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Current distribution of Human Language Familie...

Current distribution of Human Language Families  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love learning languages.  I love them almost as much as I love writing.  I love it when a foreign phrase that sounded like gibberish before suddenly starts to make sense to me almost, or when I can read something that has absolutely no meaning for some of the people around me, but to me it does.

Unfortunately, most of us take our own language for granted and have no idea how weird it sounds to other people.  When I was a kid learning to Silent Night in French, I remember thinking, “Oh I get it, sound X in English is really sound Y in French, so when I finish learning all the sounds I’ll understand everything I’m singing.”  I was so naive.

Of course, by the time I got to be an older kid, I learned that languages actually worked more on a “word X equals word Y” basis, and when I was older still, I learned that you have to translate languages idea by idea, thanks to grammar.  And now, the older I get and the more I learn, the more I realize how often the idea to idea translation just doesn’t work either.  There are plenty of cases in which it would take pages and pages of English just to explain the meaning of one simple sentence in another language.

There are languages that don’t use article adjectives.  There are languages that require entirely different verb endings based on whom you are speaking to.  There are languages that have two or even three different genders for objects that don’t even have biological genders (Because obviously, a chair is a feminine object).  And there are languages that make you change the noun endings for everything based on its place in the sentence.  (Think “I” vs. “me”, but for every single noun you ever used).

And this is why it bugs me when I read about a program claiming to be the “best language learning method ever” for all languages.  There is no “best” way to learn any language, because the things you have to do to learn Spanish will not teach you Japanese.  Spanish requires knowing the roman alphabet.  Japanese requires three alphabets, one of which consists of thousands of borrowed Chinese characters.  So as a would be linguist, I have to ask myself, “what are the things you need to watch out for when you first begin to learn another language that you know nothing about?”  And as a writer, I find that the answer is “The same things you would have to worry about if you were making up a fictional language.”  Which brings me to…

Language creation guides!  Not only are they useful if you plan to become the next Tolkien, but if you want a heads up on how much work takes to actually learn another language well, or just to appreciate the many grammatical components that come together to make your own language what it is, then check out this site, or others like it.  Sometimes it’s a little hard for us non-linguists to follow, but it certainly makes you appreciate the complex, convoluted system that is our primary means of communication.  Language.  Where would we be without it?