What do you love about your second language(s)?

General discussion about learning languages
Orange Belt
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Languages: Greek (N), French (B1), German (beginner), English (what you see...)
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Re: What do you love about your second language(s)?

Postby renaissancemedici » Fri Jul 06, 2018 4:42 am

English is simply beautiful. The fact that Shakespeare did what he did with it speaks volumes. I love that it has so many accents and variations around the world.

French sounds enchanting to me.
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Yellow Belt
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Re: What do you love about your second language(s)?

Postby zatris » Fri Jul 06, 2018 2:19 pm

Ser wrote:I learn the languages I learn for various reasons (some are linguistic, some practical, some cultural), but if I stick to linguistic features:


Its deep orthography, which in my experience was much harder to get used to than that of French, is just great. Both orthographies seem daunting to a beginner of course, but whereas an intermediate student of French (now used to all the obligatory and optional liaison) will only be surprised now and then by special cases like cul [ky] or il convainc [i(l) kõvæ̃], the English language continues to be annoying to its intermediate students well into the low-advanced level, at least if they're like me and want to get every phoneme right.

You learn loving has [ʌ] and moving has [u] early enough, but then you hit the more uncommon word roving only to discover it has neither: [ˈɹoʊ.vɪŋ]...

I find its relatively strict word order rules interesting and beautiful too. I like the way adverbs of manner can be placed in the middle of compound verbs (I have finally done it) or verbal periphrases (I should finally do it), and even retain their position after transformations like subject-verb inversion (have I finally done it?). Notice how adverbs of manner and frequency typically appear before the verb (when the verb is simple and not in a periphrasis), but they appear after the verb if the verb is specifically "to be": I never go there on Saturdays ~ I am never there on Saturdays (*I never am there on Saturdays). Subject-verb inversion is triggered by certain negative words near the beginning of the sentence: never had I imagined it would be like this, nor did I think it was possible in the first place... You can form a past-tense contrary-to-fact condition by simply changing word order: had I done it on time, ... ~ if I had done it on time... Nice little things like that, you know?


I like how strange it is compared to the rest of Romance languages. There are so many words that seem shortened in comparison (Spanish isla ~ French île [il], golpe ~ coup [ku]), and when I look up etymologies many words turn out to be from Old Frankish too.

The spoken language is also surprisingly different from the formal written language among pretty much all native speakers, more so than what you can find in Spanish at least. The idealized written standard has been lagging behind innovations in the spoken language at a rate I find interesting, even in basic things like how to make normal content questions. People are still sometimes writing Que pouvons-nous faire ? 'What can we do?' in certain contexts, even when they might otherwise regularly say Qu'est-ce qu'on peut faire ? or On peut faire quoi ?


It's an old attested form of my own native language, and it is fascinating to sound out my good old words in older ways, e.g. edad [eˈðað] was pronounced aetātem [aɪˈtaː.tẽː] once upon a time. New meanings can be interesting to observe: mūtāre 'to change' became Spanish mudar 'to move (to another house/city); to shed skin (said of a snake)', cibus 'food' became cebo 'fishing bait'.

Even better, I find it fascinating whenever I see informal Spanish (or French) words attested back then with the same or a very similar meaning. Would you believe Spanish panza 'belly (especially a fat one)' was already used with that meaning by Plautus more than 2100 years ago? Eō vōs vostrōsque panticēs madefacitis, quom ego sim hīc siccus (from his comedy Pseudolus, in act I, near the beginning). The fact Latin writers typically avoided this word using venter instead, or īlia if they were poets, suggests it was a vulgar word.

In terms of grammar, it's the opposite of English with its incredibly flexible syntax. I especially like the way words can get out of relative clauses, and the way a noun phrase can be broken up appearing in two or even three separated bits. (Yes, I'm talking about prose!) Also, the way those little connecting words enim, vero and autem (also igitur, for most but not all writers) can break up even personal names because they so stubbornly must appear in a certain position near (but not at!) the beginning of a sentence (Marcus enim Tullius Cicero dixerat...).


I like the characters, as well as the fact many words have both a one-syllable and a two-syllable form (已(經) yi3(jing1) 'already', 桌(子) zhuo1(zi) 'table', (贈)送 zeng4song4 'to give (something as a gift)', (戰)勝 (zhan4)sheng4 'to defeat'). I am saddened that none of the English-Mandarin dictionaries in existence like to be clear about this. You look up 'fork' and they give you either 叉 cha1 or 叉子 cha1zi but not both. I would in fact like to be given the variants if they're both in common use in the modern language.

Also, certain concepts are expressed by pairing opposites, and the examples are endless and endlessly fascinating. Here are some: 父母 fu4mu3 'parents' lit. father-mother (in apocopated form, otherwise 父親 fu4qin1 and 母親 mu3qin1), 薪水 xin1shui3 'salary' lit. firewood-water, 大小 da4xiao3 'size' lit. big-small, 姓名 xing4ming2 'name' lit. surname-given name (in the East Asian order of course), 東西 dong1xi 'thing' lit. East-West (apparently originally a reference to market locations in a city), 歌曲 ge1qu3 'song' lit. lyrics-tune, 潮汐 chao2xi1 'tide' lit. morning tide-evening tide, 方圓 fang1yuan2 'the surrounding area' lit. square-circle, 呼吸 hu1xi1 'breath' lit. exhale-inhale. And the great thing is that they're very obvious thanks to the writing system. Otherwise I would have thought the Mandarin word for salary was 心水 "heart-water" or 新水 "new-water", since the normal word for 'firewood' is 木柴 mu4chai1. After all, it's not entirely obvious to an English speaker that the word "salary" has something to do with "salt", even though it totally does! Or that "obvious" (probably) has something to do with "way" (from Proto-Indo-European weǵʰ-), because something is obvious if it stands in your way.

What an impressive post. Thank you for it.
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