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lexico
20-02-05, 15:47
What does it mean to say that a language is difficult?
This can mean a million different things depending on the context.
Let us limit the context to a native speaker's idiosyncratic use.

For example, a native speaker of English can say, "English is a difficult language."
Now does (s)he mean it is difficult to learn for a foreigner?
Does it mean although it may be easy to speak it, learning to write properly is difficult?
Does it mean although writing properly may be doable, learning to write with excellence is difficult?
Or does it mean casual talk is okay, but learning to articulate all modes of life is difficult?

Whatever your native language is, what do you mean when you say your mother tongue is difficult?

On this forum I often find references to the Japanese person saying that Japanese is a difficult language.
What do they mean exactly?
Do they mean it is a difficult language for a foreigner to learn to listen, speak, read, and write?
Do they mean achieving a high level of command of it is difficult even for a native speaker of Japanese ?

I sometimes think my Korean is difficult, and that is when certain parts of a book by someone older than me is unintelligible.
I feel that the tradition of knowledge (of the language) is blocked by the fast paced change in my society.

I have heard quite a few native English speakers say that English is difficult.
I often wonder what they truely meant by it.
How about you ? Have you ever wondered ?

Kama
20-02-05, 16:19
Difficult languages... huh... I don't think Japanese is difficult. It's quite simple - the grammar, honorifics (I don't have problems with keigo), pronunciation. The writing system isn't complicated at all. It's demanding for you to learn. I know, when I write kana to people who never had anything in common with Japanese thay say "how could you learn this". It's hard for them to imagine writing anything in systems other than romaji. :D (It applies to other languages too).

I suppose that Korean is more difficult than Japanese. The pronunciation is hard for me, it's hard for me to write from listening, and it's hard to pronounce properly. Luckily sonsen-nim (sensei) stopped trying to teach us exact pronunciation (when for 1/3 of time, you correct pronunciation, it's hard to learn anything). There are more exceptions in Korean than in Japanese. I suppose it's harder for me to learn Korean, cause I was forced to learn this, I didn't want to learn this language.

English may be difficult because of these time aspects and it's irreagularity. Still, I wouldn't say it's an difficult language.

French looks difficult for me.

Russian is not a difficult language. Sometimes it can be misleading because of it's similarity to Polish... Other than that, I don't think so.

And Polish. :D Yes, it's difficult language. Because of the pronunciation, because of the grammar (gender, plural form, irregularity etc.) and writing can be misleading, like in Korean. :)

lexico
20-02-05, 16:42
May I interprete you comments on native speakers' language difficulty as follows ?
Difficult languages... huh... I don't think Japanese is difficult. It's quite simple - the grammar, honorifics (I don't have problems with keigo), pronunciation. The writing system isn't complicated at all. It's demanding for you to learn. I know, when I write kana to people who never had anything in common with Japanese thay say "how could you learn this". It's hard for them to imagine writing anything in systems other than romaji. :D (It applies to other languages too)."When a Japanese says, 'Japanese is difficult,' it means that 'The writing system is demanding, almost impossible for a foreigner to learn.'" ?

I suppose that Korean is more difficult than Japanese. The pronunciation is hard for me, it's hard for me to write from listening, and it's hard to pronounce properly. Luckily sonsen-nim (sensei) stopped trying to teach us exact pronunciation (when for 1/3 of time, you correct pronunciation, it's hard to learn anything). There are more exceptions in Korean than in Japanese. I suppose it's harder for me to learn Korean, cause I was forced to learn this, I didn't want to learn this language."When a Korean (先生님) says Korean is difficult, it means Korean is difficult to teach. The pronunciation is complicated and the exceptions are more numerous." ?

What kind of exceptions are you referring to ?
Who forced you to learn this Korean ?
English may be difficult because of these time aspects and it's irreagularity. Still, I wouldn't say it's an difficult language.

French looks difficult for me.

Russian is not a difficult language. Sometimes it can be misleading because of it's similarity to Polish... Other than that, I don't think so.

And Polish. :D Yes, it's difficult language. Because of the pronunciation, because of the grammar (gender, plural form, irregularity etc.) and writing can be misleading, like in Korean. :)"When a native English speaker says English is difficult, it means the times aspects and irregularities (in spelling?) are diffuclut." ?

"When a native French speaker says French is difficult, it means the orthography is difficult." ?

"When a native Polish speaker says Polish is difficult, it means the pronunciation, grammar, and writing are comlpicated and with many exceptions." ?

Did I understand you right? :-)

Sally_Hawn
20-02-05, 16:48
Learning Chinese is easy breezy. There is no such things as so many tenses, regular verbs and irregular verbs. All you need to do is memorizing Chinese characters, annoying but at least you don't need to apply logic like dealing with all the tense changes in French and English.

What??? You are still not convinced by now???

Go and try it youself. Go and learn Chinese. Immediately! Now! And I am sure you will agree with me that Chinese is one of the easiest languages in the world. ^_^

lexico
20-02-05, 16:56
Learning Chinese is easy breezy......Go and learn Chinese. Immediately! Now! And I am sure you will agree with me that Chinese is one of the easiest languages in the world. ^_^Are you saying now that no Chinese will ever say that Chinese is difficult, Sally ?
Are you trying to make me look dumb or what ?
Pure slander !!!
And you're hijacking my thread and turning it into something totally different !
The same goes for you Kama !
I can understand this is how you relate to the question.....I guess it's difficult to talk about difficulty with people who have it so easy-breezy, eh !! :p

Sally_Hawn
20-02-05, 17:14
Chinese is easy. If you don't believe me, you can ask former American President George Bush Senior yourself. He speaks very good Mandarin.

For the rest of you who still don't believe Chinese is easy that's because you are JEALOUS! You are jealous that your mother tongue is more difficult than Chinese!

Ha ha I'm glad that I can have it EASY.

bossel
20-02-05, 17:30
Go and try it youself. Go and learn Chinese. Immediately! Now! And I am sure you will agree with me that Chinese is one of the easiest languages in the world.
I disagree. At least for a lot of Europeans it is quite hard. Yeah, grammar is a piece of cake, but the tones? Esp. if you are as unmusical as I am, they can be a pain in the arse.
& memorising may not be as simple either, if your memory doesn't work so well.

lexico
20-02-05, 17:33
Please let me restate the question.
The question is not about whether a language is easy or not.
The question is;

"What does it mean when a NATIVE speaker says that his/her language is DIFFICULT ?"

For example, let's say a Japanese said Japanese is difficult.
What is this person actually trying to say ?
Why would a native speaker of Japanese say that Japanese is difficult ?

Is this person talking about writing a doctoral thesis on Medieval Japanese history in academic Japanese being difficult ?

Or is the person only saying that he has not mastered the 1945 Kanji readings back in high school as he/she should have ?

Or is the person saying that the Japanese language is so varied, say in terms of dialectal vocabulary, that learing all the local varieties of speech is difficult ?

Or is the person saying that although every day speech is relatively easy, being able to converse in all social occasions, such as giving an impromptu speech at a toast masters in fluent, knowledgeable, and articulate Japanese is difficult ?

Or is the person saying translating a highly ethnic and complex Japanese passage in a novel into a foreign language without losing the original sense and aesthetics is difficult ?

What does the person really mean to say ??? :? :? :?

lexico
20-02-05, 17:42
He speaks very good Mandarin.Sally, I highly doubt that.
He probably had good interpreters during his stay in Beijing.
I happen not to trust his ability to communicate in any language.

I once sent him a letter in plain English demanding a definition of his "New World Order."
He replied, "Thank you for your support."
That was literally a stupid response on his part.
So how can I trust his linguistic intelligence when he can't even read English?
By inductive reasoning, I would say his Mandarin also sucks.

It's more than just language actually.
General intelligence is at risk in this particular individual...his letter is proof of this...a native speaker of English challenged by it !! :shock:

Maciamo
20-02-05, 17:47
Personally, when I say that a language is difficult, I usually take both the native speaker and learner's point of view, but especially the latter. I try to consider all the aspects of the language : pronunciation, grammar, richness of vocabulary, spelling, writing system, number of variety of slang, dialects and regional accents, etc. I also differentiate the difficulty for a zero beginner and advanced learner, and also based on what is the learner's mother tongue (eg. Italian is easier to learn for a French or Spanish speaker, than for a German, or even more Japanese speaker).

Interestingly some languages are difficult for most people at the beginning, but once you know the basics, it gets much easier. These languages usually have a grammar that is complicated or very different from other languages. The best examples are German, Russian (both have declinations), and Japanese (different syntax and particles).

Some languages are only partly difficult. Chinese, for instance, has an easy grammar and not a huge vocabulary (due to the writing restrictions), but is difficult for the tones (well, not for speakers of other tonal languages) and kanji. Italian's grammar is relatively difficult, but the pronuciation and vocabulary are much easier.

Then you have the languages that are easy at the beginning, but get more and more difficult as one learns them, even for native speakers. The best example here is English, due to its huge vocabulary, number of idioms and regional varieties (which are not necessary for a beginner).

There are also languages that are easy for about anybody (like Bahasa Indonesia/Malaysia), and those that are difficult for everybody at any level, native included (definitely French, and maybe also Classical Latin). I haven't learn Suomi or Hungarian, but I heard many times that these are very complex languages too, especially grammatically (and for being so different from other European languages).

And regarding Japanese, I don't think the writing system is difficult, as Kama said. The kanas are extremely easy. The kanji just take a bit of time, but not more than memorising the right spelling of many French, Italian or English words. Well Italian would be the easiest, as the double consonnants are pronouced and the spelling is regular and there are no silent letters. English comes second - although it is very unphonetic, I personally have very little problems with the spelling (not even BrE vs AmE differences). But French is by far the worse, and I think it is much more difficult to spell words (including silent grammatical changes like the final "s", "x", "nt", etc.) properly than type Japanese on a PC/keitai. The difficulty is that French has many silent letters and equally inaudible, annoying double consonants.

For non-native speakers, it is certainly as difficult to read French or especially English words with the right pronuciation than to read kanji. For example, many (non-British) native English can't pronounce such place names as Gloucester ("Gloster") or Marlborough ("Mohlbreh"), or family names like Chomondley ("Chumley") or Featherstonehaugh ("Fanshaw").

Sally_Hawn
20-02-05, 19:16
Please let me restate the question.
The question is not about whether a language is easy or not.
The question is;

"What does it mean when a NATIVE speaker says that his/her language is DIFFICULT ?"

I am sorry I cannot answer your question because I always think Chinese is easy. Therefore, I’ve never have the experience to tell foreigners that it's difficult for them to learn Chinese.


Sally, I highly doubt that.
He probably had good interpreters during his stay in Beijing.
I happen not to trust his ability to communicate in any language.

I once sent him a letter in plain English demanding a definition of his "New World Order."
He replied, "Thank you for your support."
That was literally a stupid response on his part.
So how can I trust his linguistic intelligence when he can't even read English?
By inductive reasoning, I would say his Mandarin also sucks.


See! That’s because even Old George Bush finds English more difficult than Chinese. He really can speak Mandarin very well. He used to be the American Ambassador in Beijing. And I’d seen him on Hong Kong television answering Chinese reporters’ questions in Mandarin. Next time you should write to him in Chinese. That way it will smooth things out for him.

Lina Inverse
20-02-05, 19:35
I disagree. At least for a lot of Europeans it is quite hard. Yeah, grammar is a piece of cake, but the tones? Esp. if you are as unmusical as I am, they can be a pain in the arse.
& memorising may not be as simple either, if your memory doesn't work so well.
Exactly, the tones are a real pain :okashii:
Learning the hanzhi is quite annoying too - even if you know already what one character is read in Japanese, you still have to learn how it's read/pronounced in Chinese... :relief:

lexico
20-02-05, 19:44
Exactly, the tones are a real pain :okashii:
Learning the hanzhi is quite annoying too - even if you know already what one character is read in Japanese, you still have to learn how it's read/pronounced in Chinese... :relief:It's all a matter of perspective you know.
I was fascinated by the 4 Mandarin tones, and the 8 Cantonese tones.
It took me only two yrs to master the 4 tones before even starting the primer.
And hey, some people are musical.
But the pain factor's what really hooks you.
No pain, no gain! :D

Mycernius
20-02-05, 20:53
When somebody say my language is difficult to learn it has probably got something to their perception of their language. Usually most people are told by teachers and scholars that their language is difficult that they will say to anyone thet their language is difficult.
It really depends on the person learning the language on whether they are good with languages or not. I am not particularly good with other languages. I have to work at it, and being lazy I don't like to work at it. Other people , like Lexico-san appears to be a natural linguist. I do like language and how it has developed over the years, but I am not a linguist. I know to learn Japanese I am going to have to really work at it. It's a case that I really want to know this language. I have already learnt the Kana, I'm just not sure what they say. I do try to laern at least yes, no, hello, goodbye and thank you. I can also ask for one beer plaese in about six languages. Damn useful that.

Kama
20-02-05, 21:00
Lexico, yes, you did understand me. I can only say for sure how I as a native see Polish, and yes, it sucks. Even damn journalists, not talking about this stupid politicians, can't use it well sometimes.

I tried to find what can be difficult for a learner of that language. I can't help that I like learning languages, and I am said to have talent for this.

And about Korean - it's obligatory language to learn at my faculty.

Sorry, that I haven't helped you a lot. Maybe all the native when they are saying the language is difficult mean that it's difficult foir natives too.

lexico
20-02-05, 21:22
I can only say for sure how I as a native see Polish, and yes, it sucks. Even damn journalists......can't use it well sometimes......Maybe all the native when they are saying the language is difficult mean that it's difficult foir natives too.Thank you for your sincere reply. Your answer was quite revealing, and I find your last remark highly relevant to the topic. I can understand from your example now that a Japanese person saying that Japanese is difficult can be referring to the genuine difficulty that the person is feeling when trying to be precise and articulate in his own language rather than proud, exalted self-glorification. Of course the hyper-nationalists aside.

miu
20-02-05, 21:24
Are you saying now that no Chinese will ever say that Chinese is difficult, Sally ?
Actually, a Chinese person told me once that Chinese is difficult. So there you go :-)

Chinese grammar may be easy but you get into trouble with the tones and I also found the way of thinking (in the language) different, hence slightly "difficult".

In my oppinion languages are easy or difficult depending on how much they differentiate form your own language or other languages you know well. In Japanese, I get little help from other languages when it comes to the vocabulary. So in that sense Japanese is difficult... And of course the particles. People sya that Finnish is difficult to learn but they also say that it's quite regular, so I would say that the difficulty is that it's different from well-known languages.


For example, let's say a Japanese said Japanese is difficult.
What is this person actually trying to say ?
Why would a native speaker of Japanese say that Japanese is difficult ?
When people say this kind of stuff they it could be that they either don't know many alnguages themselves or are trying to add somekind of special value to their language. "This is what I know well and reaching my level is difficult." Also it doesn't include only grammar but also other aspects of the language (social aspect e.g. manners, jargon, idiosyncratic use etc). So like Mycernius said, it's linked to their perception of their language.

I wouldn't tell people that their language is easy because I think saying something like that is a bit insulting... :souka: Languages have so much more to them than just grammar. Maybe it's like Maciamo said: "Some languages are only partly difficult. " But I wouldn't say that either because it leans too much on "your language is easy breezy". But maybe I'm thinking too much about whether it would insult someone or not! :sorry:

lexico
20-02-05, 22:02
When somebody say my language is difficult to learn it has probably got something to their perception of their language. Usually most people are told by teachers and scholars that their language is difficult that they will say to anyone thet their language is difficult.I was suspecting that junior high or high school techers of the native languages might have something to do. And you also seem to suggest that scholars of the language can spread the idea that the language is indeed difficult by making comments about the language's being rich in history, varied in register and dialects, and sophisticated in all its literary achievements. National pride, as some people have suggested, could also play a role when mixed in to these comments.

A native speaker who is not often asked the question by another native speaker might simply repeat what was told in school or in an academic setting whenl asked the question by a foreigner. This may be the case with the Japanese confessing that Japanese is difficult.

Kama
20-02-05, 23:11
I was suspecting that junior high or high school techers of the native languages might have something to do. And you also seem to suggest that scholars of the language can spread the idea that the language is indeed difficult by making comments about the language's being rich in history, varied in register and dialects, and sophisticated in all its literary achievements. National pride, as some people have suggested, could also play a role when mixed in to these comments.

Heh, I wouldn't say that. Of course, we learn about old language, we know that we have dialects (now almost unused)... but do you think that we think about this all when we use it everyday? It's not like we have always a response ready because someone may ask us this question.

I can hear that foreigners have difficulty with pronunciation, grammar and so on. I can hear natives have problems with language. When I hear this, I don't think about history, dialects and so on. I don't even think that Polish is difficult. This comes later, when somebody asks me if the language is difficult. Why pride? It's just a matter of fact.

Ah, they don't teach us at school that Polish is unique. They teach us it's a part of a language group. Japanese is quite unique. Maybe they are proud of their language because of this. And if it's unique, it means it's difficult for every other people? :D It's just a guess. Don't bother about this.

misa.j
20-02-05, 23:57
proud, exalted self-glorification
I think you have a pretty good guess right there, lexico.
For the last decade, more and more people have started to learn Japanese, which a lot of Japanese people are aware of, and they have been hearing that it is a difficult language to learn from people who are studying it.
Being fluent in a language, that is said to be hard to learn, gives a lot of Japanese people superior feelings.


That is my point of view. I am not sure what other Japanese users think of this; I haven't noticed they had made that statement either because I don't usually go to the language forum. :p

HomicidalMouse
21-02-05, 03:37
I would say English is difficult because the different pronunciations in parts of England. Like bath is said ba-th or bar-th (or ba-f or bar-f depending on how you pronounce 'th'). There's also words like wind, which has totally different meanings depending on pronunciation, one means to wrap around somthing and the other is breeze. Things like that confuse me and im english, so i imagine its worse for people just learning the language.

Sensuikan San
21-02-05, 05:09
Nah !

English ain't difficult ! I never had no problems wiv it ! Did you ?

Seriously though ....

I don't think English is difficult at all l That's why it is so universally used and so well known.

We do not have to learn a complex process of verb conjugations. Neither do we have to decline our nouns (.... except for, perhaps "thou" and "thee", "us" and "we" and "I" and "me" ... and they're bloody pronouns, anyway !)

Plurals are mostly made with the addition of an "s" .... and the rest is vocabulary !

There are all sorts of stupid "non-rules", of course - like not ending a sentence with a preposition - most of which you can safely ignore. ( Even Winston Churchill once commented on this, facetiously calling it "the sort of English up with which we should not put ....")

The great wonder of a "mongrel" language like English is that you can learn a few words, butcher it, maul it, kick it around, mispronounce it, .... do what you want. And people will still understand you !

Sure - there are a few problems; but different accents and dialects exist in all languages ! Just try speaking Calabrese Italian in, say, Sardinia ! Or Parisienne French in Provence.

No - try Polish, or Czech, or Inuktituk if you want something to really challenge your mind !

Regards,

ジョン

Glenn
21-02-05, 05:49
For the last decade, more and more people have started to learn Japanese, which a lot of Japanese people are aware of, and they have been hearing that it is a difficult language to learn from people who are studying it.
Being fluent in a language, that is said to be hard to learn, gives a lot of Japanese people superior feelings.

Interesting. I always told Japanese people that it wasn't that difficult, just very foreign, and I still feel that way. I never heard a learner say that it was difficult, aside from some of the more foreign aspects of the language.

As an aside: I think a lot of Westerners who haven't studied the language just assume that it's difficult because of the writing systems, and they never give it a chance beyond that. My family was shocked when I told them that I was learning Japanese because they thought it was impossible, but they don't know anything about it.


That is my point of view. I am not sure what other Japanese users think of this; I haven't noticed they had made that statement either because I don't usually go to the language forum. :p

I haven't seem them make any comments about the difficulty of the language at all, so I don't know what they think of it either, and I do visit the language forum. As far as I can tell they don't think about it.

Kama
21-02-05, 10:26
No - try Polish, or Czech, or Inuktituk if you want something to really challenge your mind !

Regards,

ジョン


Ah, I feel so proud now, that I mastered such a difficult language at a native level :p :cool:

Elizabeth
22-02-05, 01:06
Interestingly some languages are difficult for most people at the beginning, but once you know the basics, it gets much easier. These languages usually have a grammar that is complicated or very different from other languages. The best examples are German, Russian (both have declinations), and Japanese (different syntax and particles).
By the way, sorry to sound ignorant about this but what are declinations ? Is it something related to verb changes for person and tense like 'habe,bast,hat,haben,habt,haben' in German ? :?

Glenn
22-02-05, 01:57
It should be declension (http://www.webster.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?va=declension), and it has to do with the inflection of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives to show grammatical function, such as case.

lexico
22-02-05, 02:09
*declination; to decline: nouns, adjectives, articles, nominals alternating the forms to convey gender, number, case

conjugation; to conjugate: verbs, verbals alternating the forms to convey number, person, time, aspect, mood

inflexion; to inflect: *declination and conjugation combined

paradigm: list or table of inflexion

I hope this is right, but I might have missed something. :okashii:
ToMach, Miu, or any other linguists out there ? :relief:

EDIT: "Declination," (sic.) according to Glenn, Maciamo, and Miriam-Webster's Dic. On-line, should be declension.

Glenn
22-02-05, 02:17
I really don't think that "declination (http://www.webster.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?sourceid=Mozilla-search&va=declination)" is the right term:


Main Entry: dec·li·na·tion
Pronunciation: "de-kl&-'nA-sh&n
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English declinacioun, from Middle French declination, from Latin declination-, declinatio angle of the heavens, turning aside
1 : angular distance north or south from the celestial equator measured along a great circle passing through the celestial poles
2 : a turning aside or swerving
3 : DETERIORATION <moral declination>
4 : a bending downward : INCLINATION
5 : a formal refusal
6 : the angle formed between a magnetic needle and the geographical meridian

Maciamo
22-02-05, 02:55
By the way, sorry to sound ignorant about this but what are declinations ? Is it something related to verb changes for person and tense like 'habe,bast,hat,haben,habt,haben' in German ? :?

Sorry, it should be declension as Glenn mentioned (although the verb is to decline as Lexico said). "Declination" is the Latin word, but as this grammatical aspect doesn't exist in English...

Anyway, the declension indicate the function : nominative (subject), accusative (direct object), dative (indirect object) and genitive (possession).

A word like "the" in English has 3 gender in German (Der, Die, Das), and each vary depending on the function of the noun it precedes (so the nominative "Der" changes to "Den, Dem, Des", etc.). Of course the nouns and adjectives also change, not just the articles.

Elizabeth
22-02-05, 03:02
OK, thanks to both of you, Glenn and Lexico ! That clearly explains why my references also came up in astronomical terms.

I found a few instances showing roughly how this might work with gender in German nouns (One class of Masculine and neuter nouns ends in -el, -en or -er....feminine nouns take no endings...), so if someone could explain adjectives and pronouns and how they fit together with certain verb forms that would be great. I have a friend brushing up on his German who wanted to talk a little about these differences with English grammar.

My only point of departure is Japanese, which I'd always considered a highly inflected language, although its verbs conjugate without regard to gender or number (or case, if that would be syntax through word order in non-inflected languages ?)....

Glenn
22-02-05, 03:13
I think Japanese is highly inflected. Its adjectives, verbs, and copula all inflect for a variety of functions. You can think of the case particles in Japanese as being like inflections for the purpose of understaning declensions. For example, watashi ga has a different grammatical funtion than watashi ni, just like in English "I" shows nominative case, "me" shows objective case, and "my" shows genetive case (although these distinctions seem to be disappearing). That's basically how the inflections work, although there are different classes of declension just like there are different classes of verbs (like -ir, -ar, and -er in Spanish).

Kama
22-02-05, 12:07
about "declination" - word like this do exist in Polish for example. :D And it's related to noun - it's a declension of noun (singular/plural, genre etc.) .

I like such mistakes :D

lexico
22-02-05, 14:51
verb changes for person and tense like 'habe,bast,hat,haben,habt,haben' in German ? :?Although grammarians use the term "inflection," "declension," and "conjugation" in descriptive Japanese grammar, isn't Japanese considered an agglutinative language like Turkish, Mongolian, Manchu, Korean, Ainu, Nivx, Finnish, Hungarian, and Samoyed ?

Whereas a truly inflected language often changes the radical/stem of the nouns and verbs (strong verbs, especially), an agglutinative language usually keeps the radical/stem constant, and only affixates affixes in a chain.

Whereas the true inflectional paradigms are fixed, closed sets of forms, the affixes to be attached to the radical/stem in an agglutinative language constitute a combinatorial, open set of a rather huge number of possibilities.
While the traditional grammar of Japanese considers the variation in form discussed here as inflection, or katuyoo, most of the forms are straightforwardly segmentable....

the notion of inflection should be separated clearly from that of inflectional (of fusional) morphology. Morphologically, Japanese inflection assumes the form of agglutination of the Turkish type rather than the inflectional morphology of the Latin-type....

Inflectional endings are fairly clearly segmentable, and the segmented endings (of suffixes) are correlated with inflectional categories in a one-to-one fashion, rather than in the one-to-many correlation characteristic of inflectional morphology.

The major issues in Japanese inflection are: 1) the problem of segmentation; 2) the number and kinds of categories to ge recognized; and 3) the distinction between inflectional endings and auxiliary verbs (as well as particles).(p.221)

11.4 The Syntax of Agglutinative Morphology
Due to the lack of agreement between the head and the dependent constituent, Japanese is not as highly agglutinative as Turkish, especially in the domain of nominal constituents.

However, in the relm of verbal constituents, Japanese shows a high degree of agglutination involving a fair number of suffixes in a row. As in many other languages, the order of these verbal affixes is generally fixed, though alternate orders are frequently observed. In Japanese the following is the typical order.

(95) Vstem-causative-passive-aspect-desiderative-NEG-tense

Not all the possiblities, of course, are exploited in each expression. (pp.306-307)

Masayoshi Shibatani, The Languages of Japan, Cambridge University Press, 1991Futhermore with an inflected language like German, the number and person must be in agreement as in the example;


(Declension of) the personal pronouns:

1st person singular: ich (I)
2nd person singular: du (you)
3rd person singular: er (he), sie (she), es (it)
when adressing someone formally: Sie (you) - note the capital S

1st person plural: wir (we)
2nd person plural: ihr (you)
3rd person plural: sie (they)


Conjugation of the auxiliary verbs "sein" (to be) and "haben" (to have)

1. sein (to be)
ich bin (I am)
du bist (you are)
er, sie, es ist (he, she it is)
(formal address) Sie sind you are

wir sind (we are)
ihr seid (you are)
sie sind (they are)

2. haben (to have)
ich habe (I have)
du hast (you have)
er, sie, es hat (he, she, it has)
(formal address) Sie haben

wir haben (we have)
ihr habt (you have)
sie haben (they have)But such agreement of number and person does not exist in Japanese grammar. (?) In this sense, the "inflection" system of Japanese is just an approximating expression, which is in reality an agglutinating system rather than a true inflectional one.

Elizabeth
22-02-05, 17:07
Although grammarians use the term "inflection," "declension," and "conjugation" in descriptive Japanese grammar, isn't Japanese considered an agglutinative language like Turkish, Mongolian, Manchu, Korean, Ainu, Nivx, Finnish, Hungarian, and Samoyed ?
That is the nomenclature. Does it then follow that languages, such as Turkish or Finnish, can be more highly or strongly aggluntinative than Japanese if they attach a greater number of affixes (showing agreement in person, tense, case, etc or would that make them inflected ? ).
Certainly there are full sentences in those two languages able to be expressed with a single agglutinative word, whereas with Japanese it is only the predicate.

lexico
22-02-05, 17:19
That is the nomenclature. Does it then follow that languages, such as Turkish or Finnish, can be more highly or strongly aggluntinative than Japanese if they attach a greater number of affixes (showing agreement in person, tense, case, etc or would that make them inflected ? ).
Certainly there are full sentences in those two languages able to be expressed with a single agglutinative word, whereas with Japanese it is only the predicate.With the exception of the underlined, what you say is in line with Masayoshi Shibatani's reasoning. As for Finnish being more agglutinative, and whether showing agreement in person, tense, case would make a language inflected, I do not know. But not sharing these features with truly inflected languages seemed to be useful to your discussion comparing German and Japanese.

Elizabeth
22-02-05, 17:41
Thanks for that discrimination, Lexico. I'll need some time to consider the German case, but these were two previously posted examples from the language fora that triggered my comparison of Finnish and Turkish agglutination.

Finnish:

The old and much used example:
Taloissammeko? (Do you mean in our houses?)
--> talo - i - ssa - mme - ko

talo - house
i - plural suffix
ssa - inside something
mme - our something
ko - turns the sentence into a question


Turkish:

Cekoslavakyalilastiramadiklarimizdan misiniz?

Cekoslavakya = Checkoslavakia
li = from
las = reflexive suffix
tir = causative suffix
a = ability
ma = negation
di = past tense
k = first person plural
lar = plural
i = harmony suffix
miz = first person plural
dan = from
mi = question suffix
siniz = second person plural

meaning: "Are you one of those that we could not have possibly turned into a Checkoslavakian?"

Glenn
23-02-05, 05:35
For a comparison between Japanese, German, English, and Mandarin, see Re: German and Japanese (http://www.sf.airnet.ne.jp/~ts/japanese/message/jpnEmMlZY47EmJTz5SZ.html).

bossel
23-02-05, 06:17
For a comparison between Japanese, German, English, and Mandarin, see Re: German and Japanese (http://www.sf.airnet.ne.jp/~ts/japanese/message/jpnEmMlZY47EmJTz5SZ.html).
Interesting, but I wouldn't completely trust their judgement of German.

Eg.
"Once you admit the German word order is SOV, not SVO like English"
That's not true for the most simple sentences which are just SVO, but generally word order in German is not as fixed as in English (& surely not fixed on SOV).

Glenn
23-02-05, 07:02
That one threw me as well, especially since the first German example is SVO. I'm guessing that overall German is considered to be SOV, but I'm not really sure.

ToMach
23-02-05, 09:13
The correct terminology is indeed declension, which refers to the variant inflectional realizations of a word. In most cases, like Latin, declension means the set of alternative forms a word can take depending on its grammatical function (subject, object, etc), or the class of words that show the same alternations (1st declension, 2nd declension, etc).


I think Japanese is highly inflected. Its adjectives, verbs, and copula all inflect for a variety of functions. You can think of the case particles in Japanese as being like inflections for the purpose of understaning declensions. For example, watashi ga has a different grammatical funtion than watashi ni, just like in English "I" shows nominative case, "me" shows objective case, and "my" shows genetive case (although these distinctions seem to be disappearing). That's basically how the inflections work, although there are different classes of declension just like there are different classes of verbs (like -ir, -ar, and -er in Spanish).
In Japanese, the variations of verbs and adjectives could be called "inflection", and the system of case markers "declension" in the broad sense, but, as lexico said, this is rather agglutination, which is a bit different from inflection.
For example, nouns in inflecting languages can only appear in an inflected form, the stem of the word cannot be used alone. But in Japanese watashi is a correct form, and you just add a particle. But in Latin the stem ros- of rosa, rosae, rosis, etc is not a correct form. In agglutination, you can draw a clear limit between an independant noun and the case marker.
Also, in agglutinative formations, each word is made of a string of morphemes which are clearly divisible, and each morpheme correspond to one meaning/function, while this is not the case with inflection.
For example, the English word "their" cannot be divided while it bears the meanings 3rd person pronoun+plural+possesive : all these elements are fused into the word. In Japanese, the equivalent "karerano" can be divided : kare 3rd person pronoun + ra plural + no possesive. This is the same thing with verbs : in Latin the indivisible form "amo" is simultaneously first person+singular+indicative+active+present. In Japanese forms like tabesaserareta are always segmentable : tabe + sase causative + rare passive + ta accomplished.

lexico
24-02-05, 12:51
Does it then follow that languages, such as Turkish or Finnish, can be more highly or strongly aggluntinative than Japanese if they attach a greater number of affixes (showing agreement in person, tense, case, etc or would that make them inflected ? ).
Certainly there are full sentences in those two languages able to be expressed with a single agglutinative word, whereas with Japanese it is only the predicate.From ToMach's definition of clearly segmented particles which carry the grammatical function, your examples of Finnish and Turkish clearly look like agglutination. If the particles show more agreement than Japanese, then the over all degree of agglutination could be considered "more" agglutinative. But I don't know if that is the standard nomenclature.

I wonder if the number of agglutinative parts of speech combined with the number of segmented particles and the number of ways to affixate them should also be considered when deciding upon the degree of agglutination.

I know that Korean nouns, adjective-verbs, and verbs can take a huge number of suffixes to express what corresponds to the English prespositons, suffixes, pluraliztion, gerund, pluperfect, conjunctions, adverbials, adverbs, tense, participials, etc. These are all clearly segmented and compose the productive rules of morphology (save a few fossilized archaisms). I don't know how Korean compares to Japanese or other languages in this respect.

bossel
24-02-05, 20:39
That one threw me as well, especially since the first German example is SVO. I'm guessing that overall German is considered to be SOV, but I'm not really sure.
For what I know, German is generally considered SVO, with SOV in subordinate clauses. Hence it is a bit of a mixture.

Sensuikan San
25-02-05, 04:20
I just have to admit - I've never seen the word agglutinative before !!

- and I still can't find it in any of my dictionaries !

The things I'm learning on this forum ............

:homer: :clueless:

lexico
25-02-05, 10:35
Wikipedia on Agglutiative Languages (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agglutinative_language) has so many interesting links! :clap:
Wikipedia on Japanese (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_language)
Wikipedia on Turkish (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkish_language)
Wikipedia on Finnish (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finnish_language)
Wikipedia on Korean (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_language)
Wikipedia on German (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_language)

I find the word "to agglutinate" interesting because it reminds me of gluing two things together.
Or even the sticky, gluey, sweet tasting amino acid glutamine in MSG comes to mind.
Bread, pasta, and ramen noodles are also held together by glutamine's binding power I hear.
Let me construct an artificial sentence just for fun.
"The ramen maker agglutinates his noodles, and the ramen eater analyses the particles." :silly:

f0rk0
07-03-05, 01:10
Let's see..

Japanese is difficult to me because of the sentence particles and the writing system. I even have Kanji nightmares.

English is tough because of its bizzare phonetics. Words like "quite", "quiet", and "tale", "tail".. etc. just drive me insane.

Russian (my first language) is easy to read, once you learn the alphabet, however the grammar is deadly. Beware of the verb stems and endings on this one.

French... well what can I say? The pronunciation alone is impossible to me.

Mycernius
07-03-05, 13:54
French pronunciation, not much of a problem for me, but it is one of the first languages that they teach you in school in Britain. Tried Russian once, but the alphabet andpronunciation foxed me, and I'm sorry to say I gave up. I can still remember a few russian words though

John Lemon
12-03-05, 12:39
Personally I think it's pretty hard to master English because the pronounciation is such a pain. You HAVE to hang around with native speakers for a while to get it right, as the proper pronounciations of words like "circuit", "buoy" or "cleanliness" are impossible to guess. If you're learning Chinese, you can get software that has audio examples for pretty much any character/syllable, which makes the four tones easier to tackle. This would be pointless in English as English isn't really syllable-based.

Mycernius
12-03-05, 14:01
Personally I think it's pretty hard to master English because the pronounciation is such a pain. You HAVE to hang around with native speakers for a while to get it right, as the proper pronounciations of words like "circuit", "buoy" or "cleanliness" are impossible to guess. If you're learning Chinese, you can get software that has audio examples for pretty much any character/syllable, which makes the four tones easier to tackle. This would be pointless in English as English isn't really syllable-based.
There is a standard way of English pronunciation. If you listen to a native speaker you could end up with a regional accent, and there are a lot of accents in English. I've heard people in China who have learnt English from an American and thay have an American twang to their voice. Bjork has picked up a London accent, because she spends a lot of time in London. You used Buoy as an example. Which way would you say it? In England it is said as 'boy' and in some areas of America it is pronounced as 'Booee'. Hanging aound native speakers might help you with the language , but with some words avoid local pronunciation.

Glenn
17-03-05, 23:15
There is a standard way of English pronunciation.

That's the first I've heard of it. What is the standard English pronunciation?

lexico
19-03-05, 13:59
There's an interesting idea that was presented somewhere (sorry can't remember.)

"The variety and range of different speech habits of the British Isles far exceeds those of all the varieties of English spoken as a native language outside the area."

I'm not sure exactly how that can be qualified, but assuming that it is a vald statement, I could probably hypothesise that the British must put in a great deal of effort to enforce a standardised English to be spoken on its territories. Given the greater variations in speech, the standardisation effort must be greater than that of a linguistically more uniform country regarding English; s.a. South Africa, Liberia, the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. Hence the intensity of the British idea of speech propriety must be that much stronger in comparison.

Could it be that Mycernius' mentioning of standard pronunciation is referring to this internal language policy in the UK ?

callisto
08-11-10, 06:05
One language is difficult if it's really different from your native one, concerning every field, pronunciation, grammar, declensions, just the way to say things, to express something by words....

europeanlives
08-11-10, 19:35
One language is difficult if it's really different from your native one, concerning every field, pronunciation, grammar, declensions, just the way to say things, to express something by words....


I agree with you.
And in portuguese I find it a hard language to learn. Whether you're a native speaker or not. When it comes to vocabulary, It's the "longest", and the "most complex" because there are, in average, close to 3 synonims for each word.
For example: for the verb "want" there are almost 7 words that mean the same (with little variants). :S

Cimmerianbloke
09-06-11, 07:33
I once sent him a letter in plain English demanding a definition of his "New World Order."
He replied, "Thank you for your support."


Priceless...

Cimmerianbloke
09-06-11, 07:45
That one threw me as well, especially since the first German example is SVO. I'm guessing that overall German is considered to be SOV, but I'm not really sure.
Depends on the quality of the sentence. SVO are for main clauses, SOV mainly for prepositional or relative clauses, roughly, with of course many variations, exceptions and depending on a million other factors. Well thought, there's no strict rule, but for a basic sentence as Der Kind spielt im Garten, SVO is the rule.

Cimmerianbloke
09-06-11, 08:00
Honestly, I think the perception of the difficulty of your native language depends on your level of education. Conjugation is for me much easier today than it was when I was 13 sitting at my schooldesk trying to fill the exam sheet. Since then, I have learned and assimilated concepts that were not too clear back then. I have taught French abroad as a private teacher, and I realized many things were so natural for me that I didn't have to dig any further to understand the reasons such a tense was used in such and such conditions. Looking for the rules (and the exceptions...) in order to be able to pass on the information allowed me to look into the complexity of the grammatical system. One thing that one must realize are the limits to one's knowlege. I have never been afraid to tell my students "I don't know", but kept notes and investigated further in order to bring an answer to their doubts or questions. I always kept learning in the process. But to this day, I still don't know why there is a s in souris...

Maciamo
09-06-11, 09:00
But to this day, I still don't know why there is a s in souris...

I think I can help with that. The final s in souris used to be pronounced in Old French (and the sound survives in souriceau, "young mouse"). The word derives from Vulgar Latin sナ荒トォcem, itself from Classical Latin sorex. Interestingly, the Latin sorex does not refer to mice (mus in Latin, identical to the Proto-Germanic and Old English words) but to shrews. From a biological point of view, shrews belong to the order of the Soricomorpha, the family of the Soricidae, the subfamily of the Soricinae, and the tribe of the Soricini.

Cimmerianbloke
09-06-11, 09:09
Thanks for the explanation, Maciamo. most foreign students are also puzzled as the normal silent ending in French is a mute -e. Souriceau and souriciティre are good examples of orthographic nonsense...

Maciamo
09-06-11, 10:19
Thanks for the explanation, Maciamo. most foreign students are also puzzled as the normal silent ending in French is a mute -e. Souriceau and souriciティre are good examples of orthographic nonsense...

And the irony is all this is that French dropped the Latin word mus because it would have sounded like the word mousse (foam, moss), which itself is a Germanic word, from the Frankish mosa. So English is considered a Germanic language, but the word mouse is directly related to the Latin mus, while French is a Romance language but drop a Latin word in favour of a similar-sounding Germanic one !

PaschalisB
18-01-12, 17:09
Well, I'd say greek is difficult for non-native speakers because:

We use a different alphabet
We use 3 different letters and 2 combinations to express the sound "i"
We use 2 different letters to express the sound "o"
Lots of irregular verbs
3 genders that don't correlate with the genders in other languages
Not a fixed structure regarding the syntax (we can use SVO, VSO, OVS, SOV depending on what we want to emphasize)
Lots of idioms
Very big vocabulary
Lots of different forms of plural

Should I go on?