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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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Language complexity is relative

Another language’s learning difficulty is only relative to a speaker’s first language(s).
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Context

Several blogs and sites claim that languages such as Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Korean, and Japanese are the hardest languages to learn.[1] Yet, are these languages objectively difficult, or are they only difficult for English speakers, who are likely reading the article in English?

The Argument

Language complexity is relative. Another language’s complexity depends on the learner’s first language(s).[2] For example, Russian may be a difficult language to learn for English speakers. Russian speakers have to deal with more declensions compared to English speakers. Yet, a Serbian speaker may find that Russian is much easier to learn than English because Serbian and Russian may share cognates and are part of the same language family. Furthermore, a study found that native Indonesian speakers learned English faster than they learned Mandarin Chinese because English and Indonesian shared a writing system in the Roman alphabet. There can be no objectively difficult language because any explanation of such language will come from the point of view of language. Linguistic complexity, and explanations of linguistic complexity, is relative to what language the learner or linguist starts from. Because every person uses a language as a starting point, they will approach each new language with the standpoint of their native language(s).

Counter arguments

While measuring linguistic complexity is difficult, some linguists have used criteria to systematically measure or rank linguistic complexity. A linguist can measure and compare language complexity between one another and rank which ones are objectively easier or more difficult.[3] For example, linguist Michael Campbell used three aspects of difficulty to objectively measure across languages: 1) vocabulary acquisition, 2) syntax and morphology for fluency, and 3) phonology for fluency.[4] This particular methodology found that Ubykh (an extinct Northwest Caucasian language spoken along the eastern coast of the Black Sea) was the hardest language to learn for anyone.[5]

Premises

Rejecting the premises

References

  1. https://www.openculture.com/2017/11/a-map-showing-how-much-time-it-takes-to-learn-foreign-languages-from-easiest-to-hardest.html
  2. https://blogs.ntu.edu.sg/hg3040-2014-5/?page_id=155
  3. https://www.languagesoftheworld.info/linguistic-typology/what-is-linguistic-complexity-and-how-to-measure-it.html
  4. https://ai.glossika.com/blog/language-difficulty#method
  5. https://ai.glossika.com/blog/rank-of-language-difficulty
This page was last edited on Thursday, 27 Aug 2020 at 16:11 UTC

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