Hey, European languages can be exotic too, in relation to everyone else!!
You mentioned the weirdness of don't/doesn't/didn't. I happen to have a list of exotic things in English at hand:
- English and much of the rest of European languages are also reported to be exotic with the use of the weird word "than"
But Sino-Tibetan Mandarin Chinese has 比 (bi3) in basic comparisons, and also 和。。。相比 (比起来), akin to "compared to". The Koreanic family too has words equivalent to "than": 보다 (hboda) , and also 에 비해 (compared to) . I think Hindi has से ? Anyways, in the two other completely separate language families I have familiarity with, there are structures basically identical in their use to "than", or "que" / "als" etc. So I would doubt I just was just lucky enough to pick the exceptions outside Indo-European to this feature. I wonder what is the more "default" way to mark the entity that is the comparison's reference point then in most languages? Suffixes? Special verbal conjugation? Strict word order?
As a junkie for grammar and learning about peculiar features, a few of the top of my head:
The French passive is a bit peculiar to me: two prepositions are used depending on the semantic nature of the transitive verb ("par" for pure actions verbs that manipulate their objects: to turn, to write, to build; but transitive verbs that in their passive form make their object "receive some state" instead of direct manipulation use "de": to love, to hate, to respect). Thus:
Ce film a été tourné par un étudiant. ("par" because the film is being directly manipulated, it is being "filmed").
Elle est aimée de tous. ("de" because she is receiving the state of being loved, she is not being directly manipulated somehow)
What is fascinating about this is that Korean sort of does the same thing in the passive: transitive verbs of manipulation are changed from 하다 ending to 되다, but the ones where some "state" is being received can be changed to 받다 endings. This verb is literally "to receive". So some of the same verbs that use "de" in French passive can be predicted to take this "receive" ending in Korean: to respect, to admire (you can "receive" respect or admiration, in a way).
German Dative passive constructions are oddballs, though a few other languages have them too. A so-called "dative" verb can be turned into a passive, but the dative object is prohibited from becoming the subject of the passive sentence:
Ich danke den Männern. (active)
Den Männern wird gedankt. (Dative "passive", *Die Männer wird gedankt" is ungrammatical)
(you can still use "von": Den Männern wird von dem Präsidenten gedankt. And German does use "durch" instead of "von" when the agent of the passive sentence is not a willful entity: if you are scared by an explosion, it would be "durch eine Explosion", since an explosion does not willfully act on its own to create the action).
Mandarin Chinese has some oddities with word order that are very little mentioned in most language books:
老师来了 vs 来老师了。
The first sentence where the verb "come" is in the usual SV order, means that "the" teacher is coming ("the teacher" we presumably have been waiting for, and therefore which has been either specified as the topic either by prior mention, or just by the context of the situation). The second sentence where the verb is slotted before the subject, means that "a teacher" is coming. In other words, some random teacher that the speaker (or speaker and listener) were neither expecting nor had been topicalized from being mentioned before. So the placement of the verb in these two Mandarin sentences can create a sense of definiteness or indefiniteness without using "articles".
"The teacher is coming" vs "A teacher is coming."
There are similar effects with the infamous aspect particle 了 (which gets constantly misconstrued as a temporal / tense marker). 我去北京了 vs 我去了北京, but this one is VERY controversial because native speakers cannot agree on the differences, or if there is any at all. Some speakers claim no difference, others claim the difference is that in one sentence, you have gone to Shanghai and are still there, vs the other sentence stating "you went to Shanghai" (and have returned, or at least are no longer in Shanghai). But I can never get a straight answer as to WHICH sentence indicates which one of the two situations! Yet other people see the 了 as just a focus marker, in one the action is emphasized ("go"), in the other the location is emphasized ("Shanghai").
刚 ("just now") also can change the meaning of sentences depending on where it is placed but I have sadly forgotten the nuance examples at this time. By far my biggest gripe with Mandarin teaching materials is how little focus they put on how word order in Mandarin creates quite complex nuances. Chinese used to be "knocked" for not having much "grammar" (as in conjugation, declension, articles, and those type of "grammars"), but a lot of those are expressed through word order or the choice of word (semantics), or particles, since Chinese is an analytical language system.
Hindi, a Nominative-Accusative language, uses the Ergative-Absolutive system in aoristic sentences with transitive verbs, that is to say, the verb will agree with the direct object (which is actually the default case, since in Ergative-Absolutive systems, it is the Agent of the transitive verb that gets a special treatment).
That's one minor reason I will learn Hindi, besides the cultural treasures, but it's as close as I will come to using an Ergative-Absolutive system.
And then Korean with all of its crazy connectors and sentence endings, which I have decided to call "grammatical vocabulary", because really, they are considered grammar but they have as much a semantic meaning as they do grammar meaning. Since Korean is the only agglutinative language I have studied, I don't know if this type of feature is more unique to Koreanic or if it exists in other agglutinative languages too. I also don't know if Korean being SOV has something to do with these features.