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  1. Christina
    Christina at |

    Now, to sort those languages by difficulty to learn their script:
    #10, 9 and 8 Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian: Those languages using the Roman script does not just make them easier. Writing in these languages is even easier than writing in English. That’s because there are a set of rules to infer pronunciation from the spelling, and even to infer the spelling from the pronunciation. People that know these languages are less likely to be unsure about the pronunciation of a word that they have never heard, but only seem in writing.

    #7 Vietnamese: Its script is set apart from the others because of the tone marking. Those languages above use diacritics (like the umlaut or a tilde) to complete their alphabets (for they have sounds not represented by a single Roman letter) or to indicate syllable strength. Vietnamese have not only that, but a set of diacritics to mark tone, so that it’s not uncommon to find two diacritics on the same syllable. To speakers of a language like English that has no diacritics at all that seems like a nuisance.

    #6 Mongolian: You will have to learn a new alphabet, if you want to learn Mongolian, albeit not a completely new one. Like the Roman one, the Cyrillic alphabet originates from the Greek one. Some letters, like A, O, T, are the same, while the others carry some resemblance to Latin script.

    #5 Georgian: Again, a new alphabet, but this one is completely new. The Georgian alphabet is not completely unrelated to the Roman one, but that’s is not help, as the letters seem all foreign.

    #4 Korean: To English speakers, this is an all new alphabet to learn, but this one comes with a feature; indeed, it’s a featural alphabet, a system in which letters have different designs according to what they represent in a syllable. Therefore, all vowels (syllable nuclei) have some similarity and a particular position within the syllable. Consonants (syllabic onset and syllabic coda) have different positions. At first, those alien characters may seem difficult to learn, but what seems like a single symbol, like a Chinese one, in truth is made up of parts not to hard to learn.

    #3 Arabic: Until now, I’ve been talking about alphabets, sets of letters that combine mostly linearly, representing the string of sounds that make a word. The correspondence of sound and letter is not infallible, but at least, all letters in a word are obligatory in an alphabet script. That’s is not the case with Arabic. Although all vowels may be marked in schoolbooks, vowels are mostly not letters, but diacritics, and therefore not obligatory. In English the vowel written is not always the vowel that is pronounced, but, except for many occurrences of “e”, at least they indicate where the vowels in the word are. In Arabic, you have to look for other hints.

    #2 Japanese: Japanese scripts are syllabaries. There are two of them. A syllabary is a set of symbols that represent a syllable each, without any clear way to decompose those symbols according to the parts of syllable those represent. The Korean script may look like a syllabary, but each those symbols that represent a syllable are not a single syllable per se, but are decomposable into letters proper. That does not happens with Japanese symbols in the syllabic script. Besides the syllabaries, there is another system used in Japanese: kanji. Kanji are symbols that represent a word not by what it sounds like, but by what it means. Some kanji have more than one reading as synonyms are represented by the same kanji. Since Japanese is a agglutinative language, kanji are used to represent the root of the word, while characters from one of the syllabaries are use to represent its endings. Not all roots are represented with kanji, usually, so that’s a relieve.

    #1 Mandarin and Cantonese: Assuming that you may read my description of the Japanese script, you will take you from there. Unlike Japanese, Mandarin and Cantonese are not agglutinative, meaning that there are no word endings. As well as having no word endings, those languages are written with no syllabary. It’s like kanji all along, and to be honest, Japanese kanji came form Chinese characters. With each character representing a root (most words have two) from its meaning and no systematic way to associate them to the word pronunciation, there are thousands of characters, one for each root. This does not come without advantages as the same symbols are used for both Mandarin and Cantonese, as well as any Chinese language, with no difference in meaning for the great majority of them.

  2. vermes
    vermes at |

    Uralic languages for the win.


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