives of course learn it differently, bit by bit from childhood with masses of daily repetition.

Most Finns learn English at school these days usually to a fairly fluent or very fluent level. This typically involves 7 to 9 years of study with lots of emphasis on the importance of learning the language, so pupils are generally highly motivated. But English is in fact very "alien" to them, like Finnish is "alien" to us. Those who received less intense teaching or didn't study it hard at school find English difficult.

Concerning intelligence, less than average intelligence is quite adequate for learning foreign languages. It's more to do with the amount and quality of teaching, practice and learning opportunities, although of course some people have a better "knack" for languages and learn more easily.
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Postby thesaurus » Thu Feb 28, 2008 5:37 pm

Basque is yet another example of a "difficult" modern language (that may be going the way of Latin--i.e. dead):
A Basque noun-phrase is inflected in 17 different ways for case, multiplied by 4 ways for its definiteness and number. These first 68 forms are further modified based on other parts of the sentence, which in turn are inflected for the noun again. It's been estimated that, with two levels of recursion, a Basque noun may have 458,683 inflected forms.[13]


The beauty is that you could take any random baby in the world, and raised in a Basque speaking environment, he or she will speak it fluently with in a few years.

I don't have any research to prove this, but I think Michael de Montaigne was probably the very last native Latin speaker. He lived in the 16th century France, but his father had him raised in a Latin only environment until he was an adolescent; only then did he learn his country's native French. So his first language was Latin and he was in fact a true master of it, without any difficulty on his part.

Language acquisition is a beautiful thing--I would argue one of the defining characteristics that makes someone a human--so you don't need to worry about a connection between intelligence and language learning.

As mentioned, when discussing foreign languages "difficult" is a relative scale. People often mention Icelandic as being a very difficult language, but that's only because there's lots to remember for an English speaker. Someone who speaks a Norwegian language would find it much less difficult. Because of its new focus, Arabic is also frequently cited as difficult these days. But speakers of other Semitic langauges, like Hebrew, would not find it especially difficult.

Also as mentioned, I've wondered for a while now whether there is any research examining relative competence in Greek and Latin for native speakers of highly inflected languages, Slavic ones for example.
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Re: Language Complexity

Postby nov ialiste » Thu Feb 28, 2008 7:10 pm

tronDB wrote:Would it be just as difficult for an ancient Athenian to learn modern English as it is for me to learn ancient Greek? Or is this just my modern ego trying to save itself from imploding due to some massive inferiority complex?

Sorry to keep referring to Finnish, but it's interesting to wonder if a native speaker of Latin from classical times would find modern English or Finnish easier.

In terms of vocabulary English would be easier because it has so many words from Old French and Latin, whereas most of the Finnish words are completely alien to speakers of Indo-European languages.

In terms of pronunciation he might find Finnish a little easier, because it has fewer alien sounds like th (voiced and unvoiced) and I suspect the English gliding diphthongs could be hard for a Latin speaker.

Finnish lacks the great difficulty of learning how to use definite and indefinite articles, which presumably would be alien to our Latin speaker.

In terms of the amount of morphology to be learnt and the use of various verbal constructions and the direct object case, the Latin speaker would find modern English easier.

So on balance, I think if our Latin speaker were diligently to study both he would ultimately find English easier, after overcoming various special difficulties.

So, advanced students of Latin, how would you translate the following into Latin?

"This English language is a strangely mixed and difficult language!"
:D

My conclusion is that the Latin speaker learning English might find it a bit easier than vice versa, but I should imagine the difference is not so great. (I can't comment on Ancient Greek not having studied it seriously.)
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Postby tronDB » Fri Feb 29, 2008 4:19 am

Thanks very much for the replies.

I've considered the possibility that the evolution of synthetic to analytic languages might involve a trade of morphological complexity for syntactic complexity, but since I'm a completely monolingual anglophone it's extraordinarily difficult for me to imagine highly inflected languages like Latin or Greek as anything but more complex (i.e. requiring more mental activity) than my native English. A completely different (I would also argue a more developed and complex) thought pattern is required to understand an Ancient Greek sentence than is required to understand an English one. When an Athenian listened to spoken Greek, his brain had to identify the function of a particular word or words before he knew the verb of the sentence. When the verb was finally revealed, he had to somehow recall all of the words prior it in order to make any sense of the sentence. I dunno why, but the way my brain processes English seems quite lazy by comparison.

I would also definitely agree with the idea that any baby, immersed in any language, could "pick it up" just as easily as any other, but I have to wonder if that baby's native language will somehow determine the limits of its ability to express complex or abstract ideas.

This probably sounds like I've read nothing you guys have written. Sorry if I sound dumb, but I'm having a hard time understanding how analytic languages can be "complex."
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Postby Arvid » Fri Feb 29, 2008 8:34 am

tronDB wrote:Sorry if I sound dumb, but I'm having a hard time understanding how analytic languages can be "complex."


"I feel your pain," tronDB! Much as I would like to think otherwise, I'm essentially a monoglot English-speaker, and word choice and word order seem like such natural things to manipulate that they don't seem like they could yield the kind of complexity that the intimidating paradigms of Greek and Latin do, but consider for a moment: Suppose there are five words in a verb phrase. 5!=125 different word orders (not all of them sensible of course.) Now suppose you had just a choice of three words to use in each of these slots...well, you're already way past the number of possibilities of any inflectional paradigm in any language I'm aware of. The auxiliary verb system in English, in particular, truly is a precision instrument that foreign learners have a devil of a time learning to use properly. English has a reputation for being simple to learn, because it is possible to learn a very simplified version of English that will let you ask directions and whatnot, possibly more easily than most other languages; but to learn the full complexity of English syntax and make use of it correctly is a horrendous task for the uninitiated.

I don't think there's any need for an inferiority complex on the diachronic front, unless you're willing to acknowledge inferiority synchronically as well. Just sticking to Indo-European, Lithuanian is the most complex living IE language, much more complex morphologically than Greek. It retains all eight cases, three numbers, and so on; it's much more like Sanskrit in terms of morphology. I may be wrong, but I refuse to believe that Lithuanians are systematically smarter than we are. Even in the same branch, Serbo-Croatian is quite conservative, retaining a lot of morphological complexity, while right next door, Bulgarian is even more synthetic than English. I know of no IQ test results that would show a big difference, however!

If you're willing to look outside Indo-European, some languages, particularly in America, are so stupefyingly complicated, and grammaticalize so many distinctions that we would never think of making, let alone burying in morphology, that you have to wonder how anybody learned them. (Unfortunately, the past tense is more and more appropriate as time goes on.) The explanation, as thesaurus said, is that our brains are just constructed so as to acquire these skills within a certain time frame when we're young. The possible languages that could exist are enormously diverse and fascinating (pace Chomsky,) but they're somehow all covered by this marvelous mechanism.

P. S. I thought the Bad Old Days of trying to fit totally alien languages into the Procrustean Bed of Latin Grammar were over: are they literally still showing grids and charts of nouns in a agglutinative language like Finnish, instead of just enumerating the suffixes and their functions? It's no surprise that there are fifteen different suffixes (postpositions?) that can be affixed to a noun, but listing the resulting composite words in a chart and calling them "case forms" just seems like making things seem more complicated than they are!
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Postby nov ialiste » Fri Feb 29, 2008 11:59 am

Arvid wrote:P. S. I thought the Bad Old Days of trying to fit totally alien languages into the Procrustean Bed of Latin Grammar were over: are they literally still showing grids and charts of nouns in a agglutinative language like Finnish, instead of just enumerating the suffixes and their functions? It's no surprise that there are fifteen different suffixes (postpositions?) that can be affixed to a noun, but listing the resulting composite words in a chart and calling them "case forms" just seems like making things seem more complicated than they are!

I can see your point. However, the main difficulty with noun declension (adjectives and numerals also decline) is the changes in the stem. So it isn't possble to say e.g. here are the case endings in the singular, and here are those in the plural and off you go. That would be easy. But the stems change in various ways and plurals are formed in various ways which leads to about 35 different declensions. For most nouns it suffices to learn 4 forms of the noun, and knowing those you can recognise the declension and form all the other cases in the singular and plural.

Tables of paradigms are useful for reference or revision purposes. The main learning, I found, comes from reading and hearing forms in the context of a sentence.

And about agglutination which is common in Finnish. The truly agglutinative aspects are pretty easy, just tagging on one suffix after another. Noun declension and verb conjugation aren't like that though because of the changes in the stem.
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Postby Arvid » Fri Feb 29, 2008 11:22 pm

Not meaning to pontificate on something I know very little about, but aren't the changes in the stem when different suffixes are added due to vowel harmony and maybe some other phonetic rules, which of course native speakers instinctively know, and learners should learn separately and use on every paradigm? Of course, a lot of the seemingly arbitrary changes in Indo-European conjugations and declensions are really attributable to the same kind of thing, but they seem much less transparent--buried farther back in the mists of time, perhaps? Just my two cents; as a Norwegian, my only real involvement with Finnish is disabusing the people who think it's a Scandinavian language. Jesus wept!
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Postby nov ialiste » Sat Mar 01, 2008 5:37 pm

Arvid wrote:Not meaning to pontificate on something I know very little about, but aren't the changes in the stem when different suffixes are added due to vowel harmony and maybe some other phonetic rules, which of course native speakers instinctively know, and learners should learn separately and use on every paradigm? Of course, a lot of the seemingly arbitrary changes in Indo-European conjugations and declensions are really attributable to the same kind of thing, but they seem much less transparent--buried farther back in the mists of time, perhaps? Just my two cents; as a Norwegian, my only real involvement with Finnish is disabusing the people who think it's a Scandinavian language. Jesus wept!


Vowel harmony is fairly easy. Vowels are divided into two incompatible groups and in a basic word (as opposed to compound words) only compatible vowels occur.

One group: a, o, u

Another group: ä, ö, y

The vowels e and i are neutral, i.e. they are compatible with all others. If the root word has only e or i, any endings will use group 2 vowels.

Some case endings have 2 slightly different forms according to the requirements of harmony. Examples:

tuoli = chair (from Swedish, stol, in fact)
seinä = wall
pää = head

tuolilta (off the chair)
seinältä (off the wall)
päältä (off the head)

Here the ablative ending is -lta or -ltä as required by harmony.

The four forms to remember are: nom. sing., partitive sing., gen. sing. and partitive plural. For the above 3 nouns:

tuoli, tuolia, tuolin, tuoleja
seinä, seinää, seinän, seiniä
pää, päätä, pään, päitä

Those examples don't involve any consonant gradation. Some examples displaying consonant gradation:

maito, maitoa, maidon, maitoja (milk)
auto, autoa, auton, autoja (car) (in auto the t doesn't change to d because it's a modern borrowed word)
pöytä, pöytää, pöydän, pöytiä (table)

Some assorted others:

huone, huonetta, huoneen, huoneita (room)
kolme, kolmea, kolmen, kolmia (three)
yksi, yhtä, yhden, yhtiä (one)
vesi, vettä, veden, vesiä (water)
suku, sukua, suvun sukuja (extended family)
suihku, suihkua, suihkun, suihkuja (shower)
polku, polkua, polun, polkuja (path)

and so on. (A k can disappear, remain or change to v!)

At least to me, such inflexion is not agglutination.

Here's some agglutination using auto (car):

auto (car)
autoni (my car)
autossa (in the/a car)
autossani (in my car)
autossaniko? (in my car?)

More than 3 agglutinative suffixes is uncommon but can occur.

Learning all the morphology is a massive task for foreign learners. And then there's syntax etc. Some beginners truly despair. :shock:

Anyway, as the Finns like say, Finnish is easy, even 5-year olds can speak it!
(Yeah, but they do talk like 5-year olds...) :D
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Postby Arvid » Sat Mar 01, 2008 9:42 pm

Thanks for the info! See, this is what makes Comparative Linguistics so fascinating to me, in spite of the scorn modern Linguists heap on it. Finnish would still be classified as an agglutinative language by those who still use such terminology, but obviously many of these suffixes have begun to be phonetically absorbed into the stem, causing numerous changes, while others are still completely transparent, like in Turkish or Japanese. A 19th-Century Linguist would say that we've caught Finnish in the middle of a transformation from agglutinative to inflectional, like Greek, where the elements that coalesced to make up a particular inflectional form are more or less completely unobvious. Since to a modern linguist, all languages' "deep structures" are the same, they don't care about this kind of thing, but I find it really interesting!
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Postby nov ialiste » Mon Mar 03, 2008 12:33 am

Arvid wrote: Finnish would still be classified as an agglutinative language by those who still use such terminology, but obviously many of these suffixes have begun to be phonetically absorbed into the stem, causing numerous changes, while others are still completely transparent, like in Turkish or Japanese. A 19th-Century Linguist would say that we've caught Finnish in the middle of a transformation from agglutinative to inflectional, like Greek, where the elements that coalesced to make up a particular inflectional form are more or less completely unobvious.

This is true. I would say that Finnish has important agglutinative aspects but there's lot of inflection as well.

Some people like to make a big deal about the large number of possible forms of a noun using agglutination. In my opinion it is no big deal, as it's simply a matter of tagging on multiple and alternative suffixes.

I don't know how many prepositions there are in English but you might as well make a big deal of the number of alternative
preposition + determiner/possessive pronoun + noun + nom./gen. + sing./plur.

permutations are possible. The number is large, but we don't think of it as a big deal.

I try to demystify Finnish, because I think its difficulties are exaggerated, not least by the Finnish people. But the beginner certainly has a lot of morphology to learn.
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Re: Language Complexity

Postby dlb » Wed May 28, 2008 12:44 am

tronDB wrote: Is it that people have simply gotten dumber through the ages; that our age and the people who live in it are somehow inferior to those who lived in the distant past?


Well, I am as far from a linguist as you can get but I would like to follow the above quote w/ a comment, please.

If, according to your logic we were getting dumber, both of us would not be able to have this dialogue in this manner!
If, according to your logic we are inferior, I would first question your method of measurement. Does the ability to speak Greek or Latin make one superior to another?

To answer your question plainly w/o being blunt, move to Greece, move to Italy, or become a Catholic! You will see that submersion in a culture allows you to overcome numerous language barriers.
I hope that your learning goes smoothly!
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Observito Quam Educatio Melius Est.
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Latin and Arabic

Postby idir » Thu May 29, 2008 2:59 pm

Hello,,

I think that reason of why Latin is hard to speak, because it hasn't been used since hundred of years,

Otherwise Arabic or Ancient Arabic is used in Television,news papers, even magazines, and any one can talk Ancient Arabic, Arabic is more complex than Latin but muslims are still using it in their life,so it will not be as difficult as Latin for Europeans,..
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Postby Sessurus » Fri May 30, 2008 2:34 am

I have scanned through this topic, and one thing very simply that I noticed that I'm not sure has been mentioned yet, is that, at least Latin, is in a different order than English. If you spend your whole life thinking about the verb after you mention the subject, it is going to be very difficult to change over to listing the direct objects, indirect objects, adverbs, adjectives, etc...before you ever mention the verb. That is what made it impossible for me to speak when I was fairly proficient in Latin. (I believe the only exception to this is the "to be" verbs in Latin that actually are subject, verb, DO)

The rest of the items in the language are just simply memorization and usage, they can be learned with time, which is why I think that writing and reading Latin is not especially difficult, but speaking is much more difficult because of that fact that speaking is so much slower than reading (and forming a thought as well).

Anyway, that is my thought.
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Postby thesaurus » Fri May 30, 2008 2:08 pm

I've always wanted to know what affects one's native language has on learning these classical languages. For what it's worth, I think trying to learn Persian has indirectly helped my Latin, just because the verbs almost always come at the end of the sentence. There is only one case marker (the accusative "-ra"), but it still helps having to think in terms of case and new sentence structure. After practicing speaking Persian in class, I can tell you that you quickly get over this difference, and I imagine we could quickly conquer our problems with spoken Latin were we to have but an introductory spoken course to take part in. (I know these exist, and I look forward to participating one day.)
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Postby Essorant » Fri May 30, 2008 5:54 pm

Come to gymnastics in a heavy suit of armour, and maybe you shall find much success for a while in a heavy-armoured way, but eventually you shall find even more success without wearing so much armour where you may do just as much if not more, with less armor and more flexibility. Thus it went with these languages. We did not become "dumber", but rather found out we did not need so much excess equipment on our backs to have a strong language, and found just as much strength, if not more, in a much more flexible language such as English.<br><br>
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Postby annis » Fri May 30, 2008 11:11 pm

αἰαί!

First, the idea that if one speaks an SVO (subject - verb - object word order) language natively then switching to SOV is somehow especially difficult is just not true. There are all sorts of tricky things to deal with in learning a new language, but given a little time word order can be easily accommodated. When a Japanese speaker uses English, the mistakes are rarely in word order, and the same is true vice versa.

Second, anyone who thinks English is somehow easier for having less morphology is invited to do ESL tutoring at anything above the most beginning levels (actually, if you're a native speaker, do so anyway). Try explaining "put, put up, put up with, put on (clothes or a joke?)," etc., etc. to a native Arabic speaker.

Over time the complexity of languages creep around into different domains, along with the mass of other changes that happen to all languages with enough time. This process is not under conscious control. At no point did we "[find] out we did not need so much excess equipment on our backs to have a strong language." At this point in time English has a lot less morphology than, say, Latin. A millennium ago it had a lot more interesting morphology. At some point in the future it may again (although languages that have a lot of non-native speakers learning them tend to avoid really exotic linguistic filigree.) Though, who knows what pervasive, long-lasting media will do to language change.

Finally, as far as complexity goes, Latin or Greek vs. English isn't really interesting. For really wild complexity you have to go visit languages that have been comparatively isolated much of their histories. Languages like Navajo, Cree and Fula are so tough that native speakers can't manage the language correctly until their early teens. Of all the Indo-European languages, I think only Old Irish gets anywhere near those in complexity.
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Postby Bert » Sat May 31, 2008 2:45 am

annis wrote: Languages like Navajo, Cree and Fula are so tough that native speakers can't manage the language correctly until their early teens.
Amazing.
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Postby IreneY » Sat May 31, 2008 12:35 pm

thesaurus wrote:I've always wanted to know what affects one's native language has on learning these classical languages.


Well, you have a point there. Many of the things that seem to baffle non-Greek speakers are very easily understood from those speaking modern Greek. Now MG is a "simplified" version of the language (and no, we are not more stupid than they were :D ) but follows the same syntactical "logic".

On the other hand, many things that confused me in Latin (probably different from those confusing i.e. native speakers of English), I managed to understand more fully by utilising what I knew about other languages such as English and French (there are some structures and types that these languages have in common and Greek -of any age- doesn't have).

Anyway, either we are all more stupid than the dumbest person who spoke Latin or Ancient Greek or the problem lies elsewhere.

P.S. The way I see it, an ancient Athenian would have as much trouble learning modern English as any other speaker of an Indo-European language (OK, maybe more than some given that Greek has less in common with English than some of its closests cousins). In other words, since English is pretty simple if your purpose is to ask for directions and you are not asking a British :twisted: , he'd be able to learn everything but those accursed phrasal verbs easily, swear a bit whith the pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey pronunciation issue, and have increasingly greater trouble as he tried to understand the language in depth. The English language is a bit tricky you see, after the initial "How are you?" "Very well, thank you" stage.
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Postby quendidil » Mon Jun 09, 2008 3:37 pm

annis wrote: Languages like Navajo, Cree and Fula are so tough that native speakers can't manage the language correctly until their early teens.

annis, can you cite your source for this? I remember reading an article about Arab teenagers only being fluent at age 12 or something too but I can't find it anymore.
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Postby annis » Mon Jun 09, 2008 11:36 pm

quendidil wrote:annis, can you cite your source for this? I remember reading an article about Arab teenagers only being fluent at age 12 or something too but I can't find it anymore.


I wouldn't have thought Arabic that difficult.

My source is John Mcwhorter's The Power of Babel: a Natural History of Language. I don't know what his source is. Many of my books are boxed for some construction in my library, so I can't check easily right now.
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Re: Language Complexity

Postby heurísko » Tue Jun 10, 2008 5:12 pm

nov ialiste wrote:
tronDB wrote: Is it that Indo-European languages have over time traded morphological complexity for syntactical complexity, as it were? Would it be just as difficult for an ancient Athenian to learn modern English as it is for me to learn ancient Greek? Or is this just my modern ego trying to save itself from imploding due to some massive inferiority complex?

The Romance and Germanic languages have become more analytical than their ancestral languages with English perhaps the most analytical. I don't believe that there is a real inherent difference in their dificulty. English is in fact not an especially easy language, in spite of comments to the contrary. Bad English is fairly easy, but that's not the same.


English is not an "easy language" per se, of course, but compared to any other major european language english is ridiculously easy, at least grammatically.
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Re: Language Complexity

Postby Jefferson Cicero » Mon Oct 04, 2010 2:48 am

tronDB wrote:Is it that Indo-European languages have over time traded morphological complexity for syntactical complexity, as it were? Would it be just as difficult for an ancient Athenian to learn modern English as it is for me to learn ancient Greek?


I have always thought that ancient Greek or Latin speakers, especially educated ones who have mastered the grammar of their own language, would find English grammar quite chaotic at first, because they would find themselves having to operate without all those declensional and conjugational endings which would have defined grammar in their minds and with which they would have been comfortable. It would be hard for them to break free of those comfortable linguistic paradigms and operate without them, like a baby that crawls out of the house and has no idea what to do next. It's a whole new world out there.

They would have to get used to it just as we have to get used to the features of Latin and Greek, though I think that those of them who mastered English might have found it to be a beautiful language, at least in it's higher forms, such as in Shakespeare or some of the later poets.

As an aside, I have always wondered what they would have thought of Shakespeare, or Poe, or Faulkner, or Mark Twain, or Milton, etc, or even Gilbert and Sullivan.
'Greek had to be simplified, and Latin had to be replaced with Italian, because we barbarians stole so many Greek and Latin words.'
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