Alphadictionary.com

Our Sponsors

Technical Translation
Website Translation Clip Art
 

Slav(on)ic languages' proximity

A discussion of the peculiarities of languages and the differences between them.

Slav(on)ic languages' proximity

Postby Brazilian dude » Tue Mar 01, 2005 12:20 pm

Is it just me or Germanic and Romance languages are closer to each other than either is to Slavic languages? From these three major branches (major here referring to the number of speakers), I would say the Slavic languages are the hardest, followed by Romance and ending with Germanic? Do you agree? I know, this is a totally subjective view.

Brazilian dude
Languages rule!
Brazilian dude
Grand Panjandrum
 
Posts: 1464
Joined: Tue Feb 15, 2005 3:31 pm
Location: Botucatu - SP Brazil

Postby anders » Tue Mar 01, 2005 4:20 pm

I haven't found any useful parameters for judging the (dis)simililarity between languages. Nor can I measure how difficult it is to acquire a language in which respect to which level. Having said that, I can go on in a very subjective and unscientific way.

To "know" a language has many facets, passive like reading comprehension and listening comprehension, and active ones like speaking and writing. There is an EU level system, lumping them all together, suggesting that they are acquired in parallell. I protest most vehemently.

I translate from French. I have successfully attacked a bewildering variety of subjects, from cooking recipes to manuals for machines for forming plastic parts ("extruders" in English) to legal documents. I speak very haltingly, just barely comprehensibly, and avoid writing in French.

I think of this problem several times a week during my Chinese studies. My reading comprehension increases in a fascinating way, even for (selected) previously unknown newspaper clippings, I think that I might be able to produce a few simple sentences that a native listener just might understand, and have to note that my writing lags behind, grammatically as well as regarding the active knowledge of characters (but I still hope for a pass at the end of this second semester of Chinese).

I have to work hard to keep up with the youngsters in Chinese class. Some of them have been to China, quite a few are students of Economy and are probably (not that unrealistically) anticipating a Chinese takeover of the world economy, and make amazing progress.

Partly, this is of course due to the fact that our teacher (a Swede) probably could have asked for an entrance fee for his lectures. (A joke, obviously, as university studies are totally free of charge.) They are pure entertainment. But one more reason is that Chinese, even more than English, has skipped those tiring inflections, leading some people to think that there is no grammar in Chinese. Unfortunately, there are innumerable other ways to complicate things.

The positive aspect of this is, the way I have understood it, that the language presupposes intelligent and attentive readers/listeners. There is no need to inflect for plural and past tense in "Two dragons were skating yesterday." In Chinese, "Yesterday, two piece dragon skate." Having established "yesterday", why complicate the verb? Two is clear enough, so why bother changing the word "dragon"?

Despite the Russian vocabulary's being generally much more transparent to me than the Chinese one, I found more difficulties when getting into that language. To understand the relationships between parts of a sentence, you have to learn how the noun is inflected. In Chinese and other languages using less or no inflection, the word order normally explains those things.

"John beat Jack". Who beat whom is perfectly clear in English, Chinese, and normally in Swedish, etc. In Russian, Latin, probably Greek, and Sanskrit, you'd have to look at the inflections to know who was acting and who was on the receiving end. (Basque and Hindi, for example, using "ergative" constructions, have their own fascinating ways of expressing such relations.)

And a true beast in grammar is the Slav/Slavic/Slavonic (help!) distinction between the perfective and the imperfective aspect. French is close in its distinction between passé simple and imparfait, as well as are the English gerunds, quite impenetrable to Swedish beginners. For a Russian example, On pišet pismo "He writes a letter" can be compared to On napišet pismo "He will be writing the letter", where the latter has a present form (and a prefix), but the meaning of an accomplished future. So, time inflection is secondary to the question of completed or not (aspect).

One polyglot to whom I have referred previously (he has taught several languages, and perhaps doesn't even know how many scores he can understand after a week's training) gives the rule of thumb for Swedes: French is twice as difficult as German, Russian is twice as difficult as French, Arabic is twice as difficult as Russian.

I began learned German at 13 and French at 15. At that ages, soaking up languages like a sponge, I didn't find the difference in difficulty too obvious. German had its grammar, but French had a more distant feeling. When graduating at 18, I had had very little "real" conversation practice. What made my German close to native proficiency was a couple of summers' working in Germany. I haven't had that immersion in French.

I took Classical Arabic at the ripe age of 23. Using the language was out of question; it was all about reading the classics. Many years later, it was, however, a great help in acquiring the elements of Modern Standard Arabic. Had I used the same amount of dedication and homework, I would say that Arabic was more than twice as difficult as Russian for me, despite my trying Russian only at the age of 58.
Irren ist männlich
anders
Lexiterian
 
Posts: 405
Joined: Wed Feb 16, 2005 7:46 am
Location: Sweden

Postby Brazilian dude » Tue Mar 01, 2005 9:14 pm

On napišet pismo "He will be writing the letter", where the latter has a present form (and a prefix), but the meaning of an accomplished future.

The explanation about the perfective is right, but I would translate the above sentence as He will write the letter, or even He will have written the letter in case it's in dependent on some other future reference.

Brazilian dude
Languages rule!
Brazilian dude
Grand Panjandrum
 
Posts: 1464
Joined: Tue Feb 15, 2005 3:31 pm
Location: Botucatu - SP Brazil

Postby anders » Wed Mar 02, 2005 4:14 am

OK; my Russian is still lousy, and I probably was influenced by knowing that I use the gerund too sparingly, because there is no such thing in Swedish: The examples I found were given as "Er schreibt einen Brief" and "Er wird den Brief schreiben".
Irren ist männlich
anders
Lexiterian
 
Posts: 405
Joined: Wed Feb 16, 2005 7:46 am
Location: Sweden

Postby tcward » Wed Mar 02, 2005 7:28 am

I completely agree with your separation of passive and active components to language, anders.

Because I don't live in an environment where I am exposed to Spanish and engage with other people in Spanish, my practical/active skills in that language suffer tremendously. I had only two years of Spanish study in high school, but of the languages I can read, it is the one I would be most comfortable being asked to speak extemporaneously.

I also took two semesters of German in college, but the class met only twice a week, and it was not structured so as to provide any reinforcement of skills, which was rather unfortunate for me.

As a graduate student, however, I took two semesters of "diction", and we studied Italian, French, German, and English. (Can you tell the professor was also the opera instructor? ;) ) This is the class that exposed me to the IPA system, and, somewhat ironically to me, it gave me a much better (passive) understanding of German, and allowed me to make the leap from Spanish to Italian to French languages enough so that I am a fairly good reader of Italian and French -- that is to say, I could survive if plopped in any of those countries, until someone happened to ask me to speak to them.

So your "passive v. active language skills" paradigm really strikes a chord with me.

-Tim
User avatar
tcward
Senior Lexiterian
 
Posts: 789
Joined: Thu Feb 10, 2005 5:18 pm
Location: The Old North State

Postby Spiff » Thu Mar 03, 2005 9:42 am

Brazilian dude wrote:
On napišet pismo "He will be writing the letter", where the latter has a present form (and a prefix), but the meaning of an accomplished future.

The explanation about the perfective is right, but I would translate the above sentence as He will write the letter, or even He will have written the letter in case it's in dependent on some other future reference.

Brazilian dude


To me, the perfective sentence means something like "he will finish (writing) the letter". In fact, he might even be writing it already as we speak, that is neither implied nor excluded.
Spaceman Spiff

"The capacity for humankind to centralize its importance in the grand scheme of things is quite impressive."
- Tim Ward
Spiff
Junior Lexiterian
 
Posts: 74
Joined: Mon Feb 21, 2005 4:15 am
Location: Lubbeek, BE

Postby Brazilian dude » Thu Mar 03, 2005 12:52 pm

To me, the perfective sentence means something like "he will finish (writing) the letter". In fact, he might even be writing it already as we speak, that is neither implied nor excluded.

I totally agree.

Brazilian dude
Languages rule!
Brazilian dude
Grand Panjandrum
 
Posts: 1464
Joined: Tue Feb 15, 2005 3:31 pm
Location: Botucatu - SP Brazil


Return to Languages of the World

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google Adsense [Bot] and 1 guest