How many languages / What languages do you speak?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Giambattista, Feb 26, 2007.


How many languages are you fluent in?

  1. 1

  2. 2

  3. 3

  4. 4 or more.

  1. keyfur Registered Member

    Incidentally, a propos one of your earlier posts, it is rare in English to use the compound verb "knock up" except in the very precise circumstances of "wake someone up by knocking on their door".
  2. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    My Chinese friends always assumed that mow is just the Kuangdong pronunciation of the mei in mei you, "not have." The word stands on its own in compounds with the meaning "don't have," as in mei chian de, "lack money (-ing)," i.e., "poor."

    I remember the poem our Chinese teacher (who was from Fujian and an outsider to the rivalry) taught us:

    Tian bu pa,
    Di bu pa.
    Zuei pa Tong ren
    Shuo guan hua.

    "I fear nothing in heaven or on earth
    so much as the sound of a Cantonese speaking Mandarin."
    On this side the compound also has only one meaning: "to impregnate," but it's considered vulgar.

    From one round of the Washington Post's weekly word contest a few years back. Rules: to rewrite a well-known set of instructions in the style of a famous poet.

    The warning on a liquor bottle, by Eminem:

    "If you a knocked-up ho,
    Don't drink no mo."

    (I can't resist reposting my absolute favorite from that week.)

    How to Do the Hokey Pokey
    by William Shakespeare

    O proud left foot, that ventures quick within
    Then soon upon a backward journey lithe,
    Anon, once more the gesture, then begin:
    Command sinistral pedestal to writhe.
    Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke,
    A mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl.
    To spin! A wilde release from Heaven's yoke.
    Blessed dervish! Surely canst thou go, girl.
    The Hoke, the Poke—banish thou now thy doubt:
    Verily, be this what 'tis all about.
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2007
  4. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  5. keyfur Registered Member

    Yes, orally I'm sure your Chinese friends are right. However, it has its own ideogram (the 2 parallel bars removed from 'to have'). Further, looking at the verb "to be", Cantonese pronunciation and ideogram are far from the national language 'shr'.
    I love the Shakespearian Hokey Cokey: thank you for that.
    How many meanings can you think of for the syllable MAN, disregarding tone, in Mandarin and Cantonese??
  6. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  7. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Are you saying that Mandarin mei and Cantonese mou have two different symbols?
    Yes, that stands out. I don't know if they write hai with the symbol for shi or if it's just a different word with a similar meaning. There's no way they could be the same word with phonetic shifts. Cantonese also don't use the Mandarin word chi for "eat," but they say set, which is Mandarin shi, one of many words for "food."

    You must have learned the Yale transliteration system like I did. I thought it was superior for actually studying the pronunciation. In Pinyin, "be" is shi and it's shih in Wade-Giles.
    I don't really know any Cantonese. My Mandarin vocabulary is so small that I don't have two readings for every syllable. (And maybe not even one for all of them.) The only one I can think of is man fourth tone (I think), "slow down."
  8. keyfur Registered Member

    1. Yes, your Mandarin mei is a negative prefix: Cantonese simply alters the positive verb form.
    2. The Cantonese hai (to be) is indeed a totally different word and ideogram. You are right, too, about the verb 'to eat'.
    3. I never learned Mandarin formally. I was an interpreter in Cantonese many years ago and learned the written and spoken languages using the Barnett-Chao romanisation system.
    4. Sorry about the apparent trick question "man". It was one of my favourites for illustrating tonality.

    Wherein lies your interest in the Middle Country?
  9. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Long before I studied Chinese, I was told a story that I haven't verified. A regional administrator rose to power during wartime and was not well educated. He surrounded himself with scholars to help him finish his education. One made a reference to the tonality of Chinese and the ruler said, "What? I have never heard of such a thing. Give me an example demonstrating this tonality if you expect me to believe you." The scholar crafted a four-word sentence using the same syllable in all four tones, meaning something like, "Whatever Your Grace requires of me."

    I think the example betrays its apocryphal nature. If I'm not mistaken, ancient Han had six tones, as are preserved in some regional dialects of Mandarin like Sichuan hua.
    I always wanted to study a non-Indo-European language. Books on Hebrew were easy enough to find in the 1950s, but in a cowboy town I couldn't find any live speakers. Eventually I moved to L.A. and after finishing college and getting a job that had nothing to do with any language except Cobol, I discovered that the nearby community college offered classes in Mandarin. A year later I found myself with a Chinese girlfriend and I prevailed upon her to speak Mandarin at home even though for her it was like living with a three-year-old. (Turns out it was a good match emotionally but that's another story.)

    I think I made it to about four and a half eventually, which is not bad. What little I know, I am completely fluent in. I think in kiddie-Chinese and my pronunciation is pretty good. Although she was from Sichuan and I still have traces of a Sichuan accent. They get the tones right, but they reverse S C Z with SH CH ZH. Final NG after certain vowels becomes N and final N becomes a nazalised vowel like French or Portuguese.
  10. temur man of no words Registered Senior Member

    Can you create an artificial language that is based on the word roots that modern English uses and with Chinese grammar? That would be easy to learn, adaptable and modern.
  11. Sangamon Registered Member

    New kid on the block here

    I'm fluent in English & Dutch, I can have a not-too-technical conversation in French and if I'm lost in Germany or Spain I will be able to talk to the locals and get home.

    Then there's bits and pieces of Thai, Swedish, Portugese and Mandarin floating around in my head, but none of those are of much use outside of a bar

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I think, easy. Brit speech word short, China speech word short. I speak China speech use Brit word, you understand.

    I can't always come up with a one-syllable English word to match a one-morpheme Chinese "word," but the opposite is also true so it balances out. The simplified grammar would need to be adapted carefully. There are only nouns and verbs. "Short" is a verb: "to be short." When I say "short man" it is really "being-short man," with no participial suffix since Chinese has no inflections. The meaning is obvious from the word order, which is very rigid in Chinese. Sometimes a sentence gets so complicated that the relationships between the words are not obvious. In that case the particle de is inserted strictly as a parsing aid, indicating that the previous phrase or clause is complete and is a modifier of the following word, phrase or clause.

    This is not so necessary in writing, where the 1,600 phonetically possible syllables of spoken Chinese explode into several thousand distinct homonymic morphemes and the possibility of misunderstaning is greatly reduced.

    This exercise would be much easier for speakers of English than many other languages. We are not used to heavy use of inflections, our syntax is fairly similiar, and we build new words by shoving old ones together just like they do. We'd have to drop the notions of tense and number, and discover that they're really not as useful or necessary as we think. It would be great to dump our useless articles, and to replace our pathetic stock of Stone-Age prepositions with verbs that describe relationships far more precisely.
  13. Myles Registered Senior Member

    I spoke Irish at school until the age of twelve. It is now very rusty as I have not used it since moving to the UK some fifty years ago. I taught myself German using a book , listening to German radio stations and reading German magazines. I finally became fluent by dating German girls in an International club. Later, I taught computer programming in Germany for six months. Most of my students knew very little English so I inproved my knowledge of their language quickly, socialising after classes.

    I taught myself French in much the same way. I can also manage enough Spanish to get by.
    If you wish to get past the "can you tell me the way to the station" stage and communicate using everyday expressions and idioms, I suggest reading novels and paying close attention to the dialogue. Try not to use a dictionary. You will find that you will learn expressions in their proper context unlike those poor souls who rely wholly on a dictionary, thereby producing quaint expressions. Remember, translations are seldom exact; you must learn to convey meaning rather that a word-for-word version of what you would say in your own language,
    I hope this helps.

  14. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    I speak english, American english that is. I still am trying to learn it and keep

    trying everyday.
  15. pjdude1219 The biscuit has risen Valued Senior Member

    i speak english but i would like to learn german, polish, romanian, and hungarian.
  16. kaneda Actual Cynic Registered Senior Member

    I speak some French. Well, I should since I live in France but apart from bills almost all my French is bonjour, merci, au revoir, used in shops. Only once in a blue moon do I need more.

    I have travelled around the world mainly on my own and managed in dozens of countries where English is not the first language, or in places where it is hardly spoken at all. You point, hold fingers up, use common-sense, etc. It isn't hard. Ideally I'd speak 20 or more languages but I find what little I learn, I lose by not using them.

    I remembered reading of a man who was fluent in 66 languages and could get by in quite a few more. He couldn't understand why everyone else wasn't the same since he found languages easy. But that was a quirk in his brain. He never found a cure for cancer or anything. He was just ordinary outside his language skills.
  17. s0meguy Worship me or suffer eternally Valued Senior Member

    I was thinking of doing an EF ( course and go to different countries and learn Spanish and Chinese. Theres other options or additions that I'm looking at: French for instance. It's an official language in 41 countries but I'm not really sure what I'd use it for, since almost everyone these days speaks either English, Chinese or Spanish. Not really sure about the last one, but its just a language I'm interested in. Thoughts?
  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Hindi and Bengali also have huge numbers of speakers. Arabic, Japanese and Portuguese are also in the top ten. I'm not sure which languages are #9 and 10 these days. German was hanging in there for a while.

    I would recommend learning languages that are as unrelated as possible, because this will introduce you to vastly new ways of thinking. Assuming you're a native speaker of English, why not pass up the other Indo-European languages? That excludes everything mentioned so far except Chinese, Japanese and Arabic. You could choose Hebrew instead of its cousin Arabic because it's easy to find a teacher in any country with a large Jewish community. Vietnamese, Thai, Tagalog and Korean come to mind. Also the family that includes the major non-Indo-European languages of Europe: Turkish, Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian. Or something offbeat that's in the news like Georgian, or one of the myriad African languages.

    If your goal is to be able to travel and talk to people everywhere you go, then that's different. But if you're interested in expanding your mind, I recommend that you consider not selecting languages more-or-less closely related to English like Spanish, French, Gaelic, Greek, Russian, Farsi, Hindi, Armenian, etc.

    If you chose Arabic, Japanese and Xhosa, you'd have your life's work cut out for you. ^_^
  19. USS Exeter unamerican american Registered Senior Member

    For me Spainish and English (my strongest) and German.
  20. Sock Puppy I cAn haZ INfrakShun? Registered Senior Member

    There's no vote option for "zero".
  21. s0meguy Worship me or suffer eternally Valued Senior Member

    Well thats kind of my goal (being able to talk where ever I travel, at least, at the places I like to travel to, which is also why I'm mostly interested in the big languages. I'm 20 years old, and I think that learning more languages could be a good investment in the future, for getting a good job, with all the globalism and all. Plus I just like learning to understand languages). And my native language is Dutch.

    But expanding my mind is also a good thing. I understand how languages like Japanese and Arabic are vastly different from the languages that I understand currently (Dutch, English, German and French somewhat) but besides understanding a language that has different rules, could you elaborate more on the "expanding your mind" thing?
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2007
  22. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Sure. I'll give you three examples from one language: Chinese.

    1. Tone is phonemic. You can't use tone of voice to indicate how you feel. You have to express it in words.

    2. There are no inflections. No gender, number, case, tense, mode, etc. "Dog eat fish." If it's really necessary to make it clear that there was one dog, three fish, and this took place yesterday, you say, "Yesterday one dog eat three fish." If it's clear from context you don't need the extra words: a general statement that dogs like to eat fish if it's available, or my dog eats fish every chance he gets, or if you leave your fishbowl on my coffee table when we come back from the movies your fish will be gone.

    3. There are no prepositions. No vague words like "in," "at" and "for," with so many meanings that they are now essentially meaningless. Chinese has only nouns and verbs, so you have thousands of verbs to choose from to help you express relationships very precisely. Instead of "the apple is in the box," you say, "apple occupy box interior." In the last century we began struggling to free ourselves from our Stone Age paradigm of prepositions by inventing a new kind of grammatical construction, as seen in a steady stream of unorthodox compounds like user-friendly, carbon-neutral and labor-intensive. The Chinese have had that facility for thousands of years.

    (Okay, in addition to nouns and verbs Chinese also has a couple of particles, which are nothing more than placeholders to help you parse a complicated sentence.)
  23. oreodont I am God Registered Senior Member

    I did most of my schooling in French Catholic schools...but university in English (and a few university courses in German with English permitted for exams and papers).

    French and English are interchangeable for me. I can also get by in German and get by 'well' in German after a few days emerged in the language. I studied Russian for two years and can read it if a dictionary is handy but can no longer follow a movie or program in Russian. I also studied Latin for 4 years and ancient Greek for 1 year in school. Latin was my favorite subject in school.

    The sum total of my knowledge of non Western languages is zero.

Share This Page