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what i hate about you [languages]

through my adventures in language learning, i have come to appreciate the magic of all the different ways we have of speaking to one another. i hate the thought of the cultural diversity lost whenever a language goes extinct and applaud efforts to keep any and all of them fresh in the public mind. i marvel at the ability of languages to persist in an ocean of difference and get hot under the collar when i hear about attempts by despots to repress a language as a way of showing dominance.

i've purchased a few books on the subject [and been given a few others], but my primary learning method has been through free education beacon duolingo, where i've completed four "trees" [courses] in the last two years, which has given me a basic grounding in german, spanish and swedish, and significantly helped my french. my preference then is to move on to listening to or reading newscasts in order to get a sense of the rhythms and flow of these languages, as well, of course, for going back to practice what i've learned, to make sure it sticks in my memory. i'm still trying to work out the best/ most affordable way to practice actually speaking the languages, which is the obvious next step in my evolution. more to follow on that in the future.

i've also undertaken to learn other languages, and have even been lucky enough to get to beta test a few new courses on the duolingo site before they launched. i'm pursuing a number of other courses, because i can't do anything in moderation, and because it's been a dream of mine literally for decades to be able to speak a wide variety of languages with ease. [i'm still working on the ease part. hell, a lot of the time i don't even speak english with ease.]

but sometimes, amid the waves of love i feel for languages and language learning, there are low ebbs. there are things that happen in other languages that seem to be there for no other reason than to piss off people who might want to master them, like tests that outsiders will always fail, allowing those people to quickly be ostracised and quietly mocked. and today, i've decided to vent about all of them.

so, without further ado... these are the things that languages do to piss me off

swedish :: what the fuck is "sj"? no human needs to make that sound and you pepper your language with it like it cures cancer. listen to this poor german chap trying to make a go of it:



and on top of everything else, you use it as the basis for words like "hospital" [sjukhus] and "nurse" [sjuksköterskor, which also has the terrifying "kö" for good measure], things that might be important to say, so it would be nice to make them easy to pronounce. but oh no, the swedish language insists that you die in the street, hooting like an owl while you try to say "please take me to a hospital, i've been beaten by seven sailors".

chinese :: hey, chinese, have you ever noticed how most alphabets or other writing systems have these really simple shapes? do you know why that is? because no one wants to go through a graphic design program in order to be able to write down an address. in english, we have the word "zero", which is easy to pronounce and can be made even simpler by just drawing a vertically-aligned oval: 0. isn't that awesome? it's so goddamn simple, even babies could manage it. you, however, have this fucking monstrosity:

"líng"

what am i supposed to do with that? i could master advanced mathematics before i'd get that character right. it's bad enough that you make me think about whether my voice is going up or down or sideways or wavy to be sure that i don't call my mother a horse, but now i have to remember how to draw that? that's just mean, mandarin. that's cold.

japanese :: not to be outdone, you figured that the best way to make those impossible chinese characters more painful was to combine them with two other alphabets. ok, they're not alphabets, they're syllabaries, which lull you into a false sense of security, because they're actually easier to pronounce. sure, the beginner might question why you needed to make two of them, but before they can worry too much about that, they get hit with these random, complex chinese characters. and, despite the fact that you have two serviceable alphabets [syllabaries -ed.], you make people learn thousands of these chinese things just to read a goddamned newspaper.

but wait, it gets worse! for some reason, you insist on just jumbling all three of these systems up, so that it's basically impossible to make a sentence with any one of them on its own. behold:

私はアメリカからです


kanji [derived from chinese]- hiragana - katakana- katakana- katakana- hiragana- hiragana- hiragana- hiragana. thank you so fucking much, i could not possibly have written "i am from america" with just one system

and after all that, you don't even have the basic decency to have the chinese-derived characters drawn and pronounced the same way as they are in chinese?? screw you, japanese, in every alphabet. 

polish :: vowels, motherfucker, do you know them? i have this theory that, back in the prehistoric era, polish and finnish were one language, and they lived in a spirit of brotherly love, with everyone able to talk to each other without danger of spraining their tongues. then things fell apart and finnish absconded with all the vowels, which left polish with shit like this: 

szczebrzeszyn


that is not a word. that is my siamese walking on the keyboard. that is a bad sneeze. and if i did happen to sneeze that on someone, i'm supposed to excuse myself by saying "przepraszam". but don't worry, it's pronounced exactly the way it's spelled. 

once the learner is done crying over pronunciation, the real pain begins, because polish decided that what would be really awesome was if you had to change every word depending on what it was doing in the sentence, who was doing it and when it was being done. but it's ok, because, like most gendered languages, you just have to remember to use the same endings with your adjectives and nouns, right? ha! amateur! no, every one of the seven cases in polish has specific endings that you use for nouns and adjectives, and the forms don't generally look much alike at all. or, rather, they look alike, but the ones that look alike don't go together. it's like the ultimate level of linguistic tetris, and all the blocks are star-shaped. 

hebrew :: you know what's worse than chinese and its super-complex written characters? making half the letters look the goddamned same. it's frustrating enough that you insist on writing your language backwards, but you also insist that this is reasonable: 

רוע הכרחי


that phrase means "necessary evil", by the way, which is funny, because the hebrew alphabet was never a necessary evil. you were one of the earliest written languages. you could have come up with all sorts of funky patterns, but apparently, your scribes were kind of lazy and decided that making every symbol look like a cane or walker was just fine. even worse, you were brought back from the dead and still no one thought to play around with the characters a little. 

i'm pretty certain the phrase above is pronounced "ha ha ha ha", just like the sound of your laughter when rubes like me try to remember which sound corresponds to which cane. 

english :: strap on your crash helmets, fuckers. english is a germanic language, which means that it should function a lot like german, dutch, swedish, etc. well, except for the fact that around 35% of english vocabulary is french in origin. but why stop there when you can have french words and germanic words that mean exactly the same goddamned thing, and then subtly morph them so that there are little differences in how they're used, even though the dictionary tells you that you don't need to worry, because there's no difference, and you can use "face" or "visage" and no one will think either of those things sounds a little odd in everyday parlance [speech]. 

and while you're at it, english, why not just remove all those diacritic marks that tell you how to pronounce letters that look like other letters and declare a free-for-all where the same letter can be pronounced in a bunch of different ways, with no indication whatsoever which pronunciation goes where. "lead". "buffet". "present". and then "help" people by creating rules like "i before e except after c", which would be an even better rule if it actually applied to more than half the words that have i and e next to each other.

then get rid of all the cases from german, so that at least that bit is easier to master. wait, did i say all? no, keep them for pronouns, because it's really important to say "i", "me" and "mine", but not to alter anything else in a way that might indicate what the word is doing. oh yeah, "who" and "whom". definitely keep those. but nothing else. that makes sense. 

now go forth and conquer the world, so that people everywhere have to speak your bastard mongrel tongue, each with their own quirks. you are the worst, english. you are the absolute worst. 

whew! that felt good. now i'm going to go back to loving languages and "everything" about learning them. 

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