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Thread: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

  1. #81
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    Re: All Slavic Languages: Learning Question

    Quote Originally Posted by JFman00 View Post
    Obviously, Bulgarian is "easier" for a Romance speaker considering its lack of cases, but would a solid understanding of it allow one to read and understand other languages outside of its language family?
    I think that the lack of cases is a red herring, mostly. It does simplify the learning somewhat, but it is a relatively minor point. Bulgarian "compensates" lack of cases with a handful of verb tenses in active use, many of which are archaic or totally absent in other Slavic languages.

    Quote Originally Posted by JFman00 View Post
    Conversely, perhaps Russian would be best considering its "prestige" in Russia and Russian interests abroad?

    I have read many threads about the differing degrees of intelligibility among native speakers of various Slavic languages, however, for a learner who has no particular passion or interest in a specific Slavic country or culture, how are they to decide which language is both suitable and relevant for them?
    Yes, I would recommend Russian, as it's 1) most widespread 2) most "middle of the road", in the sense that it involves relatively little "odd" innovations, especially in the field of phonetics.

    As for understanding of other Slavic languages, be aware of numerous "false friends" among them, due to slow semantic drifts of the original words in different languages.

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    AW: All Slavic Languages: Learning Question

    Quote Originally Posted by JFman00 View Post
    If you were to point a newcomer to Slavic languages, and inflected languages in general, where would you point them if their goal was to live and interact with others across the region?

    Obviously, Bulgarian is "easier" for a Romance speaker considering its lack of cases, but would a solid understanding of it allow one to read and understand other languages outside of its language family?

    Conversely, perhaps Russian would be best considering its "prestige" in Russia and Russian interests abroad?

    I have read many threads about the differing degrees of intelligibility among native speakers of various Slavic languages, however, for a learner who has no particular passion or interest in a specific Slavic country or culture, how are they to decide which language is both suitable and relevant for them?
    Bulgarian is not so easy as it seems, I recommand you Russian language.

    Bulgarian has reduced the cases, but it has the most complicated verbal system. Besides it is only in cirilic script.

    Russian has pretty common, let me say classic Slavic features. Not to comlicated but also not easy at all. It is written with cirilic script also, but it is very comlicated to read it because every letter can be readed in two ways and if you dont know accent you wont know how to read it correct way. But though Russian is the most widespread Slavic language (in Baltic, Turk countries, Rumania, also many people from Slavic countries speek or understand Russian)

    Possibly Serbocroatian - it is most widespread in Balkan, very easy to understand from an Slovenian, Bulgarian or Macedonian spaeker and otherways around. It uses both cirilic and latin scripts. It has a little easier declension of nouns as other Slavic languages. The most easiest Slavic language to read because one letter equates to only one sound.

    But like said it realy depends on the purpose of the learning and ofcourse the region, East, Middle or South Europe.
    If you want to make some business in East Europe then learn Russian, and if in Balkans then Serbocroatian would be better choice.

    If you wnt to learn it just for fun, then it doesnt metter which langauge you decide for. You can easely convert and compare Slavic langaues with eachother.

    My best regards and happy learning

  3. #83
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    Re: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

    Several people have been eager to emphasize that Bulgarian, despite the lack of cases, is not easier than other Slavic languages. I think these assessments were made from the point of view of fellow Slavs rather than West Europeans and English speakers. This bugged me to the extent that I actually registered just to advertize the easiness of Bulgarian, although the thread is dormant.

    First, I think that people like Duya and WannaBeMe whose native languages (this time, B/C/S) have cases underestimate the degree to which the absence of case can make things easier for other people. In my experience, case is quite a headache for anyone unfamiliar with it, including Bulgarians, and presumably for West Europeans and English speakers. It is certainly not a "minor point", much less a "red herring". To mention just one thing, much of the dreaded complexity of the Slavic free stress systems is exhibited precisely in wild alternations throughout the nominal declension (e.g. in Russian, B/C/S); in Bulgarian, the stress alternations in nouns have been levelled out to a very large extent, so you need to remember only the stress of the base form, except for a few exceptional monosyllabic words.

    Do the verb tenses make Bulgarian more difficult? Again, they may make it difficult from the viewpoint of another Slav, but shouldn't be so terrible for West Europeans. The system is pretty similar to Romance and Germanic languages. As in Italian, Spanish and French, there is a difference between the aorist past and the imperfect. As in Romance as well as Germanic languages such as English, there is a present perfect, past perfect, future, future perfect. The future and future perfect are as simple as in English, and, as in English, there is no real conjunctive mood. Finally, there is the famed "renarrative mood", which is in fact almost always the same as a present or past perfect. Of course, if you want to be able to talk like a native speaker, you do need to master the many intricacies of this system. But unlike noun cases, you don't need to distinguish all these forms from the start just to understand what is being said, who is doing whom etc.. For basic comprehension, all you need is to distinguish the present tense from the various past forms.

    Someone suggested earlier that syntax could make Bulgarian difficult; all I can say is that again, it is pretty much like Romance. Yes, we don't need an accusative, so we usually place the subject ahead of the object, no big deal there. I hardly need to mention that the article could only be a problem for a fellow Slav, not for a Western learner.

    That said, part of the original question was "would a solid understanding of it allow one to read and understand other languages outside of its language family." I don't think any Slavic language meets that requirement; solid understanding of one language allows you to understand only a few immediate neighbours at best. A solid understanding of Bulgarian can make it very easy to learn to understand Russian (same "high-register" words: think English-to-French, except much easier) and B/C/S (same "low-register" words: think English-to-German, except much easier). The jump to the West Slavic languages is much harder, because both high-register and low-register words are often very different. I say this as a native speaker of Bulgarian who also uses Russian a lot and has been dabbling with both Czech and B/C/S for many years.

    Finally: to be fair, if I were a Western learner choosing a Slavic language, I would always choose to learn Russian first, because there are many more speakers and there is much more to read - a huge amount of easily accessible decent-quality material of all possible kinds, even things that have nothing to do with Russia - translated detective fiction, treatises on dinosaur evolution, analyses of Shakespeare's plays, introductions to Egyptian hieroglyphics, you name it. It gives you a kind of freedom, because you can exercise the language without even thinking about it.
    Last edited by mungu; 17th January 2010 at 8:17 PM. Reason: more precisely

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    Re: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

    Thank you all for your responses. My plan right now is to go ahead with Bulgarian just to get some Slavic vocabulary, then get Russian to the best of my abilities. As someone who comes from a Romance language dominated background, it is very discomforting to deal with Russian, given both the morphological difficulties and lack of cognates. Hopefully once I have some base exposure to Slavic words via Bulgarian, the difficulties of a language like Russian will not be so intimidating.

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    Re: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

    Russian doesn't lack cognates, especially with French and English, perhaps there are not so many as you would expect.

    Here's a short list of Russian words of French origin, if they make your learning easier.
    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Catego...ch_derivations

    (Reading familiar names/words in a foreign script is also a good method to become more comfortable with a new script, e.g. Cyrillic).

    Please be aware. Lack of cases in Bulgarian/Macedonian causes sentences to have a different from other Slavic languages word order, + the concept of a definite article (as a postfix) is introduced, no other Slavic language has definite articles.
    Postfixes: –ът/–ят (m), –та (f), –то (n), –те (pl)

    The endings may cause the words to change (words have many forms in Slavic languages):

    indefinite: добър човек, "a good person"; definite: добрият човек, "the good person"

    You will also find that the availability of reading, learning and practising resources is very important for language learning, so I would recommend Russian over Bulgarian but it's up to you, of course. See also the previous post, I agree, there is much more to read in Russian and you can find bilingual books, etc, audio books and big forums with a large number of contributors.

    You mentioned that you don't have any particular cultural interest in Slavic languages. Perhaps, if you watch some online songs, try to watch movies, you may have a different opinion or find an exchange partner. It's difficult to learn without motivation, you know.

    As for Western Slavic languages, I found Polish much easier to understand and learn for a Russian speaker than Slovak and especially Czech. Still Czech is easier than Serbo-Croatian languages or Slovenian. So the gap is not that big (East-West).

    (My opinion only)
    East - West (Slavic language similarity compared to each other)
    Russian - Ukrainian/Belarusian (equally) - Polish - Slovak - Czech

    East - South (Slavic language similarity compared to each other)
    Ukrainian/Belarusian - Russian - Bulgarian - Macedonian - Serbo-Croatian - Slovenian

    I can't compare West and South similarly.
    Last edited by Anatoli; 18th January 2010 at 5:24 AM.
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    Re: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

    Quote Originally Posted by Anatoli View Post
    The endings may cause the words to change (words have many forms in Slavic languages):

    indefinite: добър човек, "a good person"; definite: добрият човек, "the good person"
    Slovenian has also preserved the distinction between "long" and "short" adjectives:

    dober človek = a good person (indefinite)
    dobri človek = the good person (definite)

    The same principle applies in BCS.

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    Re: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

    Russian probably has more speakers than all other Slavic languages together so it would clearly be the most natural choice for anyone interested in the Slavic world. I don't think there is much difference in difficulty between different Slavic languages for someone not familiar with any of them. Russian phonology is quite difficult, much more difficult than that of Czech or Serbian, but in grammar all languages seem to be equally difficult.

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    Re: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

    Welcome to the forums, mungu.
    Quote Originally Posted by mungu View Post
    In my experience, case is quite a headache for anyone unfamiliar with it, including Bulgarians, and presumably for West Europeans and English speakers.
    You're spot on: case is a headache for anybody unfamiliar with them. I never managed to produce cases correctly in spoken Slovene (as you see I'm not a native speaker of any Slavic language), the best I ever got to was making only a few mistakes in written language.

    Quote Originally Posted by mungu View Post
    Do the verb tenses make Bulgarian more difficult? Again, they may make it difficult from the viewpoint of another Slav, but shouldn't be so terrible for West Europeans. The system is pretty similar to Romance and Germanic languages.
    But you're wrong here: the Bulgarian system is completely different, and difficult to learn even for speakers of those Romance languages which still make distinctions similar to aorist and imperfect.
    The point is that even aorist and imperfect aren't exactly the same as indefinido and imperfecto in Spanish, to give an example, and even more different to its equivalents in French, English and German.

    But more importantly, there is Slavic aspect entwined with Bulgarian tenses, and uses which are completely foreign to native speakers of Romance and Germanic languages (like non-witness mood and the like).
    If pressed I'd probably even say that it is easier to learn Slovene declension than Bulgarian use of tenses (but of course one still has to deal with aspect in Slovene - you're only spared aorist and imperfect).

    Admittedly, in Bulgarian it might be easier to communicate successfully in everyday communication where one probably doesn't need to know about the fine detail of its tenses - while if you get cases wrong it is highly likely that misunderstandings occur.
    Still, Bulgarian tenses indeed would give me headaches.
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    Re: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

    Well, cases are a problem even for native speakers of the so called 'case languages'. Of course not so much in their own respective languages but they do still present problems when learning a foreign language with a different structure. For example, I find Latin significantly more difficult because of its case system than I would if it didn`t have cases. Even a friend of mine who is learning German, a language with a simpler case system than Slovene, claims to be having problems with the German case system, because for example he has to remember which prepositions demand which case and there are of course quite a few differences in case usage between Slovene and German.

    (As a more advanced learner of German I still find it somewhat more difficult to remember all the differences revolving around 'Rektion' because of the case system, because there is always one more thing to remember in the 'formulas' as compared to languages which completely lack cases. I can give a couple of examples as to why I find it more difficult or what exactly I mean with the following examples: sich(accusative) gewöhnen + an + etwas(accusative) / jemanden = sich(dative) + etwas(accusative) / jemanden + angewöhnen = to get + accustomed/used + to something/somebody; zu jemandem/etwas(dative) gehören = jemandem / etwas(dative) angehören = to belong to someone / something; The bold parts show what information one has to remember in order to be able to correctly use these structures in praxis in both languages, English as an (almost) caseless language and German, a language that still uses cases. As you can see, there is always (at least) one more thing to remember in German and the same goes for other case languages).

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    Re: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

    Quote Originally Posted by trance0 View Post
    Well, cases are a problem even for native speakers of the so called 'case languages'. Of course not so much in their own respective languages but they do still present problems when learning a foreign language with a different structure. For example, I find Latin significantly more difficult because of its case system than I would if it didn`t have cases. Even a friend of mine who is learning German, a language with a simpler case system than Slovene, claims to be having problems with the German case system, because for example he has to remember which prepositions demand which case and there are of course quite a few differences in case usage between Slovene and German.

    (As a more advanced learner of German I still find it somewhat more difficult to remember all the differences revolving around 'Rektion' because of the case system, because there is always one more thing to remember in the 'formulas' as compared to languages which completely lack cases. I can give a couple of examples as to why I find it more difficult or what exactly I mean with the following examples: sich(accusative) gewöhnen + an + etwas(accusative) / jemanden = sich(dative) + etwas(accusative) / jemanden + angewöhnen = to get + accustomed/used + to something/somebody; zu jemandem/etwas(dative) gehören = jemandem / etwas(dative) angehören = to belong to someone / something; The bold parts show what information one has to remember in order to be able to correctly use these structures in praxis in both languages, English as an (almost) caseless language and German, a language that still uses cases. As you can see, there is always (at least) one more thing to remember in German and the same goes for other case languages).
    I don't find the use of prepositions and articles in English or French to be any easier than the use of cases in Latin.

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    Re: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

    Well, what one finds more or less difficult is subjective in any case.

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    Re: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

    trance0:
    Well, what one finds more or less difficult is subjective in any case.
    I think it partly depends on what your native language is like. If your mother's tongue is without cases, then you're likely to find them difficult, and vice versa. But I think things also have their own inherent degree of difficulty.

    phosphore:
    I don't find the use of prepositions and articles in English or French to be any easier than the use of cases in Latin.
    Even though your mother tongue has cases and mine doesn't, I still find it hard to imagine this. Are you saying that you speak and read Latin just as well as you speak and read French, and that you have just as many comprehension problems with nouns in both? IMO, Latin forces you to ponder what case the noun has each time ("What case is this?... Depends on which declension this word belongs to... That is, if I can guess which word this is in the first place [e.g. vir or virus]... Which depends on which case this is... Or on context..."). You never get such problems with French. And I'm not even saying that case is what I personally find the most difficult in Latin; on the contrary, I find it to be the easiest thing about it.

    All in all, I think cases are inherently more difficult because, unlike prepositions, which tend to look the same in all contexts or at least vary only slightly, case endings in Indo-European can be very different depending on the word. There's a lot more to learn by heart: instead of the form of the preposition and, at worst, a few basic variations (French de, d', du, des) you have to learn dozens of completely different endings (Russian -ом, -ой, -ю, -ами) that may overlap with the endings of other cases. And once you've finally learned to expect grammatical information to be signalled by cases, you find out that some words look the same in several or almost all cases, so the grammatical information you expect just isn't there (jokes like смерть, смерти, смерти, о смерти; saga, sǫgu, sǫgu, sǫgu; cornu, cornu, cornu, cornu, cornu, cornu). If you are supposed to do without case expression, why have it at all? Sorry, I kinda like IE cases from an aesthetic point of view, but for practical purposes, I think a case is just a postposition that has been seriously screwed up (by phonological change).

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    Re: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

    Anatoly
    Does anyone else learn a language based on degree of difficulty? Do you choose easy or difficult?
    If one were to answer in detail, this would have to be moved to another thread. Personally, I like the mixture of familiar and unfamiliar in each new language or dialect. Both components are desirable and contribute to the pleasure of learning.

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    Re: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

    Quote Originally Posted by mungu View Post
    Are you saying that you speak and read Latin just as well as you speak and read French, and that you have just as many comprehension problems with nouns in both?
    I am much better at French than at Latin, but that's because my experience with French is much longer. That doesn't have anything to do with grammar, does it? However, after years of learning French, every now and then I wonder if it's "de" or "du/de l'/de la/des", "à" or "de", "un/une" or nothing, etc. English - even worse. That's what I was talking about.

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    Re: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

    Mod note:
    Discussion about Bulgarian tenses moved to a new thread - please let's concentrate here on the degree of difficulty, and continue over there on Bulgarian vs. Romance tenses.
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    Re: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

    I think our discussion of Bulgarian vs Romance tenses are highly relevant to this thread, since the question was whether someone familiar with English and Romance would find Bulgarian tenses difficult. But never mind, anyone interested can follow it there.
    Last edited by mungu; 19th January 2010 at 11:41 PM. Reason: changed my mind

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    Re: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

    Quote Originally Posted by phosphore View Post
    I am much better at French than at Latin, but that's because my experience with French is much longer. That doesn't have anything to do with grammar, does it? However, after years of learning French, every now and then I wonder if it's "de" or "du/de l'/de la/des", "à" or "de", "un/une" or nothing, etc. English - even worse. That's what I was talking about.
    Well, I think this should make it difficult to compare Latin and French; the ambitions and expectations are different. I wonder about such things too, but they are about making the impression of being a native speaker and will practically never cause an actual misunderstanding. They are extremely minor, cosmetic problems. With Latin, you never even reach the level where you would try to actively pass off as a native speaker; the most ambitious aim is to be able to passively understand Suetonius' text in a relaxed atmosphere without opening a dictionary more than once per page, and boy, is that a challenging task.

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    Re: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

    Quote Originally Posted by mungu View Post
    Well, I think this should make it difficult to compare Latin and French; the ambitions and expectations are different. I wonder about such things too, but they are about making the impression of being a native speaker and will practically never cause an actual misunderstanding. They are extremely minor, cosmetic problems. With Latin, you never even reach the level where you would try to actively pass off as a native speaker; the most ambitious aim is to be able to passively understand Suetonius' text in a relaxed atmosphere without opening a dictionary more than once per page, and boy, is that a challenging task.
    You are forgetting that only two centuries ago educated people had to know Latin practically like their native tongue, since all education was in Latin. And they did know it. It is not as impossible as you may think. Anyway, the most difficult characteristics of Russian for a non-native are the verbal aspect and its unpredicatable stress. As we all know, the verbal aspect is a category shared by all Slavic languages. If the stress patterns in Bulgarian are more regular than in Russian (in Serbian they are even more complicated), only then we could say that Bulgarian rather than Russian might be easier to master. The difficulties of mastering a case system are quite exaggerated.

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    Re: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

    Quote Originally Posted by phosphore View Post
    ...Anyway, the most difficult characteristics of Russian for a non-native are the verbal aspect and its unpredictable stress. As we all know, the verbal aspect is a category shared by all Slavic languages. If the stress patterns in Bulgarian are more regular than in Russian (in Serbian they are even more complicated), only then we could say that Bulgarian rather than Russian might be easier to master. The difficulties of mastering a case system are quite exaggerated.
    The stress in Bulgarian is unpredictable as well, like in Russian but taking into account that there are no cases, then it's much less headache to decide where to stress in the oblique cases - (предложный падеж): в саду / о саде, в году / о годе
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    Re: All Slavic languages: The degree of difficulty

    Anatoly:
    Yes. Though "unpredictable" isn't quite accurate for any Slavic language stress system - there are sub-patterns and sub-regularities, they are just very, very numerous and complicated.

    Phosphore:
    You are forgetting that only two centuries ago educated people had to know Latin practically like their native tongue, since all education was in Latin. And they did know it. It is not as impossible as you may think. Anyway, the most difficult characteristics of Russian for a non-native are the verbal aspect and its unpredicatable stress. As we all know, the verbal aspect is a category shared by all Slavic languages. If the stress patterns in Bulgarian are more regular than in Russian (in Serbian they are even more complicated), only then we could say that Bulgarian rather than Russian might be easier to master. The difficulties of mastering a case system are quite exaggerated.
    About Latin - I never said it was impossible to master, but neither is French.

    About case - I still disagree, but it seems we have nothing new to say to each other about this.

    About Bulgarian stress - as I said, no case means fewer grammatical forms to have stress alternations in. In addition, unlike Russian and BCS, there are practically no stress alternations between the singular and plural forms of feminine nouns and of adjectives. For example Bul. главА - главИ vs Rus. головА - гОловы (in BCS this translates as tone: глаАвА - глАаве). Neuter nouns usually have a plural in -a, which is almost always stressed (правА, селА, правилА), which is again simpler than Russian, which has all the possibilities: правА, сЕла, прАвила. Definite forms (which are of course absent in Russian) don't move the stress either in masculine polysyllabic nouns, feminine and neuter nouns and in adjectives (except for feminine nouns in a consonant, which always move it). The masculine monosyllabic nouns are still a sordid group, though. I haven't looked so closely at verbs and can't claim with certainty that Bulgarian has simplified them more than the others; the principal nastiness is 20-something verbs that have an annoying alternation between the present and the aorist. One good thing I can think of immediately is that with the exception of the verb "to be", past active participles are always stressed on the stem, so stuff like Rus. разнеслА, вЫпила are out of the question. Likewise, the type Rus. пишУ - пИшешь is absent (пИша - пИшеш; this is levelled in BCS as well). Obviously, we don't alternate пиИсАти - пИишем like BCS either, b/c we have no infinitive. But of course, all these steps towards a "Lexical stress with a human face" can't compete with the fixed stress Slavic languages in terms of easiness.
    Last edited by mungu; 20th January 2010 at 3:02 PM. Reason: a small factual correction

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