13 votes

Which language do you think is best?

I don’t think best necessarily needs to mean most useful. For example though English, Mandarin, and Spanish are widely spoken they all have their problems, for example the reliance of Chinese on non-phonetic logograms or English’s complete mess when it comes to spelling and vocabulary.

I’ve been learning some Dutch these past few days and have been enjoying it quite a bit. It’s got a lot of the Germanic roots I’m familiar with without the junk and inconsistencies that seem pervasive in English.

Korean also seems like a potentially interesting “objectively good” language to learn since I believe the writing system was invented relatively recently (1950s?) and is phonetic.

All that being said, that’s pretty much all I know about linguistics so I’d love to hear peoples input on language and what they enjoy.

25 comments

  1. [9]
    Sheep
    Link
    I love this question but ultimately when I look at any language I ever learned about I find all of them have downsides in some area (of course, language being a product of humans would also...

    I love this question but ultimately when I look at any language I ever learned about I find all of them have downsides in some area (of course, language being a product of humans would also necessarily make it flawed at some point).

    I actually legitimately think English is one of the best languages ever. Not because it doesn't have its fair share of problems (I'm not even gonna get started its phonetic inconsistencies...), but because it's built in a way that you can learn the basic sentence structure so easily and start communicating very early on. Your verb conjugation might be broken and your articles missing, but I've seen so many people pick up English and start expressing themselves just a few weeks afterwards. They really don't call it the lingua franca for no reason.

    Outside of that I love (and hate) Japanese for its kanji usage, which allows the language to have very unique properties most languages who use the Latin alphabet simply don't have. Changing the entire feel/meaning of a sentence just by drawing a different character, even if the words you're expressing are the same, is simply charming to me. Plus all the different politeness levels it has which completely shift the perspective of a conversation. And each kanji packs so much meaning in it too, to the point where accurately translating many of them is nigh impossible without a footnote. Although it is frustratingly hard to learn and has many issues due its many homophones (even the Japanese hate this).

    7 votes
    1. [2]
      daturkel
      Link Parent
      Even as a native English speaker, I question the idea that English's (nominal) status as a "lingua franca" is due to linguistic properties rather than the global footprint of American and British...

      Even as a native English speaker, I question the idea that English's (nominal) status as a "lingua franca" is due to linguistic properties rather than the global footprint of American and British influence. For example: Why not Spanish? It has lots of grammatical niceties and extremely predictable phonics/spelling (though admittedly much more verb conjugation than English). But Spanish-speaking culture is not dominant enough to demand that people across the world learn the language.

      6 votes
      1. Sheep
        Link Parent
        I totally agree it's not just linguistics. History did play a massive, if not more crucial role in it, but it certainly helps to have an easy to pick up language when you're trying to teach it to...

        I totally agree it's not just linguistics. History did play a massive, if not more crucial role in it, but it certainly helps to have an easy to pick up language when you're trying to teach it to the whole world.

        1 vote
    2. SuperGracchiBros
      Link Parent
      I agree. English is a bit of a mess linguistically, but it also has an incredible flexibility as well.

      I agree. English is a bit of a mess linguistically, but it also has an incredible flexibility as well.

      5 votes
    3. [5]
      petrichor
      Link Parent
      Related to English's expressiveness - possibly my favorite part of English are our collective nouns for animals. Out of curiosity, do other languages have this or something similar?

      Related to English's expressiveness - possibly my favorite part of English are our collective nouns for animals.

      Out of curiosity, do other languages have this or something similar?

      3 votes
      1. [2]
        Thra11
        Link Parent
        Are you referring to the "real" ones, like swarm, flock, herd, etc., or the silly ones that people make up for trivia quizzes? Not really related, but this reminded me of counting things in...

        Related to English's expressiveness - possibly my favorite part of English are our collective nouns for animals.

        Out of curiosity, do other languages have this or something similar?

        Are you referring to the "real" ones, like swarm, flock, herd, etc., or the silly ones that people make up for trivia quizzes?

        Not really related, but this reminded me of counting things in Japanese. Essentially, in addition to the number and the noun, you need the correct counter, which changes depending on the nature of the object being counted. In beginners' Japanese, I think we stuck to some of the common counters: e.g. long thin objects, flat objects, or people, but there are a bewildering variety of often quite specific counters.

        3 votes
        1. petrichor
          Link Parent
          All of them are a rather nice bit of specificy (and the species-specific ones are fun). That Japanese example is a great example of what I was wondering about, thanks. I'll have to read up on them...

          All of them are a rather nice bit of specificy (and the species-specific ones are fun).

          That Japanese example is a great example of what I was wondering about, thanks. I'll have to read up on them...

          1 vote
      2. bhrgunatha
        Link Parent
        My absolute favourite collective noun is A Flange of Baboons because it came from the brilliant Gerald the Gorilla sketch on Not the Nine O'Clock News and so widely adopted by primatologists that...

        My absolute favourite collective noun is A Flange of Baboons because it came from the brilliant Gerald the Gorilla sketch on Not the Nine O'Clock News and so widely adopted by primatologists that it's now officially accepted.

        By the way I'm not sure why but that sketch seems to have been scrubbed from youtube which is odd because there's still a ton of sketches and even whole episodes up there

        2 votes
      3. Sheep
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        Absolutely! My native language, Portuguese, has collective nouns as well. They're even one of the three distinct grammatical noun categories (the other two being personal nouns and common nouns)....

        do other languages have this or something similar?

        Absolutely! My native language, Portuguese, has collective nouns as well. They're even one of the three distinct grammatical noun categories (the other two being personal nouns and common nouns). They're not restricted to animals either. eg: Réstia is a bunch of onions or garlics.

        2 votes
  2. [5]
    knocklessmonster
    Link
    I had a previous comment that I deleted, but gave this a bit more thought. As for my illustrious qualifications: I have two years of Spanish (8-9th grade literally half my life ago), crap German...

    I had a previous comment that I deleted, but gave this a bit more thought. As for my illustrious qualifications: I have two years of Spanish (8-9th grade literally half my life ago), crap German skills, and a very basic understanding of French and Italian from bumping into it over the years, along with a total sum of like three hours each on Esperanto and Interlingua (basically an Italian-style meta-Romance conlang). However, I have extensive experience dealing with people who speak various forms of broken but perfectly serviceable, English from a variety of backgrounds, and so a variety of manipulations of my native language from every inhabited continent, with every level of proficiency. I find it most helpful to shape any comparison on specific points, and the minimum amount of information needed to properly convey a point.

    In English, we have three singular articles and one rule: "the," "a," and "an," the last coming into play if the word starts with a vowel sound. Any speaker will either figure it out, or not suffer any consequences for not doing so. German has three main genders for default articles, "das," "der," "die," and while there is not a general rule in German about this gender like there is in Romance languages, at least according to the one German speaker I know and some cursory research on the topic.

    Spanish, and Romance languages in general, have hard-coded gender, and gender/tense specific conjugates: "el," "la," "los, "las", which means, compared to English, there is at minimum twice the amount to consider to convey an idea: The noun, and the gender of the noun. You need to know one more order of articles, but you also have a general rule that works the vast majority of the time, and can be applied to new words. In English, nothing is gendered unless it is gendered by definition: cow and bull are gendered, car is not, but the article we use to refer to them is never gendered because the noun itself carries any necessary gender information.

    English pluralization are fairly simple, as well, except for loan words. Typically, you can tack an "s" on to something and be fine: "Octopuses, cactuses and chickens." Again, the edge cases, like "geese," "moose," and others don't matter because they'll either be learned, or not affect the communication. In German and Spanish, as examples, you have to know which gender, and the conjugation of that gender in the new context.

    A major complaint about English could be its weird spelling, but I think American English has done some good work in simplifying some of these issues out. If you learn "our" or "hour" before "colour," you may decide "colour" is pronounced "col-hour." "Theatre" may look like "thee-tré." My understanding is these original spellings are French-derived, and Noah Webster and Benjamin Franklin sought to make some modifications to American English to simplify reading and writing in English. This simplification was intended to convey the idea with the minimal amount of letters needed to make a given word.

    I think English's greatest strength in ease of use is its lack of strict rules. These seem confusing when you think too hard about it from other perspectives, but I think it makes English effective in its seeming ambiguity: It doesn't completely define concepts or fully describe things out of the box, but when you start putting the pieces together you can build very useful tools out of it.

    5 votes
    1. [2]
      petrichor
      Link Parent
      I think another thing English has going for it, closely related to the lack of strict rules, is that native speakers make fun of English and its quirks all the time. It's a frequent occurrence to...

      I think another thing English has going for it, closely related to the lack of strict rules, is that native speakers make fun of English and its quirks all the time. It's a frequent occurrence to hear someone bemoaning the inconsistency of the i-before-e rule, or mocking the plurals of goose and moose, or figuring out the distinction between fish and fishes [1]. Not only do edge cases not matter when starting off - but they're very easy to stumble across and learn. The only time they can actually bite you in the rear are in formal contexts.


      [1]: For those unaware, the word "fish" has two plurals - "fish" to refer to fish of the same species, and "fishes" to refer to fish across species. This is probably due to the wide variety of fishes, that many fish travel in large numbers, and our human tendency to lump all fish together as food anyways.

      3 votes
      1. knocklessmonster
        Link Parent
        I tend to run in to problems when I think about "'i' before 'e'" because I also trip up on a lot of "ie" words. In English we generally pronounce them the same anyway (thief, conceit) so even the...

        I tend to run in to problems when I think about "'i' before 'e'" because I also trip up on a lot of "ie" words. In English we generally pronounce them the same anyway (thief, conceit) so even the misspelling doesn't matter that much.

    2. [2]
      mat
      Link Parent
      Which I think is one reason there are so many creoles based on English (one other and much less pleasant reason being British imperialism). One of my favourites is West African Pidgin, which is so...

      I think English's greatest strength in ease of use is its lack of strict rules.

      Which I think is one reason there are so many creoles based on English (one other and much less pleasant reason being British imperialism).

      One of my favourites is West African Pidgin, which is so widely spoken the BBC even has an entire pidgin news service

      I sometimes wonder if you take someone who speaks Singlish and someone who speaks Saramaccan and someone who speaks British English, would they be able to make themselves understood to each other?

      I think that works in Arabic, where nobody really speaks Modern Standard Arabic (which hasn't changed for centuries and can't/won't because it's a religious sacrament) day to day, so there's significant regional variation of the spoken form, but if you take someone who speaks Moroccan Arabic and someone thousands of miles away who speaks Uzbeki Arabic they can both 'elevate' their speech to more formal forms of the language until they're mutually intelligible. Worst case they can always write notes to each other because written Arabic is consistent across dialects.

      1. knocklessmonster
        Link Parent
        I was going to mention that another benefit was much of the world already speaks it, but the next thought was why they speak it, like it's a silver lining in a bloody cloud. And yeah, I've read...

        I was going to mention that another benefit was much of the world already speaks it, but the next thought was why they speak it, like it's a silver lining in a bloody cloud. And yeah, I've read BBC Pidgin, it's a cool idea.

        I didn't know that about Arabic, I honestly sort of assumed all Arab-speaking nations spoke the same language with different slang and accents, like the US compared to England or Australia. But I guess even an Australian and an American would need to speak some sort of formalized form of English to fully understand each other by stripping it of such cultural informalities as slang and colloquialisms.

        2 votes
  3. Kuromantis
    (edited )
    Link
    There are some interesting metrics to use to find a fictitious language as an answer. Simplicity and ease to learn would give you the answer of Toki Pona, with 5 vowels, 9 consonants and around...

    There are some interesting metrics to use to find a fictitious language as an answer.

    Simplicity and ease to learn would give you the answer of Toki Pona, with 5 vowels, 9 consonants and around 120-ish words to remember. The language can be learned in mere days. However, defusing the intended context is required to understand all but the most basic words, and you often need to coumpound words like addition. This makes it a very "human" language IMO.

    LangFocus review

    Going for the opposite of consistency gives you Lojban. It also uses compound words, albeit it uses them in an consistent manner, rather than you making up stuff as you go, in a way to describe the structure of the word you're speaking.

    Worldbuilding notes review

    You can go for most information in least space, which leads you to Ithkuil, where individual letters are used to denote words and intonation is pushed to it's limit. It also comes with it's own unique script to make it a little less r/ihadastroke looking than it often is in the Latin alphabet. Albeit it is so complicated it's said noone, not even the creator, is fluent at the language.

    Half as interesting review

    Jan Misali review

    4 votes
  4. mrbig
    (edited )
    Link
    No way I can ever be objective about that. Of course I love Portuguese because it's my mother tongue and like Brazil it's severely ignored and under appreciated. Portugal brings a melancholy to...

    No way I can ever be objective about that. Of course I love Portuguese because it's my mother tongue and like Brazil it's severely ignored and under appreciated. Portugal brings a melancholy to the language that I appreciate very much. I do not like how Spanish sound because it's too close to Portuguese for comfort and yet too distinct. Spanish sounds overly dramatic to me. English is super specific and expressive but highly arbitrary. I love it. I like the sound of Russian and especially Romanian, with its Latin roots. And I love Swedish because of Ingmar Bergman. It sounds delicate and alien.

    4 votes
  5. chrysanth
    Link
    Hangul was actually invented in 1443 but the modern form was indeed standardized in 1946.

    Hangul was actually invented in 1443 but the modern form was indeed standardized in 1946.

    3 votes
  6. Akir
    Link
    I guess language is best if everyone speaks it, so I guess in one way English is best (although as a language there are many things about it that suck). Mandarin all has a bunch of speakers, but...

    I guess language is best if everyone speaks it, so I guess in one way English is best (although as a language there are many things about it that suck).

    Mandarin all has a bunch of speakers, but they are mostly all in the same part of the world and in a handful of cultures. English has speakers all over the world. Thanks, colonialism!

    3 votes
  7. vegai
    (edited )
    Link
    English is my second language, and my favourite language. Few "objective" reasons (when compared to some latin-based languages at least): the completely pointless construct of gendered nouns has...

    English is my second language, and my favourite language. Few "objective" reasons (when compared to some latin-based languages at least):

    • the completely pointless construct of gendered nouns has been removed
    • verb conjugation is pretty simple (except for irregular verbs which are a bit horrible)

    It could be improved further by removing gendered pronouns and perhaps fixing some inconsistencies and irregularities (preposition usage and the writing system/pronunciation for instance has no sane logic and just has to be memorized). Also I dislike most phrasal verbs. And trivial spelling differences between US and UK, eugh.

    2 votes
  8. suspended
    Link
    I learned Spanish through the intermediate level in college (started in high school). From my experience, it seemed fairly intuitive and much less cumbersome than English.

    I learned Spanish through the intermediate level in college (started in high school). From my experience, it seemed fairly intuitive and much less cumbersome than English.

    1 vote
  9. [3]
    petrichor
    Link
    Ido! It's a constructed language, basically a dialect of Esperanto, and entirely useless because no one speaks it. Some of its linguistic highlights: Spelling — Uses the standard Latin alphabet...

    Ido!

    It's a constructed language, basically a dialect of Esperanto, and entirely useless because no one speaks it. Some of its linguistic highlights:

    • Spelling — Uses the standard Latin alphabet
    • Phonology — Word roots are modular, as grammatical form is distinguished with suffixes
    • Grammar — All nouns are gender-neutral by default, suffixes can be added for specificity
    • Vocabulary — Uses the shared Latin roots of most Romance and Germanic languages
    1 vote
    1. [2]
      Octofox
      Link Parent
      I used to be pretty excited for this kind of stuff but then I realized the main reason these languages are more logical is that the general public does not use them. As soon as the average person...

      I used to be pretty excited for this kind of stuff but then I realized the main reason these languages are more logical is that the general public does not use them. As soon as the average person starts using a language they will butcher it and deform it to all kinds of horrible ways. So if one of these alt languages took off, they would end up just as broken as english because people would add new words without caring for the rules.

      3 votes
      1. petrichor
        Link Parent
        Maybe, maybe not. Ido provides a strong structural base that's absent in a lot of natural languages.

        Maybe, maybe not. Ido provides a strong structural base that's absent in a lot of natural languages.

        1 vote
  10. PhantomBand
    Link
    Practically speaking I think English and Chinese are the best due to the amount of speakers and content available in said languages, but preferentially I like Japanese the most by far.

    Practically speaking I think English and Chinese are the best due to the amount of speakers and content available in said languages, but preferentially I like Japanese the most by far.

    1 vote
  11. Protected
    Link
    Hard to tell. I'm not unbiased but Portuguese is pretty good. Fairly regular verbs, clear, well defined vowels, shenanigans kept to a minimum. It also provides ease of cross-learning with other...

    Hard to tell. I'm not unbiased but Portuguese is pretty good. Fairly regular verbs, clear, well defined vowels, shenanigans kept to a minimum. It also provides ease of cross-learning with other romance languages. I don't like the 1990+ reform because while it makes the language more accurate to modern phonetic trends, it breaks consistency between words and their derivatives, so it makes the language more irregular.

    I also like the cadence, laconicity and grammatical rules of japanese, but hate kanji very much.

    English is a hot mess. American primary education is of uneven quality and native speakers in general are too sensitive about being corrected for their mistakes; instead misused words are edited into the Merriam-Webster dictionary after like 6 months (I'm only exaggerating a little...) It's hard to keep up! I still write in english because it has the best ease of use vs amount of speakers, and it's the best language for discussing anything technology-related.

    French, Italian and Spanish also have their own advantages and disadvantages. Francophones speak quickly and, since so many word endings in french are silent, it's a bit difficult to learn by osmosis/understand what's being said.

    I don't know any German but I've heard some conflicting opinions (from german natives) about how the language mashes long strings of words together.

    1 vote