Word similarities/transfer across languages

General discussion about learning languages
peter
White Belt
Posts: 35
Joined: Sat Sep 23, 2017 3:23 pm
Languages: English (N)
Bengali (beginner)
German (beginner)
x 41

Word similarities/transfer across languages

Postby peter » Wed Oct 18, 2017 7:04 pm

I have been thinking about language similarities and the ease of learning vocabulary/grammar when trying to pick up a new language.

As I think I'm confusing my question with too many details, here is the blunt version:

  • German: lots of words with similar sounds and written forms as English. Therefore it is easy to transfer knowledge from English when learning German, so German is a relatively easy language to learn.
  • Bengali: different script, and scarcely any words sound like those in English. Therefore there is little scope for transfer, and Bengali is a relatively hard language to learn.
  • Question: is there a language with a different script where the sounds/forms are otherwise similar enough to English to make transfer possible. Hence the language would be relatively easy to learn once the script barrier had been overcome, i.e. more like German than Bengali.

And now the longer version!

Some examples of what I mean. German vocabulary has many words with a similar written form and sound: "answer"-"Antwort", "what"- "was", "water"- "wasser" etc. This similarity is easy to see as German is written in (mostly) the same letters, and it also comes out in speech.

When learning Bengali vocabulary not only is the script different, but the underlying word structure and sounds are different: instead of "w-" question words we have "k-" words, e.g. "where"-"kothay" written কোথায়, or "water"-"jol" written জল etc. There's a vague similarity in some of the numbers ("eight"-"aat", "nine"-"noy"), but that's all I've noticed until you get to obvious modern borrowings.

So I'm wondering if there is a language with a non-latin script/alphabet where, once you got over the script hurdle, you might find lots of familar word forms/sounds rather like German. The words would look different, due to the script, but perhaps sound the same and so would look similar once written in a latin alphabet? (I thought Greek might be a candidate, but Greek parallels/borrowings mostly seem scientific or technical terms, so I don't see English helping when learning Greek - I may be wrong.)

Although Bengali vocabulary is so different from English, I find some of the grammar appears a simpler version of Latin or German. Noun cases, verb extensions etc. -b- is even used for the future tense as in those half-remembered latin declensions! So there's a small amount of transfer there, or at least a vague feeling of familiarity.

I'm thinking about transfer in learning: transfer in the surface form, like English to German, or transfer in a deeper sense, like ...? The closest I get is the grammar parallels in Bengali.
0 x

User avatar
zenmonkey
Brown Belt
Posts: 1034
Joined: Sun Jul 26, 2015 7:21 pm
Location: Germany and France
Languages: Spanish, English, French trilingual - studying German (B2/C1), Hebrew (A0), Italian (A1), Ladino (A0), (Yiddish, Portuguese) ...
Language Log: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=859
x 1973
Contact:

Re: Word similarities/transfer across languages

Postby zenmonkey » Wed Oct 18, 2017 7:34 pm

These are called cognates.

For Greek, you are going to be less lucky than with German but they exist!
Here is a base of 600 cognates:

https://www.memrise.com/course/336151/greek-cognates/
0 x
Please feel free to correct me in any language, critique my posts, challenge my thoughts.
I am inconsistency incarnate.
Go study! Publisher of Syriac, Aramaic, Hebrew alphabet apps at http://alphabetsnow.zyntx.com

DangerDave2010
Orange Belt
Posts: 191
Joined: Sun Feb 14, 2016 5:10 am
Languages: gibberish (N)
x 251

Re: Word similarities/transfer across languages

Postby DangerDave2010 » Thu Oct 19, 2017 9:38 am

Supposedly most words from languages from the same language tree are cognates, however, unless the languages are direct neighbours, the phonetic change will be so great as to make the the words totally unrecognizable. Persian, being from the Indo-European family, has a small number of recognizable cognates with English, but for the vast majority of words, the change is too great to allow the the transfer.

I have found a small list of Persian English cognates here:
http://www.eltsjournal.org/archive/valu ... 3-1-15.pdf
see page 30
0 x

User avatar
Serpent
Black Belt - 2nd Dan
Posts: 2518
Joined: Sat Jul 18, 2015 10:54 am
Location: Moskova
Languages: heritage
Russian (native); Belarusian, Polish

fluent or close: Finnish+ (certified C1), English; Portuguese, Spanish, German+, Italian+
learning: Croatian+, Ukrainian, Czech; Romanian+, Galician; Danish, Swedish
exploring: Latin, Karelian, Catalan, Dutch, Chaucer's English
+ means exploring the dialects/variants
x 3300
Contact:

Re: Word similarities/transfer across languages

Postby Serpent » Thu Oct 19, 2017 12:53 pm

It's a fascinating topic but definitely not a good reason to choose a specific language (other than for dabbling).
Many Russian words come from French, German, Latin/Greek, and nowadays obviously English. This fact is used in teaching the cyrillics, and of course it's going to be useful throughout your learning.
Yiddish is very similar to German but uses the Hebrew writing system.

If you're just fascinated by different writing systems you can learn them, it's fun and many language geeks do this. A lot of writing systems can be adapted to any language. There are cool fictional alphabets too like those by Tolkien.
1 x
: 40 / 40 Budva na pjenu od mora: 3rd season (Croatian/Montenegrin)
LyricsTraining now has Finnish and Polish :)

peter
White Belt
Posts: 35
Joined: Sat Sep 23, 2017 3:23 pm
Languages: English (N)
Bengali (beginner)
German (beginner)
x 41

Re: Word similarities/transfer across languages

Postby peter » Fri Oct 20, 2017 6:27 pm

Thanks for the answers everyone. All very informative. The link to the Greek cognates is particularly useful, thanks zenmonkey.
1 x


Return to “General Language Discussion”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: nooj and 1 guest