Which languages are more complicated than others?

Loco   Monday, September 13, 2004, 01:10 GMT
Hi everyone I just wanted to hear your opinions on which languages are more complicated than others. For example I have been able to speak english all my life and I still sometimes find myself re-reading sentences trying to get what they're trying to say where as I have only been fluent in spanish for a couple years and I can already understand it at the same if not higher level than english. Is it just me or is the grammar a lot less complicated? It only took me about 2 years to learn spanish and now I hardly ever make mistakes when writting but with english I make a lot more little grammatical errors without even knowing it. Maybe this is because I was never actually taugh those rules as I learnt english as a child while when learning a second language you generally get taught all the little irregularities and grammar things. If what I am saying makes sense does that mean it would be harder for a Spanish speaking native to learn English than a English speaker to learn Spansih?
Steve K   Monday, September 13, 2004, 01:11 GMT
What is your native language?
Loco   Monday, September 13, 2004, 01:15 GMT
New Zealand English
Franco   Monday, September 13, 2004, 02:08 GMT
Lo que dice usted es la verdad. Ningunos de los idiomas que hablo yo puedo usar effectivamente porque son demasiados dificiles y porque soy loco y tonto y no me importa si uso la grammatica correcta. lo que me importa es que la gente me entiende.

Выучьте поговорить русский язык.-μάθετε να μιλάτε τα ελληνικά επίσης!

le monde tombe en morceaux!
Franco   Monday, September 13, 2004, 02:10 GMT
Ajjjj. ¡No puede mostrar la escritura rusa o griega!
Dulcinea del Toboso   Wednesday, September 15, 2004, 03:37 GMT
One thing that sometimes makes English sentences difficult to parse is that the language has only a few distinctive inflections to indicate parts of speech.

That is, it's easy to be reading a sentence and see a word that could be either a noun, an adjective, or a verb, whereupon the proper usage and meaning becomes clear only after reading past the word or rereading the sentence in search of a different context.

This is most often seen in newspaper headlines, as illustrated by this article: http://home.bluemarble.net/~langmin/miniatures/headline.htm

There is no absolute measurement of how complex a language is. Complexity is relative to the learner's existing repertoire of languages. One important thing: all languages have the same work to do. Some will accomplish the task of expressing meaning through inflections or agglutination and such a language might be thought of as having a "heavy" grammar. Others, such as English are analytic in that meaning is expressed more through separate words and a relatively rigid word order rather than inflections.
Mxsmanic   Wednesday, September 15, 2004, 04:39 GMT
One way to estimate the complexity of a language is to look at the amount of time required by native speakers to acquire it. It turns out that this amount of time is nearly constant among all languages, which implies that they are all of roughly equal complexity. Not really much of a surprise.
Sanja   Thursday, September 16, 2004, 16:02 GMT
I just don't understand people who say that foreign language is easier for them than their native language. For instance, Slavic languages have an extremely complicated grammar, while English grammar is one of the easiest, but I still find my native language much easier than English and I always will. But then again, we really do learn grammar rules of our language in school, while I hear many native English speakers say that they were not taught their grammar. If I had to learn my native language as a foreigner, it would definitely be much harder than English, but since I am a native speaker it just comes natural to me and it is a lot easier than English or any other foreign language.
Jacob   Thursday, September 16, 2004, 21:16 GMT
It's all very dependent on what your native language is.

But I have to say that Georgian is pretty complicated.
Xatufan   Saturday, September 18, 2004, 01:28 GMT
Loco: ¡Estás verdaderamente loco! Aunque sí puede ser cierto que algunos idiomas son (or sean, I don't know what to put here) más difíciles que otros. Many of us have problems on writing even in our own languages (e.g., I didn't know what tense I should use in that sentence!)
Sanja   Sunday, September 19, 2004, 14:47 GMT
That's strange. Of course, while I was growing up, I used to come across something in my own language that I wasn't sure of, but then I would always check it out somewhere or ask someone, because I couldn't just use an incorrect form and pretend that everything is all right. Nowadays that kind of things never happen to me in my native language, but it does in English. But if I'm not sure of something, I will always try to find it out.
Random Chappie   Sunday, September 19, 2004, 16:53 GMT
Japanese and Chinese.
Easterner   Monday, September 20, 2004, 03:03 GMT
I would make a distinction between a language being grammaticaly complex and being complicated in terms of sentence structure or idioms. Perhaps Slavic languages or Hungarian take more time to master, but it is not complicated at all to express yourself in these languages, their way of saying things is pretty straightforward. On the other hand, though French and English are relatively less complicated languages grammatically (for me, at least), it took a lot more time for me to sound really native-like in English or French than, say, in German, which is grammatically more complex than English (though not more than French). The reason for this is that the structures and phrases and sentence building are entirely different from those of other European languages. For example, French uses "donner un coup de..." for quite a lot of things which in other languages are expressed in one or two words (Example: French: "donner un coup d'oeil", English: "to glance at", German: "anblicken", Serbian: "baciti pogled", Hungarian: "rápillantani"). On the whole, personally for me it is more difficult to learn languages which rely heavily on idioms.

On the other hand, I think Chinese is a very easy language grammatically, and in principle Japanese also (though it is made more complex by differences in registers: formal-intimate, male-female speech style, speaking "up" to somebody superior in status, or speaking "down", etc.) Of course I'm not speaking of the writing here, which does take a time to master...
Ant_222   Monday, September 20, 2004, 19:53 GMT
«One way to estimate the complexity of a language is to look at the amount of time required by native speakers to acquire it» (Mxsmanic)

But what would you answer to the following? It is a well-known fact that, in most cases, Russians have less difficulties with English than Enlishmen with Russian. And similar dissymetry, probably, takes place between many pairs of languages.

Mxsmanic   Tuesday, September 21, 2004, 03:21 GMT
What I'd answer is that it's irrelevant to my observation. All languages are more or less equally complex.

I'm not aware of any real differences in language acquisition between language pairs. That is, English is just as hard for Russians as Russian is for English speakers. The only difference is that English is more widely spoken, so Russians are probably more motivated to learn English than vice versa. The phenomenon you describe, then, has nothing to do with language difficulty and everything to do with other factors such as motivation.