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Author Topic:   Languages
caffeine
Member (Idle past 1133 days)
Posts: 1800
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 6 of 69 (631677)
09-02-2011 11:06 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Son Goku
09-02-2011 10:22 AM


Re: Languages
I'm a native English speaker, and I'm learning Czech. It's a lovely language - Slavic languages usually sound horrible to me because of all the whiny, nasally 'nyeh-nyeh-nyeh' type sounds, but one of the things that Czech has picked up from centuries of living in the political and cultural shadow of German-speakers is a much more hard, clipped sound, which I far prefer. It's a very difficult language, though. There are seven cases and four genders, which means (taking into account singular and plural) fourteen ways of declining each noun and 56 ways of declening each adjective (lots of them are repeats, but the fact that 'eny' is the nominative and accusative plural as well as the genitive singular just makes sentences harder to understand.
I also just began attempting to learn Dutch, which has a much simpler vocabulary and grammar (for an English speaker), but which for some reason I'm incapable of pronouncing. I'm putting it down to lack of familiarity

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 Message 1 by Son Goku, posted 09-02-2011 10:22 AM Son Goku has replied

Replies to this message:
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caffeine
Member (Idle past 1133 days)
Posts: 1800
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


(1)
Message 19 of 69 (632012)
09-05-2011 8:22 AM
Reply to: Message 8 by Son Goku
09-02-2011 12:52 PM


Re: Languages
Holy Fuck, 56 forms for the adjectives! That must be very difficult. How sensitive are native speakers to incorrect case inflection? In Gaelic people getting the genitive plural wrong is barely noticeable, and the genitive singular done incorrectly just seems a bit off, but I know there are languages where people don't have a clue what you are saying when you get them wrong, so what's Czech like?
Well, there aren't really 56 different ways fo saying the adjective, since the same pronounciation fills in for several grammatical forms. An adjective with a soft ending like 'perfektn' (which means exactly what you'd expect it to) is the same in all nominative and vocative forms, plural and singular, all singular feminine forms and all genders in the plural accusative.
As for whether they understand you properly, a lot depends on the context of what you're saying. If you're waving your hands around it's much easier, but even on the phone people can often tell what declension you're supposed to be using from context. The biggest problems often come from the simplest sentences, because a slight change in pronounciation can change 'Eva paid Jana' ('Eva Jan platila') to 'Jana paid Eva' ('Ev Jana platila'). When you grew up with an accent like mine where most vowels tend to become the same sound anyway this can cause problems.
What are the four genders, is it some sort of animate/inanimate thing?
Yes, there's masculine, feminine and neuter, and in masculine animate and inanimate nouns behave differently (not in feminine though. 'Man' behaves differently to 'table', but 'woman' behaves the same as 'lamp').
Oh, are the sounds as difficult as people say?
For me yes - I found it hard enough to even get used to pronouncing a terminal 'r', and I still can't roll them. But it gets even worse with '', a sound unique to Czech which is like a rolled r and the middle constanant in 'fusion' said at the same time. It also takes a bit of getting used to the fact that you can say whole sentences without using a single vowel, and they put letters next to each other which cannot be pronounced together by any normal person. The word for asparagus begins with a soft 'ch', like in 'loch', followed immediately by a ''. I can't order asparagus in restaurants.

This message is a reply to:
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caffeine
Member (Idle past 1133 days)
Posts: 1800
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 23 of 69 (632163)
09-06-2011 6:29 AM
Reply to: Message 21 by dwise1
09-05-2011 2:58 PM


Re: Languages
Most every foreign language textbook and self-tuition guide I've read will mention somewhere, usually in the foreword, what dialect they're presenting.
That's funny - I've never noticed this, and it always annoys me. Far too many language books seem to be written as if there's only one way of speaking a language.
It bothers me more the other way round, when they're explaining how you should pronounce foreign languages with reference to English. Every single Czech textbook I've ever seen describes the sound of the Czech 'a' as being like 'u' in 'cup'. I am not from the south of England, and so when i say a 'u', it does not sound like an 'a'.
Which reminds me, I wonder how the French are doing in getting the people of Elsa and Lothringen (AKA Alsace and Lorraine) to speak French instead of German. In a university classroom which had German maps, a French teacher once asked me how the Germans had ever gotten "Lothringen" from Lorrainne. I was thinking too slowly and was also distracted by that "-ingen" place-name ending that is so common in Baden, or else I would have in turn pointed out that that's a German region so how did the French get "Lorraine" from Lothringen.
To be fair, the name is from Medieval Latin, so in that sense you could say it's more French than German. The German form, however, is much more similar to the original than is the French. It was first named Lotharingia, 'Lothar's Realm', in the Treaty of Verdun in 843.
As for the language spoken in Alsace-Lorraine today, it's overwhelmingly French. Local German dialects are dying out.

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caffeine
Member (Idle past 1133 days)
Posts: 1800
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 25 of 69 (632189)
09-06-2011 9:01 AM
Reply to: Message 24 by Bolder-dash
09-06-2011 8:18 AM


Re: Languages
But I think in almost any multi-syllable English word, if you suddenly change the emphasis to the wrong syllable, it would be hard for someone to at first get your meaning.
Whilst it might cause a bit of confusion, I think you overstate the case a bit. There are scores of words in which the stress tends to be different in American and British dialects, but this doesn't usually hinder understanding. It just makes the American sound daft.

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caffeine
Member (Idle past 1133 days)
Posts: 1800
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 27 of 69 (632324)
09-07-2011 3:57 AM
Reply to: Message 26 by dwise1
09-06-2011 4:21 PM


Re: Languages
Prime minimal pairs in English would be the noun-verb pairs that are spelled identically but pronounced differently. The only two that immediately come to mind are:
REcord (noun) -- reCORD (verb)
COMbat (noun) -- comBAT (verb)
These words hadn't occurred to me.
An ex-girlfriend of mine lived in China for a while, and she says that tones there don't really cause that much confusion. Even if you get them all horribly wrong, as she did, people tend to understand you still from context (just as I suppose you knew what the newsreader was trying to say, depsite his mistakes).
In English, there are two ways to pronounce a "t", one plosive as in "top" and the other not as in "stop". Now, if you were to pronounce "stop" with a plosive "t", you wouldn't change the meaning of the word; you would only sound funny.
I've sat here for ages trying to identify any difference between the two sounds at all and can't. I don't know if this is because we say them both the same in my dialect, or if I'm just incapable of distinguishing the sounds.

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caffeine
Member (Idle past 1133 days)
Posts: 1800
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 29 of 69 (632333)
09-07-2011 6:36 AM
Reply to: Message 28 by Panda
09-07-2011 6:20 AM


Re: Languages
Try and find the physical difference between pronouncing the bilabial plosives 'b' (as in 'butter') and 'p' (as in 'putter').
There must be a difference, but it is really difficult to identify.
And after a while even hearing the difference can be difficult.
It is a good thing there is nobody else here in the office yet, as I have just sat here for a few minutes going "butter, putter, butter, putter, stop, top, stop, top". Colleagues would soon be doubting my sanity.
Unfortunately, it hasn't really helped my understanding. The physical differences in 'b' and 'p' were easy to identify (forgive me if the following description is a bit strained, but I don't know the technical terms). You start making both letters by bringing your lips together, and then releasing the air. With 'b', the shape of my mouth doesn't change before the air is released. With 'p', however, my cheeks swell a bit, changing the shape of the mouth cavity and presumably meaning more air is being released.
I can identify no similar difference between 'stop' and 'top' though. I'm used to the fact that I have a bad ear for unfamiliar sounds (you should see my inability to grasp Dutch diphthongs, or how long it took me to accept that other people do pronounce 'source' and 'sauce' differently). Kinda disheartening when I can't even spot the physical differences though!
Which moves nicely onto the McGurk effect...which I find fascinating.
Now's that's bizarre! Thanks for this.

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Replies to this message:
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 Message 36 by nwr, posted 09-07-2011 10:31 AM caffeine has replied

  
caffeine
Member (Idle past 1133 days)
Posts: 1800
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 32 of 69 (632338)
09-07-2011 7:17 AM
Reply to: Message 30 by Panda
09-07-2011 6:41 AM


Re: Languages
If anyone else is as confused as me by trying to work this out - I'll save you having to look it up yourselves - the 't' sound in 'stop' is voiced, whereas it isn't in 'top' - meaning your vocal cords vibrate to produce the first, whereas the sound for the second is produced only by the air released from your mouth. You can feel this by holding your fingers to your throat as you say it. Which means the 't' in 'stop' is actually pretty much the same sound as 'd'.
ABE: Which is a bit of an oversimplification, since further experimentation suggests that my vocal cords do vibrate to produce the 't' by itself, just slightly less.
Edited by caffeine, : No reason given.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 30 by Panda, posted 09-07-2011 6:41 AM Panda has replied

Replies to this message:
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caffeine
Member (Idle past 1133 days)
Posts: 1800
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


(1)
Message 34 of 69 (632342)
09-07-2011 9:38 AM
Reply to: Message 33 by Panda
09-07-2011 8:40 AM


Re: Languages
This would imply that you can't whisper a 'd' or the word 'stop'?
Or does whispering use your vocal cords?
You do use your vocal cords when whispering. Your vocal cords are brought together to create turbulence in the airflow when you would be making a voiced sound in normal speech (at least according to wikipedia). I just sat here whispering 'butter, putter', and they do sound more similar to one another than when speaking aloud normally.

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caffeine
Member (Idle past 1133 days)
Posts: 1800
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 38 of 69 (632352)
09-07-2011 10:52 AM
Reply to: Message 36 by nwr
09-07-2011 10:31 AM


Re: Languages
If I speak normally, but pay attention to my movements (particularly the tongue), then there is a difference. The tongue movement is more forceful for the 't' in "top" than in "stop".
I can feel the difference in my vocal cords now - but I'm fairly certain my tongue's movement is identical for both sounds.

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caffeine
Member (Idle past 1133 days)
Posts: 1800
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 43 of 69 (632455)
09-08-2011 5:54 AM
Reply to: Message 40 by dwise1
09-07-2011 3:03 PM


Re: Languages
I'll have to check this when the office is a bit more peaceful and I feel comfortable repeating words out loud again, but I think we definitely have a dialect difference that's impeding understanding here! Once again we're facing the problem of trying to describe something by example of how we say words, when we all say the words differently.
I remember once I decided it would be fun to try and learn the Internationsl Phonetic Alphabet, so that I'd understand what the pronounciation guides in dictionaries actually meant. I didn't get very far, but the descriptions of the sounds for each letter that I had were clearly written from the perspective of mid-western American. I spent ages puzzling over some vowel (don't remember how it's written) that the writer obviously had no clear reference for. He was blathering on about imagining Captain Picard ordering "earl grey, hot", and it took me a long time to realise that the sound he was describing was, for me, just a normal short 'o'.
Which, incidentally, brings to mind a pet-hate of mine on the topic of language - people who claim they don't have an accent. The very sentence is incoherent. RP English, mid-western American, Gooische Dutch, or whatever standard pronounciation you grew up with in your own language, is still an accent, unless you speak without making any noise.

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caffeine
Member (Idle past 1133 days)
Posts: 1800
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 48 of 69 (636376)
10-06-2011 6:34 AM
Reply to: Message 47 by Son Goku
10-06-2011 6:04 AM


Re: Czech
Czech is the first language I've tried to learn (unless you count language lessons at school, but I can't say I really tried at them), but before you go getting all impressed with my skills, I have lived in the Czech Republic for five years and I'm still not fluent.
It is a beast of a language to learn, at least if you don't already know a Slavic language. I can't speak for the 'hardest language' claim, though I've heard it often. The only languages I had any real experience of before Czech were Germanic or Romance languages, with which English shares a lot of words. Czech's been baffling because it shares very few, apart from a few Greek or Latin adjectives, and has a totally different grammatical structure.
I'm sure I'll get there eventually.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 47 by Son Goku, posted 10-06-2011 6:04 AM Son Goku has replied

Replies to this message:
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caffeine
Member (Idle past 1133 days)
Posts: 1800
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 50 of 69 (636382)
10-06-2011 7:30 AM
Reply to: Message 49 by frako
10-06-2011 6:54 AM


Re: Czech
Well, it's all a matter of perspective, obviously. If your native language is Slovak, the the easiest lanugage to learn is probably going to be Czech, since they're more like distinct dialects of the same language than anything else (that's one short sentence that should offend about 15 million people).
If your native language is English, though, French is much easier than Czech (or, I'm sure, Slovenian), since it's so much more similar in grammar and vocabulary.
Now, if you want a language all of us will find difficult, we could try learning Hungarian!

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Replies to this message:
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caffeine
Member (Idle past 1133 days)
Posts: 1800
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 52 of 69 (636418)
10-06-2011 11:38 AM
Reply to: Message 51 by Blue Jay
10-06-2011 11:32 AM


Re: Czech
Mormon language-teaching must be something pretty impressive. There's a mission here in Czech Republic, and it never ceases to amaze me how these Americans turn up fresh of the plane, ready to start spreading God's word in fluent Czech or Slovak.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 51 by Blue Jay, posted 10-06-2011 11:32 AM Blue Jay has replied

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caffeine
Member (Idle past 1133 days)
Posts: 1800
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 60 of 69 (638706)
10-25-2011 3:49 AM
Reply to: Message 59 by dwise1
10-24-2011 11:09 PM


We were taught that pre-puberty is when people are best at learning another language, yet our schools don't take advantage of that opportunity, unlike in other countries.
There are plenty of other countries that don't take advantage either - especially in the English-speaking world. When I was at school in Britain, we had only five years of compulsory language teaching, which didn't begin until you were 11 and only amounted to a few hours' a week. If I understand things right, they don't even have that now.
Compare to say, Holland, where primary-school children have compulsory English, German and French lessons, as well as Dutch.

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caffeine
Member (Idle past 1133 days)
Posts: 1800
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 66 of 69 (661282)
05-04-2012 3:54 AM
Reply to: Message 63 by Son Goku
05-03-2012 5:42 AM


Re: Czech
Then for Czech:
"Czech is a very difficult language, no foolish promises will be made regarding your ability to learn it"
It was literally the only text that wasn't "Yay, you can do it!".
Well, in what other language can you say whole sentences without bothering with any vowels?
Although, I will admit that, whilst Str prst skrz krk was one of the first sentences I learnt to say in Czech, I've never had cause to use it outside the context of 'hey - this sentence has no vowels!'

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