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Stupid languages

I heard it again. I can't learn French, it's stupid...

When we are learning a new language, we all at some stage utter the phrase "stupid language!". I mean, think about it...

  • Japanese is stupid. There's all those Kanji, "words" that express ideas taken from the Chinese. Then there's Hiragana, a syllabic writing system where sounds can be accurately transcribed, for it is difficult to know how to speak a Kanji, especially if it can have several different sounds depending on context. Fair enough. The Chinese writing and a sounds-like way of writing. For example, the capital Tōkyō is written in Kanji like 東京, and can be transcribed into Hiragana like とうきょう.
    So what's the point of Katakana? It's a chunkier-looking syllabic system exactly like Hiragana which is used, mostly, for writing words of foreign origin and onomatopœia. The capital city would look like トーキヨー...
    Why two 'alphabets' for the same set of sounds? It's stupid!
  • French (and related languages). What's with the genders? Unless you're a lonely girl who likes making out with carrots, you don't tend to think of carrots as having a gender. In biological terms they probably do - I'm aware of male and female pumpkins; but the word "carrot" is neither masculine nor feminine. Except in French, where having sex with a carrotte might make you a lesbian-of-sorts.
    My personal advice - make whoppee with a cucumber. It has triple benefits. Firstly, it's bigger. Girls says size doesn't matter but we all know that's bull. Secondly you can't hide the tell-tale orange discolouration from your gynæ and the last thing you want is them asking odd questions of your parents. Thirdly, all is grammatically good for a concombre is masculine.
    There's enough rubbish in French without having to remember what gender everything is and conjugate accordingly. I can't see gender serves any actual useful purpose. It's stupid!
  • German. Not content with the regular two genders, they added a third - the neuter. Carrots (Mohrrübe, or maybe Karotte!) are still feminine while cucumbers (Gurke or Salatgurke) have changed to also be feminine. You can't substitute a banana (Banane) as they are feminine too. You can, however, pee all over yourself attempting nookie with a chili pepper (Chilipfeffer) for they are masculine. Until you get referred to hospital for specialist treatment of, well... you know what chili does in your mouth (and on the way back out). Down there is unimaginable.
    In any case, three genders? It's stupid!
[if you are male and thinking you're missing out on some sort of fun, just know that you shouldn't stick anything up your backside, ever... except maybe an endoscopy if you're ill and have no other choice...]

All of these "It's stupid!" about other languages. Time, I think, to whale on English. English, specifically, as being perhaps the most illogical and assinine language around in common use. Why? Oh, sure, it seems simple enough. No genders. No formal/familiar. No honourific system. That's to make up for the other nonsense...

To see how well some non-native English speakers do with English, check out what might be the closest I'll get to a real girlfriend:

Cute, isn't she?
Did you like the engrish?

  • Bogus rules
    There are dozens of rules to aid in learning the English language, but like plane geometry, it provides a very incomplete picture.
    A common one that all kids know is: i before e except after c
    What, you mean like science?
    How about deity? Or weight?
    Or the pluralised forms of -cy words, showing the whole thing is a set of fallacies!
  • Incomprehensible spelling
    We English speakers generally know how to spell (though often in forums you'll find some pretty poor pseudo-phonetic spellings from the less bright).
    It's not necessarily their fault. We know that there is no defined way to say "ough". You might look at that and think "ugg".
    How about through, which is not the same as rough, which at least is said like tough but nothing like plough. Why is it through and threw are said the same but don't look alike? Is there a difference between plough and plow?
    If you thought this was the end of the story, you're wrong!
  • Incomprehensible speaking
    We can give Americans credit for saying aluminium incorrectly for they at least spell it differently. There is no final 'i' in US spelling, and the stress is shifted to the second syllable instead of the third.
    Isn't it weird how the word weird is said rapidly like "weerd", and is stressed like "wee-erd", has nobody noticed the e and the i are the wrong way around for that, or is weird just an inherently weird word by definition?
  • Regional variations
    There are three primary forms of regional variation.
    The first is the oft-comical local parlance, some examples:
    • Yank - famous for taking a "raincheck".
    • Whingin' Pom - "argy-bargy" is a sort of "aggro".
    • Aussie - may eat at "Maccas", but I would hope not wearing "budgie smugglers".
    • Kiwi - on a hot day, might put on "Jandals" and chuck some stuff in the "chilly bin" for a day out.
    An amusing variation of this is that a slang Brit phrase is to fall "arse over tit", but American puritanism couldn't handle this so the less polite version is "ass over tea kettle", while the more polite is "head over cupcake", both of which are completely illogical.
    Wiki has a long list of American words / British words not widely used in the other country.
    The second is regionalised spelling. By this I mean when Word decides to highlight a bunch of words as being incorrect because it has reverted itself to US English spelling - color (colour) and traveled (travelled) and realize (realise) being three examples. The emphasis is given to British English as being correct partly out of elitism, partly out of annoyance at Windows still failing to correctly internationalise (I have a British English version of XP and it has a "Favorites" option in the Explorer menu bar), but also because the language itself is "English", as in "England", as in spell it correctly! <grin!>
    But if all of this isn't enough - get this text to be read by people from different places; I mean actual native English speakers. Somebody from the Bronx. A Scouser. A Scot, especially a Glaswegian. Anybody from the East End (London). Somebody from South Island (New Zealand). Any of the cast of Neighbours. That cute Irish weathergirl on Sky News. A southerner, as in from the southern states, but throw in somebody from the Home Counties as well. And a Seth Efricen. Many who speak English as the primary language. Many who would say these exact words completely differently. Some who might even be completely incomprehensible - I cannot understand a word of Rab C Nesbitt, while the TV programme Trawlermen was broadcast on BBC with subtitles! This isn't to say that Scots are hard to understand, ever heard a Scouser with a heavy accent?
    While this is nothing terribly surprising - the Canadian TV programme "Catherine" is broadcast on TV5-FBS (Swiss) with subtitles because of the number of differences between French French and Canadian French, in this case we're talking about ways of saying the same thing.
    To a degree I have this problem in French, that while my understanding of French is not that good, I can sometimes understand people from the other side of the country that the locals have difficulty with. I can now tell a few regional accents, but by and large it all sounds the same to me. I think as an English speaker, I am more attuned to language corruption. We've all heard the stereotypes of English spoken by Indians. The Japanese "engrish", and the mess that badly educated natives speak ("it weren't me fault miss, it was 'im what did it!"), all of this plus a massive gamut of dialects means that mangled English is, by and large, still understood. Look at Antoine de Caunes bits in "EuroTrash" for sending up Franglais.
    Some people say "half" and "path" and "car" with the same a sound in each case, and some (myself included) which use a different 'a' sound in each case. This is not a regional thing, but rather a basic disagreement in how certain words are to be pronounced. It showed up most when, at school, we'd be singing that hymn about "I am the lord of the dance, said he". If you've never heard/don't remember, here is quite a nice rendition of it (on YouTube).
    This duality of the a sound shows up, if you listen carefully, in that Chanel advert with Nicole Kidman (the "who is she?" one), where on the rooftop she breathlessly exclaims "I'm a dahcer! I love to daance!" (YouTube link, referred part is at offset 0:50).
    The bottom line here: You're learning English. You're reading this. How the hell do you say it correctly?
  • Richness of sound
    You have to pay attention in French because for the richness of writing, there don't seem to be that many syllables, phonetic building blocks.
    In Japanese, the basic pattern (with exceptions, obviously) is consonant-vowel over and over - watashi wa wakarimasen or wa-ta-shi-wa-wa-ka-ri-ma-se-n...
    English? A huge variety of sounds. Not in regional accents, in just one. This is further complicated by a system of being able to string these sounds together in a near infinate variety of different ways. What's a foreigner supposed to do with "strengths", a word with lots of seemingly incompatible letters, and only one vowel? Your money might be safely squirrelled away, but how many non-native speakers can say that word correctly? In British, it is usually "skwi-rel-d", while Americans tend to say "sk-whirled".
  • Complications
    If playing hangman, rhythms is a good word, for it has none of the common vowels.
    Somewhat facetiously, I can point out that that word you just read has all the vowels in order, plus the semi-vowel 'y' at the end.
    Hit a foreigner with queueing - yai! Five vowels in a row, does that even look like a word that'd be said like "k-eww-ing"?
  • Yet more complications
    There is a thing called a synonym. This is a word that can be used in place of another word. This is a word that can be utilised/employed/applied in place of another word.
    However, you cannot say that it is a word that can be worn/operated/exploited in place of another word, although those are equally valid synonyms of "use(d)".
    Why is it you can catch a movie (at the cinema), but you never catch TV, unless it is being thrown? People can be thrown, but not literally. You can go to the cinema to catch a movie, but you watch TV. Note, incidentally, the -atch is said differently in both cases.
  • Word order
    A few years ago I came up with a sentence in which you can put the words in a variety of orders, and it means basically the same thing:
    • Softly stroke the cat
    • Stroke softly the cat
    • Stroke the cat softly
    The one that wouldn't fit is stroke the softly cat!
    Try doing that with "do not pass GO".
    Especially, try doing that with "Rick ate a burger", for you'll find a variation like "a burger ate Rick" has an entirely different meaning.
  • Word signalling
    In German, a noun has a capital Letter. Anywhere. In French, verbs are conjugated to a fairly standard pattern (loads of exceptions, but still it is a conjugated verb). In English? Take a look at a sentence. How can you tell which is the verb, which is the noun... The only fairly constant rule is an adverb usually ends in -ly.
    In some cases, it isn't at all easy to tell the subject from the object. This can be really difficult for foreigners. The previous sentence used "this" to refer to the object of the sentence prior. It can be difficult (and, again, what is "it" referring to?). Additionally, "can" is used in the sense of "may be" as opposed to the equally valid but syntaxically bogus sense of a metal food storage container! Then there are other words which can be nouns, verbs, or adjectives in various combinations, and which can be cleverly used to convey a different meaning to that which is literal.
    In the Lily Allen song "The Fear", there's quite a nifty line that goes:
    • I'll look at the sun and I'll look in the mirror
    Which, yes, she'll stare at the big burning ball in the sky and then at her reflection.
    Unless you're British, in which case you'd more likely figure she's referring to two Red tops - tabloid cack aimed at the mindless populist celebrity-gossip-obsessed culture...
  • What to emphasise
    In English, words often carry an implicit stress - such as "a-loo-min-ee-um" for the English metal, and "a-loo-min-um" for the American metal.
    However, you must be careful how you stress in a sentence, for the following imply totally different sentiments, although the words and actions described are identical:
    • I am driving my car.
    • I am driving my car.
    • I am driving my car.

  • Oh my God, there's so much more...
    We haven't even touched on irregular verbs, the little issues that throw natives (like the perennial "who/whom" one), not to mention nonsense such as:
    • If an in prefix negates (involuntary, inexcusable...), then why does inflammable appear to mean the same as flammable? Surely it should mean something that isn't liable to catch fire? (note - totally odd use of "catch", for an inflammable object doesn't reach up and pluck fire from the sky).
    • If your expectations of a DS console for Christmas turn out to be a hardwired el-cheapo video game, you'd be underwhelmed. If you're working for an insurance company, the day after severe gales you'd probably be rather overwhelmed. But if all is hunky-dory and okay in your world, you're never just whelmed. Why?

I could write another page this size on the rest of the nonsense in the English language. It's okay for us, we grew up with it, but the number of times a foreigner learning English could exclaim "C'est vraiment stupide!, Das ist wirklich dumm!, To je stvarno glupo!, Det är verkligen dumt!, कि वास्तव में बेवकूफ है!, それは本当に愚か なのです!...

So the next time you are learning a language and you think "oh, stupid!", just remember what you've read here.


Your comments:

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Rob, 19th November 2009, 18:06
Nice to see this pop up on the RSS : You're getting there .... :-) Unfortunately it had the wrong URL! >> b.log entry - 2009/11/17; on stupid languages, and why English may be stupidest of all? Article: << Our lad's learning Japanese ... I'm constantly amazed at how he can read words in Kanji and katakana.. then he says something like "but it's just English" written in the japanese "alphabet" lol .. great article ... How about the old, How do you pronounce the word "POLISH" to throw into the mix.. Best wishes, Rob.
Rick, 21st November 2009, 15:53
I have a number of books on learning Japanese, plus one about Kata/Hiragana which I guess I should TRY to learn so I can at least write my name properly. It's going to be a hard slog as it is very much NOT English - for example "I television night-before did watch not" would appear to be how to say I didn't watch TV last night. I can't quite get over that counters for objects depends on thin, fat, pointy, round, wibbly, and so on. Wow. But it is my rÍve to visit the country and I don't want to be the annoying p**ck that expects everybody to speak English, so one of these days I'll have to YouTube a little less and concentrate on the language a little more.
This is all the harder because in a lot of languages you can try to guess by looking at the words, I can read a fair bit of French by knowing some words, ignoring the little words, and guessing the words I don't know. Like at work there was a sign about tell the line manager if you don't have your "tenue nominative". I don't know what "tenue" was, but it was something "named", the only named things we have are our uniforms... which was a correct guess. Not so easy with "購入金額にかかわ ;らず、お急ぎ便が ;無料に" (from!
All well, I'll get there some day... ☺

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