Stuart Jay Raj - Does anyone even come close?

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Re: Stuart Jay Raj - Does anyone even come close?

Postby tarvos » Sat Mar 14, 2020 8:03 am

Ah, Vlad. Yeah, he's a great polyglot.
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Re: Stuart Jay Raj - Does anyone even come close?

Postby jonm » Sat Mar 14, 2020 3:27 pm

devilyoudont wrote:Not familiar with him, and not knocking him. These may all be unrelated languages, but the amount of Chinese vocabulary in geographically nearby languages is massive. I know offhand that about 60% of words in Japanese and Korean are of some kind of Chinese origin. The number is more like 50% for Vietnamese. I can't tell you what the number is for Thai, but I can tell you that Thai has enough Chinese vocabulary that it was at one time mistakenly believed to be a Sino-Tibetan language.

Of course, learning each of these languages is a difficult task, but if you started out with a Chinese language and then moved to a language that has a large percentage of Chinese vocabulary, you would have a leg up that is substantially larger than the normal advantages third language learners typically have over second language learners. This leg up still wouldn't compare to the kind of boost learners of multiple Romance languages have tho.

Totally agree that shared vocabulary gives you a big leg up. The "cognate facilitation effect," as it's called in papers such as this one, which confirm that when you recognize new vocabulary as related to vocabulary you already know, it's "easier to learn and less susceptible to forgetting" (p. 1). We don't really know how vocabulary is stored in memory, but one model that would explain the effect posits that when you learn related vocabulary, you add to an existing mental lexicon entry rather than creating a new one.

De Groot & Keijzer (2000) wrote:Whereas in noncognate learning new entries have to be created in memory, cognate learning may only involve adding new information to, or adapting, memory representations that already existed in memory prior to learning. The former process may be more demanding than the latter, thus causing the disadvantage for noncognates (pp. 33–34).

It doesn't seem to matter whether vocabulary is related through borrowing or inheritance. In these studies, "cognate" is used broadly to include loanwords. What does matter is that the learner notices the relationship, which doesn't always happen.

This is a bit of a digression, but I've been thinking that there's probably an advantage to following the flow of vocabulary downstream and learning donor languages before recipient languages and ancestral languages before their descendants. I think etymological connections would be more apparent, meaning more vocabulary could be incorporated into existing mental lexicon entries, and less would have to learned as something completely new and arbitrary. Also, I find that the meaning of a given lexical item tends to be more concrete and vivid the further upstream you are, and the same studies confirm that concrete vocabulary is easier to learn and retain. Though I think any kind of personal connection to a language or opportunity to use it with people in your daily life would outweigh these considerations.

Anyway, with respect to Chinese helping with Thai, there are parallels between the tonal systems (which I believe is one of the main reasons people assumed the languages were genetically related), and Thai does have some loanwords from Chinese, including some basic vocabulary like numerals. But the borrowing is not nearly on the same scale as in Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese. Most loanwords in Thai come from Sanskrit and Pali.

The book Loanwords in the World's Languages is a good source on this. It has profiles for a few dozen languages, including Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indonesian, and English.

One thing to know before looking at the numbers is that the authors don't estimate the percentage of loanwords in a given language's entire lexicon. Rather, they report the percentage of loanwords found in samples of 1000–2000 words per language. These samples correspond to a master list of 1460 meanings that most languages have at least one word for.

Since many (though not all) of the words sampled are basic everyday words that are more likely to be native, the percentage of loanwords in a given sample is a good deal lower than other sources' estimates for the entire lexicon. For example, Chinese loanwords make up 30.2% of the words in the Japanese sample and 25.3% of the words in the Vietnamese sample, compared to the estimates devilyoudont mentioned of 60% for Japanese and 50% for Vietnamese overall. Likewise for loanwords in English, the book's figures are about half of estimates I've seen elsewhere for the entire lexicon.

On the other hand, the percentages in the book may actually be closer to the percentage of loanwords that a learner of these languages would be likely to encounter, at least early on.

Anyway, here are the numbers for Thai, Indonesian (since it's come up in the discussion as another language Stuart Jay Raj speaks well), and English (just in case anyone's interested, and as a reference point).

Thai
Sanskrit and Pali14.5%
Mon-Khmer4.0%
Chinese languages2.5%
English2.0%
Malay and Javanese0.6%
Unidentified source2.1%
Miscellaneous languages0.3%
Indonesian
Languages of the Java area8.9%
Languages of India8.4%
Dutch6.4%
Arabic/Persian5.7%
Portuguese (including Creole)1.4%
English1.2%
Chinese languages0.7%
Languages of Sumatra0.4%
Unidentified source0.5%
Miscellaneous languages0.4%
British English
French25.2%
Latin8.0%
Old Norse3.5%
Dutch and Middle Low German1.3%
Greek0.1%*
Other Languages3.0%

*For British English, "2% of the list items derive ultimately from Greek, but very largely by way of their previous incorporation in the Latin lexicon."

I don't know what order Stuart Jay Raj learned his languages in, but at this point he clearly has the two biggest sources of loanwords in Mainland Southeast Asia—Chinese on the one hand and Sanskrit and Pali on the other—well covered. So yeah, I imagine he can pick up just about any language in the region, and even if it's from a completely unfamiliar language family and the native vocabulary is new, he'll recognize most of the borrowed vocabulary as coming from one of those streams or the other. And with Indonesian, he's got a lot of Arabic and Persian vocabulary as well.
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Re: Stuart Jay Raj - Does anyone even come close?

Postby devilyoudont » Sat Mar 14, 2020 5:48 pm

jonm wrote:This is a bit of a digression, but I've been thinking that there's probably an advantage to following the flow of vocabulary downstream and learning donor languages before recipient languages and ancestral languages before their descendants. I think etymological connections would be more apparent, meaning more vocabulary could be incorporated into existing mental lexicon entries, and less would have to learned as something completely new and arbitrary. Also, I find that the meaning of a given lexical item tends to be more concrete and vivid the further upstream you are, and the same studies confirm that concrete vocabulary is easier to learn and retain. Though I think any kind of personal connection to a language or opportunity to use it with people in your daily life would outweigh these considerations.


This makes sense to me, especially given how etymology can often make unfamiliar vocabulary more "sticky" for me.

For an aspiring polyglot interested in living languages, it may make sense to start with a more conservative language and then branch out to less conservative languages and languages that received many loanwords from a now extinct language like Middle Chinese.

Considering Stuart Jay Raj, his ability with Cantonese specifically would be a plus here. Cantonese and some Min languages are more conservative with respect to pronunciation than other modern Chinese languages. With respect to languages that have Sino-Xentic pronunciations (Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese), if something is closer to Middle Chinese, it's going to be more clear that this is a "cognate." Then thinking just of geography, I would guess that a lot of regular borrowing (as opposed to Sino-Xentic) from Chinese in South East Asia would come out of Min languages because speakers of Min languages such as Hokkien are the largest Chinese populations in places like Indonesia and Malaysia. Personally, when I look at a Japanese, a Mandarin, and a Cantonese word, I can see the connection between Cantonese and Japanese, and Cantonese and Mandarin, but not Mandarin and Japanese.

Edit to add: I just found out that SE asia also has a sprachbund which would further link Thai and Chinese: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mainland_ ... istic_area
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Re: Stuart Jay Raj - Does anyone even come close?

Postby jonm » Sat Mar 14, 2020 8:02 pm

Yeah, the Mainland Southeast Asia sprachbund is so interesting. Several different language families, but shared vocabulary and shared linguistic features such as tone. (Incidentally, after visiting Myanmar and dabbling in Burmese, I got interested in how tone arose in parallel in all these neighboring but genetically unrelated languages in the region, and I attempted a short writeup here, though as I note at the beginning, I don't actually speak any of the languages involved.)

I'm really curious whether familiarity with Chinese or Indic languages would be a bigger help with the "Indosphere" languages of Southeast Asia. Indic languages would give you more vocabulary and help with the writing system, but Chinese, being tonal and analytic, is typologically more similar. I guess both would help, but in different ways.

devilyoudont wrote:For an aspiring polyglot interested in living languages, it may make sense to start with a more conservative language and then branch out to less conservative languages and languages that received many loanwords from a now extinct language like Middle Chinese.

Considering Stuart Jay Raj, his ability with Cantonese specifically would be a plus here. Cantonese and some Min languages are more conservative with respect to pronunciation than other modern Chinese languages. With respect to languages that have Sino-Xentic pronunciations (Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese), if something is closer to Middle Chinese, it's going to be more clear that this is a "cognate." Then thinking just of geography, I would guess that a lot of regular borrowing (as opposed to Sino-Xentic) from Chinese in South East Asia would come out of Min languages because speakers of Min languages such as Hokkien are the largest Chinese populations in places like Indonesia and Malaysia. Personally, when I look at a Japanese, a Mandarin, and a Cantonese word, I can see the connection between Cantonese and Japanese, and Cantonese and Mandarin, but not Mandarin and Japanese.

That's interesting about finding Cantonese to be something of a link between Mandarin and Japanese, and a great point about the benefits of learning conservative living languages. Even for an aspiring polyglot who's interested in learning ancient languages as well as living ones, that could be really helpful. You'd get at least some of the benefits of starting with the ancestral language, such as more recognizable etymological connections, but with a living language you'd also get more opportunities to use the language in the world and have vivid interactions and experiences. An end in itself, but also probably the very best way of getting the language to stick. And then once you know the conservative living language, you can branch out into more innovative languages in the family or sprachbund and more easily see the connections, or you can learn the ancestral language and perhaps it'll seem more connected to lived experience than if you'd learned it first.
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Re: Stuart Jay Raj - Does anyone even come close?

Postby devilyoudont » Sat Mar 14, 2020 9:14 pm

jonm wrote:I'm really curious whether familiarity with Chinese or Indic languages would be a bigger help with the "Indosphere" languages of Southeast Asia. Indic languages would give you more vocabulary and help with the writing system, but Chinese, being tonal and analytic, is typologically more similar. I guess both would help, but in different ways.


There's an article on Stuart Jay Raj's blog teaching Indian language speakers how to recognize Sanskrit loanwords in Thai, and it gives me the impression that without this kind of guidance many people cannot recognize the loanwords. (Here: https://stujay.com/thai-khmer-indian-same-same/)... Altho, I wonder if these words are more recognizable to a person who knows them from Thai and is learning Indonesian, as an example.
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Re: Stuart Jay Raj - Does anyone even come close?

Postby jonm » Sun Mar 15, 2020 9:16 am

devilyoudont wrote:There's an article on Stuart Jay Raj's blog teaching Indian language speakers how to recognize Sanskrit loanwords in Thai, and it gives me the impression that without this kind of guidance many people cannot recognize the loanwords. (Here: https://stujay.com/thai-khmer-indian-same-same/)... Altho, I wonder if these words are more recognizable to a person who knows them from Thai and is learning Indonesian, as an example.

That's a really interesting article, thanks for linking to it. I don't know the Thai or Khmer writing systems, so I could only skim the first section, but I know Devanagari and a couple of the Sanskrit words he uses as examples, and I could follow his explanations of how Sanskrit and Pali loanwords are transformed in Thai. They end up quite different, so it's probably true that it would be hard to see the correspondences without some guidance. At the same time, at least in the examples he gives, the correspondences seem very systematic. I was able to guess how some of the Sanskrit words came out in Thai after reading his explanation of the basic principles. And the correspondences are also phonetically natural, and I think he does a good job of explaining how. Like when he says this:

Stuart Jay Raj wrote:To show what letters turn to what as finals, you can use the following chart. I find memorising charts tedious though – so just remember, at the end of a syllable, close your throat and wherever your mouth intersects itself (e.g. tongue on palate or lips together), the sound stops there.

For me personally, this is a great example of a situation where I would want to follow the flow of vocabulary downstream. That's not to say that I would necessarily try to master Sanskrit before studying Thai. But I think I would want to be familiar with the sounds of Sanskrit and how they fit together. And I would want to be able to look at a Thai word borrowed from Sanskrit and tell from the written form how it would have been pronounced in Sanskrit. And ideally also how it would have been pronounced in Thai back when it was first borrowed and then the sound changes that brought it to its present-day pronunciation. In a way it's a lot of extra work if someone just wants to learn Thai and isn't interested in learning Sanskrit or a modern Indian language. But it seems like the alternative would be having to memorize lots of spellings that wouldn't have nearly as much rhyme or reason to them, and that's a lot of work too, but less satisfying IMHO.

I'm quite impressed with the way Stuart Jay Raj works out these systematic correspondences between languages and presents them in a way that makes them easy to grasp. And I'm even more impressed after watching this video, where he takes you on a quick tour of his bookshelves.
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Re: Stuart Jay Raj - Does anyone even come close?

Postby leosmith » Sun Mar 15, 2020 6:44 pm

drp9341 wrote:What do you guys know about him? What do you think?

Stuart Jay Raj is one of my favorites too. His Thai is near native, and I’ve heard the same of his Indonesian. His Mandarin is good but his Cantonese sounds a bit less so. His European languages aren’t bad. Unfortunately there isn’t much material out there to see what his level is, so he’s not on the very top of my list.

My opinion of who the best youtube polyglots are changes from time to time. In the past it was mostly Simcott, Luca and Kaufmann. Simcott and Luca are more polished, but Kaufmann has more diversity in his language selection. They all have tons of video out there showing what they can do, so there is no mystery like with Stu. However, these days I have a new favorite – Loki. He’s a native Teochew speaker with superb Mandarin, Japanese, Arabic and several excellent European languages. He also has made tons of videos, so there is no doubt that he’s incredible.

Vlad is an amazing polyglot. Fantastic Chinese and European language skills; Japanese not on the same level though. He doesn’t have a lot of videos out there, but there are enough to know he's great. However, this particular video is staged, right? I mean, he knows the answers to the questions already - I doubt if these are all common-knowledge answers. Obviously it takes a great deal of skill to do what he did here even knowing the answers; I could never pull it off. But to me these rehearsed videos demonstrate something other than pure language skill, no offense intended.
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Re: Stuart Jay Raj - Does anyone even come close?

Postby Axon » Sun Mar 15, 2020 7:20 pm

leosmith wrote: However, this particular video is staged, right? I mean, he knows the answers to the questions already - I doubt if these are all common-knowledge answers. Obviously it takes a great deal of skill to do what he did here even knowing the answers; I could never pull it off. But to me these rehearsed videos demonstrate something other than pure language skill, no offense intended.


I agree that there was probably some amount of rehearsal and editing going on (he answers a Mandarin question in Cantonese for no apparent reason?), but even if he memorized each of these answers word-for-word, they don't seem memorized. And at the level he's speaking the languages I do understand, he's delivering them with comfortable ease. I've tried to memorize simple dialogues in languages that I'm not as familiar with, and I can barely get through them after hours of practice. The accent, fluency, and sheer stamina on display here is what sets this video above the rest.

Of course, accent, fluency, and stamina remind me of a memorization video which is just incomprehensibly astounding: Somebody sings all the national anthems.
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Re: Stuart Jay Raj - Does anyone even come close?

Postby tarvos » Mon Mar 16, 2020 7:56 am

Honestly, having met the majority of the internet polyglots I don't really get that impressed by anything anymore - having seen them in action I know how good they are first-hand, and my concern is always more whether we're going to get along. (I get along with some better than others). And if you've spent a lifetime focusing on Asian languages, you're gonna get good at that instead of at European languages.

And I don't really feel like nitpicking on their level either - they're all people with their personal reasons to learn things and they've all got their flaws. So whether anyone is the best - well, I don't really care. I've met so many fantastic polyglots that honestly, I just want to know whether they're good to go out with for a night on the town in a bar in the conference city :)
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Re: Stuart Jay Raj - Does anyone even come close?

Postby leosmith » Mon Mar 16, 2020 11:14 am

Axon wrote:Of course, accent, fluency, and stamina remind me of a memorization video which is just incomprehensibly astounding: Somebody sings all the national anthems.

That's incredible!
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