The World's Hardest Language

An interesting article and critique about “difficulty”:

Via Language Log.

“It [the article in The Economist] points up a correlation between language (exclusive reference to compass directions vs. use body-oriented directions) and behaviour (constant tracking of compass direction vs. the lack thereof), but doesn’t even attempt to establish the direction of causation . . . If you don’t care about individual orientation you don’t have words for it. The Sapir-Whorf claim would be that it is the lack of words for left and right that causes people to rely entirely on compass directions.”

I am very interested in the author’s critique of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

“Factors that might lead to difficulty are enumerated but no empirical evidence as to which languages are actually difficult to learn is ever adduced.”

This critique is quite understandable.

“English does indeed have rather a bad writing system, but it pales in comparison to that of Japanese, particularly in its pre-WWII version, which feature more and more complex Chinese characters and historicizing kana spellings.”

Some people might think that writing in Japanese is very difficult. It is not true after a Japanese word processor was invented.

Well a 25-40 letter alphabet is always easier than the Japanese 55K+ alphabet. Everyone can agree to this. Secondly, the amount of detail that this alphabet has is way above the simpleness of the roman alphabet or any other alphabet for that matter.

NeverDie - however you forget that it’s the combinations of these 25-40 letters that are hard to master- while I consider spelling in english, especially with spell check, a piece of cake a newcomer, to say, english or even the dreaded russian grammar will have a lot to fear. For instance, words like people, obfuscate,prestidigitation, omnivorous many seem easy to me, but I can see the appeal of learning a single shape/image for these words.

Okay I just finished reading the link and the actual article, and towards the end I was astounded at how useless and pointless both were. While I agree with some parts, like that if you already speak similar languages another one from the same family will be easier to learn, the article basically outlines some difficult aspects of some languages. Mmm maybe it’s not the article itself- I think this whole field that I don’t like - rather then reading complex articles debating the merits and difficulties of languages why not actually not waste the time and spend it on actual language learning?
As for which languages are “harder” to learn the answer is simple - the 4 main factors are your openness to language learning, hard work/dedication, which languages you already know, and most importantly- the availability of good teaching materials like LingQ/Pimsleur/MichelThomas/other audio and text books and actual CONTENT in those languages like movies and tv shows that are interesting to watch.


It’s okay not to understand something. It’s not okay, however, to say it’s useless and pointless. What do you do? What if someone said that you’re wasting time on doing whatever you do and that it’s useless and pointless?

mm sorry for being so harsh, I guess what I meant was “not much use to me”. no offense was meant. However, now I’m intrigued- please explain the “use”.