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Is there a language that is most difficult to learn? Show more Show less
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Many languages are notoriously difficult for English speakers to learn. Linguists have claimed that some languages are objectively more complex than others, while other linguists claimed that all languages are equally complex or complex in their own way, with their writing systems, grammar structures, number of possible syllables, pronunciation, and more. Are languages objectively or relatively difficult to learn?

No, all languages are complex, and linguistic complexity is relative Show more Show less

Linguistic complexity is difficult to define and measure, yet all languages are complex in their own way. There is no language that is objectively the hardest to learn. The ease of learning a second language just depends on one’s first language. An alien coming to Earth could pick any two languages and have an equally difficult time mastering them.
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All languages are equally complex

The Equal Complexity Hypothesis proposes that all languages are equally complex in their own way--whether in phonetics (pronunciation) or syntax (grammar). A language can be simpler in one factor but is complex in another.

The Argument

All languages are complex in their own way. By surveying and studying the phonetic, syntactic, morphological, organizational factors of languages, one can observe that languages are complex in their own way. One language may have fewer possible consonants, which causes it to have much longer words, while another language may have over 1200 possible consonants due to its possible tones and sounds, giving it words with fewer syllables. For example, Mandarin Chinese has a relatively simple grammar that lacks plural markings or verb tenses, but it also has complex pronunciation due to its four tones.[1] (Complex, at least, from the point of view of non-tonal languages like English and Spanish. Around 70% of the world's languages are tonal.[2]) Even if linguists find a way to objectively measure linguistic complexity, they must take such measurements from one language’s point of view. Linguistic complexity may include many more forms of meaning, such as whistles or songs that a linguist may misunderstand because they come from a certain linguistic point of view.[3] Since there are several unknown factors to measuring linguistic complexity, it is better to assume all languages are complex and uniquely structured in their own way, just as all humans and cultures are unique.

Counter arguments

Linguists have mostly debunked The Equal Complexity Hypothesis with computational, quantifiable approaches to measuring complexity that came about in the 1990s.[4] Nevertheless, linguists do not agree on a method to objectively measure linguistic complexity. Linguists do not agree on how to define “complexity,” and methodologies to measure complexity are inconsistent across studies.[5]



Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Thursday, 27 Aug 2020 at 16:01 UTC

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