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Picture of Kalleh
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I always love traveling because I can see what the rest of the country is thinking and writing about. The local Virginian newspaper had a nice language article today, written by George Tsirimokos, retired from the US Air Force and an educator and a member of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers. His theory? While tongue in cheek I am sure, he says that English is just so easy! He starts by talking about having only one definite article...the. It doesn't matter if the noun is masculine, feminine, neuter, singular, plural, nominative, genitive, dative, or accusative, he says. German has 16 definite articles, and Greek has 24! He adds that foreigners tend to "look down their noses at us" because of the ease of our language, compared to theirs. What do you think?
 
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As I'm sure we've discussed before, this is like asking if apples are nicer than oranges. It's not just an impossible question, it's a nonsensical one. True enough there are multiple definite and indefinite articles in German.
That doesn't mean that English is easier it just means that it's different. We have a whole set of continuous tenses that aren't present in German and our choice of which one to use when is so arbitrary that I have yet to find a clear way of explaining it to students. (The use of the "do" auxilliary and the presence of two sets of modals (e.g. I must and I have to whose forms are different and whose negatives have different meanings) are two more complexities of English.

Unless you are talking about completely invented and totally regular languages like Esperanto no language is "easier" than another. It's a meaningless statement.
 
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I usually suggest that English is a very easy language to learn to speak adequately, but a very difficult language to learn to speak really well.


Richard English
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
... he says that English is just so easy! He starts by talking about having only one definite article...the. It doesn't matter if the noun is masculine, feminine, neuter, singular, plural, nominative, genitive, dative, or accusative, he says. German has 16 definite articles, and Greek has 24! He adds that foreigners tend to "look down their noses at us" because of the ease of our language, compared to theirs. What do you think?


TBS, English has stripped away a lot of linguistic paraphernalia: virtually no case system, an all but dead subjunctive mood, no endings to worry about on adjectives, no grammatical gender, a verb conjugation system where, once you leave the simple present, all person and number forms are the same (linguists call this, interestingly, "degenerate")

BUT -- you should see the poor Ticos down here struggle to understand and learn English spelling and pronunciation! For Spanish speakers, English is particularly hard, since their language's orthography is one of the most regular, with the fewest exceptions, and so they can't get their heads around the concept of there being more exceptions than rules. That, and no ad-hoc silent letters in Spanish ('h' is never pronounced, and 'u', when used to force a preceding hard 'g', is not pronounced).

It's funny: if Anglophones are sometimes proud of how easy English (putatively) is, Germans never tire of bragging how hard their language is: "Deutsche Sprache, schwere Sprache" is their oft-heard cliché phrase for it.

Ranito
 
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I agree with Bob on this one. While English dropped some of its inflections (e.g., case, person in verbs) it's more than made up for things with an incredibly difficult verbal system. While the paradigms themselves are rather sparse, the periphrastic modal, temporal, and aspectual constructions are nearly impossible to systematize. Also, not all languages have articles, e.g., Latin and the Slavic languages all make do without. (Curiously enough, the Romance languages all developed articles, but so far none of the Slavic languages did.) Try explaining when to use the or a(n) in a systematic way to an ESL student coming from one of these articleless languages.

As for the forms, that's a little misleading. German has two articles, the definite and the indefinite, corresponding to our [i[the[/i] and a(n), but it has more forms. While the paradigms for the articles in German, as well as for nominal declensions, are a little less obvious than the Greek or Latin, there are still patterns there at work. So, one is not memorizing 16 different words, but similar forms. It may look arbitrary to an outside viewer, but it's no worse than our pronominal system.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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I think pronunciations are important, too. In Spanish they are fairly straightforward. Not so in English! What about German?

I am going to have to study French this summer because of our October trip, and I am the most worried about the pronunciations.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
I think pronunciations are important, too. In Spanish they are fairly straightforward. Not so in English! What about German?
.


German has some sounds that don't exist in English but is mostly quite straightforward, though I still have trouble with ü.

Generally if you can see a word written down in German you can work out how to pronounce it and if you hear it you can take a good stab at how to spell it.
 
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In my experience most languages are phonetic - English and French being the two most glaring exceptions. If you stop to think about it, we are the odd ones out - there is no real justification for non-phonetic writing.


Richard English
 
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I wouldn't agree about French. French spelling is generally phonetic. There are only a few rare exceptions, otherwise it is usually possible to pronounce a French word from the way it's spelt. Understanding what it means is another matter, however. Wink


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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French spelling is generally phonetic. There are only a few rare exceptions, otherwise it is usually possible to pronounce a French word from the way it's spelt.

I agree with your latter statement, since French usually sticks to its rules. But not the former.

The words are certainly not phonetic (in that every letter is pronounced):

La Manche (not pronounced la manchee)
Marseilles (not pronounced marsayles)
Paris (not pronounced pariss)


Richard English
 
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In my experience most languages are phonetic

In my experience, all spoken language are phonetic. What you are discussing here is not language, but a secondary system: orthography. Writing systems span a range from phonemic to non-phonemic.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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In my experience, all spoken language are phonetic.

How could you tell if they weren't? :-)


Richard English
 
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How could you tell if they weren't?

Well, I wanted to make allowance for the various sign languages. Wink


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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What you mean, Richard, is that French doesn't follow the same rules of orthography as English. Quite true (and why should it?), but not the same as "not phonetic".


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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What you mean, Richard, is that French doesn't follow the same rules of orthography as English. Quite true (and why should it?), but not the same as "not phonetic".

I had always assumed (maybe wrongly) that phonetic meant "pronounced as written". French usually isn't whereas, say, Spanish usually is.


Richard English
 
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Well, I wanted to make allowance for the various sign languages. Wink

Touché!


Richard English
 
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What do we mean by phonetic? We can mean either

1 The pronunciation is predictable from the orthography

or

2 the orthography is predictable from the pronunciation

or both.

I can't think of any language that conforms to both of these statements. Spanish comes close, but b and v are pronounced the same, so 2 doesn't work. Spanish is the only language I can think of where 1 applies - but I could be wrong.
 
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And it varies according to the kind of Spanish. In Castillian "soft-c" and "z" are sounded the same, whereas in South American "soft-c" is sounded like "s" (much as in English).


Richard English
 
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And it varies according to the kind of Spanish.

Yes. Besides b and v, there is also g (before e and i) and j, and in some dialects a confusion between ll and y.

Italian, Catalan, and Romanian have rather regular orthographies, too. (gooofy's 1.)


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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<xtaaxtw>
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it is hard to learn for me ,I I often do not understand pronunciation.
 
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Originally posted by xtaaxtw:
it is hard to learn for me ,I I often do not understand pronunciation.
The problem with English pronunciation (and spelling for that matter) is that it rarely follows any rules. It is impossible to understand it; just learn it. Those who are used to regular phoenetic languages find this very hard to accept but the challenges are superbly illustrated by the classic poem "The Chaos" by Gerard Nolst Trenité.

Native English speakers will have no difficulty whatsoever in reading this poem; most others will struggle. Have a go - http://victorian.fortunecity.c...555/Spell/chaos.html

But don't worry, xtaaxtw, just keep using the language for 20 years or so and you'll be as fluent as the rest of us.

Oh, and how do you pronounce your nom de-computer?


Richard English
 
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