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Easiest Finno-Ugric language?

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COF
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 Message 1 of 15
27 May 2012 at 1:11am | IP Logged 
The Finno-Ugric languages are often considered to be the most difficult and complex language family in Europe to learn.

However, out of Estonian, Hungarian and Finnish, which one would you say is the least grammatically complex and generally less difficult to learn for a person who is unfamilar with that language family?

I would hazard a guess that Estonian is probably the most difficult, due to the use of two separate infinitives and the fact it generally seems to be more irregular than Finnish.



Chung
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 Message 2 of 15
27 May 2012 at 2:24am | IP Logged 
Scroll down to the sections "Links" and "Comments from forum-members who have 'been there' with at least two Finno-Ugric languages" in the Finno-Ugric Profile. This is yet another topic that never gets old among us.
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jdmoncada
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 Message 3 of 15
27 May 2012 at 8:38am | IP Logged 
I have personally tried both Hungarian and Finnish, but not Estonian. As per my own experience, I would nominate Finnish as being easier since I was able to be more successful with it.

Here are some reasons:
*Simpler sound system because of fewer vowels and consonants
*Simpler verb tenses

That may not seem like much, but it is all relative. I also like that there is a variety of resources for learning Finnish online.



Марк
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 Message 4 of 15
27 May 2012 at 9:40am | IP Logged 
COF wrote:
The Finno-Ugric languages are often considered to be the most difficult and
complex language family in Europe to learn.

That's certainly not true. They must be considered as easier: they do not have genders,
prepositions and are very regular.
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COF
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 Message 5 of 15
27 May 2012 at 11:39am | IP Logged 
It seems to me that Hungarian word order is less SVO than Finnish and Estonian, and has a tendency to towards SOV.



Chung
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 Message 6 of 15
27 May 2012 at 7:48pm | IP Logged 
Марк wrote:
COF wrote:
The Finno-Ugric languages are often considered to be the most difficult and
complex language family in Europe to learn.

That's certainly not true. They must be considered as easier: they do not have genders,
prepositions and are very regular.


Oh, what the heck. It's Sunday, and I'd be bored otherwise even though I have put down quite a few posts about these languages.

Марк's only point above which is indisputable for making them easier is the lack of grammatical gender. It follows that declension and conjugation do not mark for gender. The rest is arguably as misleading (sorry, Марк) as mentioning that the group is considered overly difficult and complex (sorry, COF).

1) Estonian, Finnish and Northern Saami have lots of postpositions but there are some prepositions in each of these languages (e.g. Remmel, 1963 lists 64 postpositions, 15 prepositions and 12 adpositions (i.e. they can be either preponed or postponed) in Finnish. Nickel, 1990 reports 61 postpositions, 4 prepositions and 24 ambivalent adpositions for Northern Saami). Hungarian has just postpositions here. What's more is that these adpositions (i.e. prepositions and postpositions) can govern cases just as prepositions do in Indo-European languages. Hungarian though seems be "easier" to learn on this point compared to its linguistic kin because the substantives tied to its postpositions are often left in the nominative (a bit like English). In Estonian, Finnish, and Saamic, the associated substantive is often declined into some case other than the nominative.

E.g.

"Anna stands behind the door."
- Anna seiseb ukse taga. (Estonian - ukse is genitive singular form of uks "[the] door", taga "behind")
- Anna seisoo oven takana. (Finnish - oven is genitive singular form of ovi "[the] door", takana "behind")
- Ánne čuožžu uvssa duohkin. (Northern Saami - uvssa is genitive singular form of uksa "[the] door", duohkin "behind")
- Anna az ajtó mögött áll. (Hungarian - ajtó is nominative singular; i.e. az ajtó = "the door", mögött "behind")

Here're examples of prepositions in Finno-Lappic languages:

"Will you be at home before Christmas?"
Kas sa oled enne jõulu kodus? (Estonian - jõulu is partitive singular form of jõul "Christmas", enne "before")
Oletko kotona ennen joulua? (Finnish - joulua is partitive singular form of joulu "Christmas", ennen "before")
Leatgo don ruovttus ovdal juovllaid? (Northern Saami - juovllaid is genitive of juovllat "Christmas" [plural-only noun in Northern Saami], ovdal "before")

Compare with Hungarian which sticks with postpositions.

Leszel otthon Karácsony előtt? (Karácsony = "Christmas", előtt "before")

2) It's rather misleading to conclude that agglutination in Uralic languages is widespread and/or leads to inflection that is "simple" by not appearing intricate.

- Inflection in Hungarian is heavily agglutinating and depends regularly on vowel harmony, sometimes with considerations for the stem's final vowel. This is relatively mechanical and not too demanding on a learner (anyone one making too much of his/her experience with Hungarian agglutination could be in for a nasty surprise when learning other Uralic languages).

"dog, dogs, on the dog, on the dogs"
kutya, kutyák, a kutyán, a kutyákon

"book, books, on the book, on the books"
könyv, könyvek, a könyven, a könyveken

"I'll come home, I came home." (hazajönni "to come home")
Majd jövök haza, Hazajöttem

- In Finnish, inflection is largely agglutinative and depends on vowel harmony, but takes into account consonant gradation as well as the stem's final vowel in some instances.

"dog, dogs, on the dog, on the dogs"
koira, koirat, koiralla, koirilla

"book, books, on the book, on the books"
kirja, kirjat, kirjalla, kirjoilla

"I'll come home, I came home." (tulla "to come")
Tulen kotiin, Tulin kotiin

- In Estonian, inflection is largely agglutinative but doesn't depends on vowel harmony. Nevertheless it takes into account consonant gradation. Compared to Finnish, it's somewhat more fusional.

"dog, dogs, on the dog, on the dogs"
koer, koerad, koeral, koeradel

"book, books, on the book, on the books"
raamat, raamatud, raamatul, raamatutel

"I'll come home, I came home." (tulema "to come")
Tulen koju, Tulin koju

- In Northern Saami, inflection is a noticeable hybrid of agglutination and fusion that doesn't follow vowel harmony but depends first on whether the stem is a "contracting" stem or not, and if not, then it depends on the number of syllables in the stem. Having cleared those two "filters", you can then inflect. Essentially, the set of alternations and inflections used differs depending on which of these three classes (i.e. "contractings", "even-syllable", "odd-syllabled") are involved. In very crude/unscientific terms, inflection in Northern Saami seems to combine blatantly the worst of both worlds by using internal alternations (cf. ablaut in English: "sing, sang, sung; mouse, mice") and agglutination.

"dog, dogs, on the dog, on the dogs"
beana, beatnagat, beatnagis, beatnagiin

"book, books, on the book, on the books"
girji, girjjit, girjjis, girjjiin

"I'll come home, I came home." (boahtit "to come")
Boađán ruoktot, Bohten ruoktot

***

Beyond these points, Hungarian word order is something else, It's fiendishly tricky to master if a foreigner wants to come off as at least near-native if not native.

Edited by Chung on 28 May 2012 at 12:10am

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Vihelik
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 Message 7 of 15
27 May 2012 at 9:36pm | IP Logged 
Марк wrote:
That's certainly not true. They must be considered as easier: they do not have genders, prepositions and are very regular.


Whereas it is true that Finno-Ugric languages lack gender, at least Estonian has both postpositions (ca 70%) and prepositions (ca 30%). A number of adpositions can be used both prepositionally and postpositionally with differences in meaning. For example:

linnast läbi - by the city
läbi linna - through the city (notice that the case has also changed)

laua ümber - around the table (used with non-motion verbs)
ümber laua - around the table (used with motion verbs)

peale sinu - except you
sinu peale - onto you

Prepositions are usually associated with SVO languages and postpositions with SOV languages. The presence of both in Estonian indicates complications in word order. In fact, independent clauses tend to be predominantly SVO, whereas relative clauses are always OSV. The typological schizophrenia is manifested also elsewhere. In the written language Estonians treat their questions in the SVO manner by placing the questions particle before a question; however, in the spoken language they tend to use a different question particle that in the SOV manner follows the question. Many confused souls, in their desperate effort to sound colloquial and correct at the same time, use both. For example:

Kas vihma sajab? -- Is it raining? (written or conservative spoken)
= Vihma sajab ? -- Is it raining? (colloquial)
= Kas vihma sajab ? -- Is it raining? (conservative colloquial)

As for regularity, Estonian school grammar describes 14 nominal cases that follow approximately 50 declension patterns. There are, however, a few irregular and bizarre cases, such as the instrumental, which describes the manner how an object is treated, and declensions that are not taught in schools in order to not overwhelm the students. Finally, personal names that have a meaning can be declined either according to the special case for names or according to the original declension class for that noun -- the choice is usually up to the owner of the name. Most Estonians don't realize it, but they often need to first hear or see which convention is followed in declining a specific name before they can follow suit. Differences exist even in families. For instance, my niece's name is Lumi 'Snow'. I decline it according to the meaning (lumi-lume-lund) whereas her parents decline it as a name (lumi-lumi-lumit). So much for regularity.

The number of declension patterns poses particular problems not only to foreigners, but also to native speakers. It is often imperative that one has heard the word declined before they can start actively using it. Knowing the basic, nominative, form is not enough; knowledge of the genitive and partitive, or any one cases based on the genitive-partitive is a prerequisite for active usage. Lesser used plant and animal names are a good example. Ask any Estonian how to decline the noun pürg 'European bison' in its original meaning (most use the loan word piison now). Most know the word only as a surname, in which case it is declined differently, and after hesitation would resort to declining it as a name.

pürg - pürgi - pürrgi    -- declined as a name
pürg - pürje - pürrge   -- possible but incorrect
pürg - pürja - pürrga   -- correct declesnion

(The double [r] in the genitive is not shown orthographically, I only wrote it to indicate phonetic lengthening.)

Native speakers of Estonian take delight in showing off by using irregular and lesser used forms. Language games include challenging each other with lesser known paradigms. Unfortunately, I have yet to see a textbook that describes any of them, probably for a good reason, that is, not to overwhelm a second-language learner. As a result, most non-native speakers, even the most fluent ones, speak a highly regularized yet somewhat impoverished variety of Estonian. For example, among the large number of Russians and Finns who speak Estonian I have never met one who uses the irregular yet otherwise pretty common instrumental case (except for a few set phrases, such as palja jalu 'barefoot').

Edited by Vihelik on 27 May 2012 at 9:54pm

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Марк
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 Message 8 of 15
27 May 2012 at 10:00pm | IP Logged 
OK, I was wrong.
But can we say that inflectional and derivational morphology is more regular than in many
IE languages?

Edited by Марк on 27 May 2012 at 10:08pm




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