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Difficulty of Learning Languages

  Tags: Talent | Difficulty
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Super Polyglot
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 Message 25 of 25
18 April 2009 at 7:57pm | IP Logged 
Ok, Volte agrees with me that trying to make sense of a text in Basque or Hungarian or Finnish without knowing these languages is hard work, and that's the main point. But implying that Basque is easier to understand than Finnish hase made me somewhat curious to have a look at some Basque (so Finnish must wait). Maybe it isn't too hard to understand, if I understand you right - but I want to see that for myself.

For that I need a bilingual text, so I have searched a little and found a homepage for the Basque government, which exists in five versions that seem to be totally parallel. Below I have picked some sentences from this homepage in Basque, Spanish and English. Then we'll see how 'guessable' Basque really is.

Takashi Murakami (Tokyo, 1962) is depicted as "Japan's Andy Warhol", One of the most influential artists these days that combines elements of popular contemporary culture (anime and manga) with traditional elements of Japanese culture.

Takashi Murakami (Tokio, 1962), considerado por muchos como el “Andy Warhol japonés”, es uno de los artistas más influyentes de la actualidad. El creador combina en sus obras elementos de la cultura popular contemporánea (como el anime o el manga) con elementos tradicionales de la cultura japonesa.

Gaur egungo artistarik ospetsuenetako bat da Takashi Murakami (Tokio, 1962), askoren ustetan, “Andy Warhol japoniarra”. Japoniako kultura moderno (“manga” eta “animea”, esaterako) eta tradizionalaren elementuak uztartzen ditu bere lanetan, .....

OK, let's have a go. “Andy Warhol japoniarra” --> Warhol wasn't Japanese, so this must mean that Japanese artist Murakami is "the Japanese Warhol" or maybe "Japan's Warhol". So -arra must be either a genitive ending for a substantive or for some form of an adjective (provided that these categories are relevant in Basque). The passage " Japoniako kultura moderno (“manga” eta “animea”, esaterako)" is very transparent, and it also gives the words "eta" ('or') and "esaterako", which is the only thing left that can refer to the comparison - but with again a different word order.

The ending -ako may the same as in "Japoniako" and "ospetsuenetako", and if thats true then the 'as'-word is treated as an adjective in Basque. But "moderno" and "tradizionalaren" shows that not all adjectives end in -ako. "Tradizionalaren elemtuak" must mean "traditional elements", which pinpoints the section corresponding to "popular contemporary culture". It also gives at least one possible plural ending for a noun, but there may be many more case endings and more genders - that's too early to say. At least -a in "kultura" is a different ending for an noun, probably in singular.

There is one more "eta" which stands between two nominal syntagms, but 'or' here is slightly surprising, - in the other versions there is talk about combining one thing with another, not about doing something with X or Y. So "uztartzen ditu bere lanetan" must represent "el creador combina en sus obras", but it can't be a word for word translation. However (at least) one of these words must have a meaning that either is "combine" or something related, and another should mean "(artistic) work" . It is too early too guess which words have which roles.

The word "artistarik" stands very early in the Basque version compared to the other two, which suggests a drastically different word order, but that has to be analyzed on the basis of more examples. It it tempting to equate "Gaur egungo artistarik ospetsuenetako" with " One of the most influential artists". There are 727.000 hits on "Gaur egungo" so this must be "one of", while the much rarer "ospetsuenetako" (4240 hit) then must be "influental". Remains to find out which of the words represents the number one.

I can't be sure of everything, but Volte is right, Basque isn't a totally hermetic language. But it would not be logical to reconstruct the grammar and vocabulary from parallel sentences like this. This isn't the language of a newly discovered tribe, but a language that already has grammars and dictionaries, so the next step would be to get hold of those. And that's where I have to stop, - I don't have time to learn Basque right now.

And for some reason I do think that this kind of perpetual riddle-solving is hard work.

Edited by Iversen on 18 April 2009 at 9:29pm

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