Why do euro languages have genders, cases, complex conjugation/article grammar systems? They are impossible to learn

Preface: all the points here are referring to a native english speaker’s perspective.

Having to learn many, MANY different endings for nouns, plurals, and adjectives based on a completely arbitrary (and in the case of german totally random) gender assignment is ridiculous. It’s one of the any reasons I actually think that languages like Japanese and Chinese are in many ways EASIER than euro languages; they don’t bother with genders at all. In the case of mandarin, they don’t even have verb conjugations! They seem to communicate just fine without it. In english and arabic we have ONE definite article, “the” and “al” respectively, and that’s it.

I know with Japanese all the verb conjugations are completely based on the function of the verb in the sentence and all but 2 verbs in the whole language are irregular.

My german friends have said that they just seem to know what the gender of every noun is, they just do, and same with cases. It just “feels right” to them. Meanwhile I seem to get every possible declination wrong in conversation no matter how much I try to study the rules withd flash cards to remember all the correct genders. it just goes away whenever I try to talk. It just feels completely arbitrary to me.

I completely admit to being lingo-centric: the slavic, germanic, roman, and Uralic speaking countries of Europe seem to have no problem mastering these languages. As much I would wish it, I won’t be able to convince 100 million german speakers to modify their language to make it easier for me. I’ll just have to deal with it.

So my question is: Why? where did they come from and what’s the point? Why is a bakery “female” and a book “neutral”? If I’m not mistaken; English used to be a part of this but the genders somehow went away over the centuries.

The origin of all European languages is Latin where you have Genders, Declention and Conjugation.
Then during the history some languages went further from Latin and other languages kept some features of Latin.
Every language has its own difficulties.
English has no Declention and almost no Genders, but it has 16 Verb Tenses when German has 6 Tenses and Russian has only three!
The English irregular verbs and especially English Phrasal Verbs makes a headache by all English learners!..
The English Conditionals are the ‘hard nut’ for the students too!
That’s why don’t complaim about German and Russian - just don’t go too fast ahead, but go step by step and you can get finally this ‘feeling of the language’ there as well.

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I’m sorry, +Evgeny, but the origin of European languages is not Latin. Latin’s the origin of romance languages only (Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, …).
Most European languages, including Latin and the ancestor of Germanic and Slavic languages, come from a common parent language, usually called Proto-Indo-European (PIE) [exceptions to this include Finnish, Hungarian or Basque], which is also the ancestor of many Asian languages (such as Persian, Hindi or Urdu).
It is that language that is the origin of the gender, declension and conjugation systems of many European languages.

In general, +usablefiber, all languages are arbitrary. The particular details depend on their history and you have to deal with this if you want to learn them. What you consider “easy” or “hard” is subjective and very much dependent on your own linguistic background and expectations. Just consider that people do eventually learn those languages, overcoming all those difficulties. Just keep it going and don’t get too concerned about the mistakes you make along the way. A few wrong genders here and there won’t keep you from being understood.

Wikipedia article on PIE:

And on the Indo-European family language which stems from it:

And, just to complete Evgeny’s examples about English, +usablefiber, are you aware that learners of English must learn the pronunciation and spelling of mostly every word separately because there’s (almost) no relationship between them? Ditto for Chinese or Japanese.
You don’t have that problem in German, do you? We could ask “Why does English have to be so arbitrarily complicated?”. Again, the explanation is to be found in the history of the language. This almost doubles the memory load required to learn a language such as English, and you know quite well that learning the vocabulary of a language is hard enough to start with.
In contrast, you only have to learn a binary/three-valued piece of information for every noun (not every word) in order to remember all genders. And not even that, because most nouns of persons/animals have the “natural” gender and there are categories of words that let you predict gender in many cases.

I’m not saying it’s easy, just trying to give some perspective. The bottomline is: people learn English, people learn Chinese characters, people do learn languages with grammatical gender, declensions and what not.

Post seems like a vent of frustration to me.

My answer to the problems you’re facing is: you’re studying the wrong way.

You CAN learn gender and declensions. I study French now because i’m buying a home there but i learned German for 18 months. German grammar is waaaay harder than Scandinavian or romance languages in my opinion. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be learned.

Your problem is, you’re trying to learn these arbitrary endings from some table or from some flashcards. Memory doesn’t work best that way.

Some tips:

Learn words WITH their articles or declensions but learn it through context. Real life context. Not flashcards or lists or tables.

You could try associating colours with the genders.

Learn which prepositions take dative case and then learn to spot them in your tangible content. After hours of reading and listening i know that the word ‘mit’ needs a ‘dem’ or equivalent after it.

Forget genitive case. It’s not used too often in spoken language but learn to at least recognise it in text. Don’t bother memorising it.

To me, asking the 'why’s of language when you’re simply trying to learn to speak or understand it is a waste of time and puts up mental barriers. In French i asked for ages why ‘tout le monde’ means ‘everyone’ and why they didn’t just use a word for ‘everyone’. The sooner you forget that and just learn that ‘THIS means THAT’ the quicker you start to take it in.

The need to do things that to an English speaker aren’t necessary is what makes learning a language fun and challenging. Anything worth doing is hard.

Another thing i like to do in languages is have a ‘base’ to work from. So in French for example rather than trying to learn tables i try to remember things like how the words related to I, You, He, She, It always follow the same pattern. So it’s Mon Ton Son. Ma Ta Sa. Mes Tes Ses. Mien Tien Sien. Etc. I have a base. I know that for every M word, the equivalents are 99% of the time the exact same but just starting with T and S.

Over time it pieces together with enough exposure and the occasional looking up of something.

You can use these techniques to compare Der Die and Das as your base to everything else. There are patterns there.

Just look at a table of declensions and you can see the patterns.

All masculine noun dative case thingys (don’t know the name) that aren’t plural end with an M.

Meinem, seinem, deinem, unserem, dem, einem.

All masculine Akkusativ case thingys end with an N.

Meinen, seinen, deinen, etc.

Only adjectives behave differently and there are one or two other exceptions but not many.

The patterns are very easy to get down but you won’t get them by trying to rote learn a table. You need to figure out the patterns, compare them to a ‘base’ point and then apply them.

How you figure out what pattern is what is down to you. You can compare everything to DER DIE DAS which have ‘stock’ endings (actually no endings) and say right, everything in Nominative is my base. So how does Akk change compared to DER DIE DAS, EIN EINE EIN.

Just play around with it, find the patterns which make sense to your brain and then you’ll begin to understand it. It takes a lot of time and effort though.

@ftorney You are right - an ancient Indo-European language was before Latin and all other European languages, it comes from the North India or Iran. But the Latin influenced a lot all European languages, not only the Roman group of languages. And this influence was not only in vocabulary, but as for German or Slavic languages also an important Grammar influence.

And just to answer your question: don’t think of words as having human genders. They’re called ‘gender’ in grammar and they are referred to as masculine and feminine, not male and female. These are just grammatical terms and should be ignored really. You could just as easily call them Blue Red and Orange nouns.

Yes, but gender, declension, etc. do come from PIE, not Latin. For example, slavic languages have an instrumental case, as PIE, whereas Latin had lost it.

well i asked that question many times when i am learning languages why do adjectives come after nouns in romance languages why two verbs to be ,why verbs come at end of sentences in german ? languages evole over time english has certainly evolved from the time of the norman invasion of england

Yep i think that’s why we have SOOOOOOO many French words in English.

It’s true. My problem is I have been really rushing and trying to cram in as much german as possible for my visit to Germany next month. The reality is I won’t be able to reach a high level of conversation by cramming as hard as I have been for 2-3 months and I have just go slowly and enjoy it.

I was always a beginner of german, had no trouble with the basics of (how are you, how much is this, asking directions), the basics. I thought I was further along than I was, an I realize that I still have a long way to go.

Absolutely is a vent of frustration. the problem is I have to give it more time and exposure than I have. It’s just weird having to accept Not understanding and keep pushing on without getting frustrated, it’s not something my mind is used to doing.

The same way Swedish has ett and en words. It is also ‘gender’ but it is easily to call them just en and ett words.

Yep. There is no way to force our brain to accept the language. From my own experience, you just keep reading and listening, getting definitions and one day you go ‘CLICK!’ and it just makes sense. You just hear it in a sentence. It just feels right. Your brain needs time to process, assimilate and naturalise the language and that can take a good deal of time, months and months or years and years sometimes.

Yep. It always frustrated me when language websites would give he/she as examples of grammatical gender. I mean how much more do people want to try and confuse learners!

Die Frau and Der Mann being examples from German. Once you’ve given that example, the learner associates gender with real human gender and then it gets confusing.