Languages with exotic and interesting features

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tungemål
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Languages with exotic and interesting features

Postby tungemål » Sat Mar 27, 2021 12:14 pm

If you study or have studied an "exotic" language - can you give examples of some interesting features of the grammar or phonology of that language? First: what is an exotic language? At the risk of appearing eurocentric, it is languages that are not well known or much studied, and not Indo-European. So, Italian is definitely not exotic (European and much studied), neither is Japanese (much studied).

I'll start with Saami:
It is a language spoken in my country, but it seems pretty exotic to me in that it's not an Indo-European language. It's related to Finnish. I haven't studied Saami but I once leafed through a grammar book. Here are two interesting things:

Pronouns:
There are pronouns for persons and for three numbers (one, two, and many). So that means they can say things like "the two of you" with only one word. In addition there are 6 cases. On the other hand they don't have gender variants of the pronouns (no difference between he and she) so that adds up to a total of 36 personal pronouns.

"Not":
The word for "not" is a verb that comes before the main verb, and it is conjugated in the three persons and three numbers. In addition there are separate forms of "not" for imperatives.


Footnote:
I just realised that this might not seem very strange for English speakers. In English we've got "don't, doesn't, didn't", so a word that in other European languages doesn't get conjugated, seems to in English, even if it is a contraction.
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Re: Languages with exotic and interesting features

Postby Le Baron » Sat Mar 27, 2021 2:55 pm

I went through the Hawaiian course on Duolingo when it came out and was bewildered by its oddness. It is largely a language of vowel sounds - lots of diphthongs in series - and some distinct words sounded similar (to my untrained ear) like: water = wai and milk = waiu.

Singular 'shoe' is kama'a but the plural is also kama'a. In fact the majority of singular/plural forms of a word are the same word: book/books = puke ( :lol: ). Obviously there is a mechanism for differentiation and in this case it's by using particles. So His book = kana puke, and his books = kana mau puke (or my books = ka'u mau puke).

There's also the fact that aloha means both hello and goodbye... I'm sure some other languages have this feature.

I don't remember many words off the top of my head. Those above stood out for me; especially the word for books. The only other feature I remember is that it is mostly a 'verb first' language in terms of its word order/syntax. Of course I don't blame Hawaiian for being the way it is. Obviously it must work or it wouldn't have survived, but it's a curiosity if you come from an Indo-European background. Someone here who knows this language properly will have more of value to say about it.
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Re: Languages with exotic and interesting features

Postby Iversen » Sat Mar 27, 2021 3:19 pm

Among the languages I have studied Irish is by far the most exotic (far more exotic than Indonesian, which isn't even Indoeuropean).

The first quirk is that it (like other Celtic languages) has mutations at the start of words, i.e. something before it may cause the beginning to change, and this has little to do with the things that happen at the end of those words. There are different terminologies, but fundamentally two main types og mutations: lenition and eclipsis for consonants and something too for vowels (prepositioning of some consonants) - and half of any Irish grammar is spent on explaining where to use these mutations and what the result ought to look like.

The next quirk is the initial positioning of verbs, coupled with the use of verbal particles. Maybe the fixed word order is the reason that some extremely weird behaviours of the copula verb have been invented. In principle the present is "is" and the past tense is "ba", but there are special forms in both tempora to be used with negative, interrogative resp. negative interrogative content - and then you can discuss until the cows walk home whether these special forms actually are verbs at all, or whether the verb has been dispensed with and now you only have a particle of sorts. By the way the conjugation tables mix analytic and synthetic forms, and the dialects can't even agree on where to put the separation lines.

Besides there is no real infinitive in Irish, but that thing is also lacking from Albanian, Modern Greek and Bulgarian so being infinitive-less just like being member of a big happy family. And you don't 'have' things, they happen to be at your place (in the old days: until your British landlord stole them) - but here Irish is in a league with the Russians and other Slavic people. And there is no "yes" or "no", but the Romans survived not having invented those either - however the Romance languages standardized some typical answers to get these practical words, and the result is "oui" in French (from "hoc ille"), "oc" in Occitan (from just "hoc") and "si" (from "sic") in the rest, apart from Romanian which dug up "da" from somewhere - I'm not sure of the etymology there (OK, Slavic languages just outside the doors maybe).

And then the Irish are said to inflect their prepositions, but it would be more precise to say that they in most cases have coalesced with personal pronouns. The result is however pure mayhem.

There are more things to be said about Irish, but maybe the weirdest thing is that it still is regarded as a national language of Eire (English is the other) in spite of being spoken just by a dwindling minority and being generally hated by the rest of the population.
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Re: Languages with exotic and interesting features

Postby jeff_lindqvist » Sat Mar 27, 2021 4:06 pm

Le Baron wrote:There's also the fact that aloha means both hello and goodbye... I'm sure some other languages have this feature.


Italian ciao springs to mind...
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Re: Languages with exotic and interesting features

Postby tungemål » Sat Mar 27, 2021 4:07 pm

Iversen wrote:...And there is no "yes" or "no", but the Romans survived not having invented those either - however the Romance languages standardized some typical answers to get these practical words, and the result is "oui" in French (from "hoc ille"), "oc" in Occitan (from just "hoc") and "si" in the rest, apart from Romanian which dug up "da" from somewhere - I'm not sure of the etymology there.


Obviously from slavic. But the existence or not of "yes" and "no" is interesting - it seems they would be very basic and necessary words. However, Chinese hasn't got those either. Japanese has got several to choose from on different politeness levels.
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Re: Languages with exotic and interesting features

Postby golyplot » Sun Mar 28, 2021 5:21 am

tungemål wrote:Obviously from slavic. But the existence or not of "yes" and "no" is interesting - it seems they would be very basic and necessary words. However, Chinese hasn't got those either. Japanese has got several to choose from on different politeness levels.


Also, the casual version of "yes" and "no" in Japanese is "un" and "uun". But as a learner, I'm afraid to use them because I'm worried that I'll mess it up and be misunderstood.
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Re: Languages with exotic and interesting features

Postby guyome » Sun Mar 28, 2021 1:34 pm

Manchu uses an alphabet but is written top to bottom.

There is also a set of verbal endings ("converbs") that cannot be used at the end of a sentence. For instance, the converb -fi indicates that the action took place before another one (Verb1-fi Verb2-ha "He Verb1-ed and then he Verb2-ed"); the -me converb, on the other hand, shows that the action is happening at the same time as another one (Verb1-me Verb2-ha "Verb1-ing, he Verb2-ed").

Coptic has some neat verbal constructions.
"Second Tenses" can be used to put emphasis on one element of the sentence. For instance, the unmarked ("First tense") Perfect sentence a-prôme ei en-teushê "The man came by night" becomes enta-prôme ei en-teushê "It is by night that the man came".
There are two types of Future, a basic one ("I will do this, I am going to do this") and another one for events that are bound to happen (I will necessarily do this, I am bound to do this, I shall do this").

Definite and indefinite nouns are often treated differently. For instance:
- prôme sôtem "the man hears", but you cannot write *ourôme sôtem for "a man hears". In this case the indefinite noun has to be preceded by ouen- > ouen-ourôme sôtem
- the relative sentence is also built differently, prôme et-sôtem "the man who is listening" vs. ourôme ef-sôtem "a man who is listening (litt. "a man the-circumstance-being-that he is listening)".
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Re: Languages with exotic and interesting features

Postby lysi » Sun Mar 28, 2021 3:37 pm

guyome wrote:Manchu uses an alphabet but is written top to bottom.


Mongolian script is also written from top to bottom.

I know conlangs are totally disqualified but Ithkuil has a grammatical feature called Essence which describes whether objects exist in the real world or only exist psychologically which I think is pretty cool.
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Re: Languages with exotic and interesting features

Postby lichtrausch » Sun Mar 28, 2021 5:37 pm

golyplot wrote:
tungemål wrote:Obviously from slavic. But the existence or not of "yes" and "no" is interesting - it seems they would be very basic and necessary words. However, Chinese hasn't got those either. Japanese has got several to choose from on different politeness levels.


Also, the casual version of "yes" and "no" in Japanese is "un" and "uun". But as a learner, I'm afraid to use them because I'm worried that I'll mess it up and be misunderstood.

On a related note:

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Re: Languages with exotic and interesting features

Postby guyome » Sun Mar 28, 2021 7:46 pm

lysi wrote:Mongolian script is also written from top to bottom.
Indeed. That's where the Manchus got it from (and the Mongolian version comes from Old Uyghur, all the way back to Syriac/Aramaic).
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