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zozzen

Did anyone learn uncommon language?

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zozzen

I don't know the proper term to describe these languages.

They may or may not be at the edge of extinct,

they're not really uncommon, at least to local people.

But these languages are not learned by most people in the world.

When I talk about them, I think of Mongolian, Naxihua(納西話), Baiyu(白語), Manchuhua (滿州話) . Did anyone learn them?

I actually wanted to learn some Naxihua before but there's totally NO any proper learning materials in the world.

Two books are published by Yunnan University, but even local Naxians are puzzled how it can help student use this to communicate. The content of these books are all about "上善若水, 水善利萬物" , a classical Wenyan read in Naxian language.

Many books about Dongba characters are available in book shop, local people dub it as a book that "cheat tourists' money". They even can't understand these books.

Did you have similar experience?

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anonymoose

After a trip to Yunnan, I thought it would be interesting to learn Dai for a while, but soon gave up on the idea, one reason being, as you mentioned, there are virtually no resources for learning it. And likewise, whilst there is a Dai script, which can even be seen on roadsigns in the south of Yunnan, the majority of Dai speakers cannot read it (as far as I know). At least, I never saw any printed material like books in Dai, not even for teaching children to read it.

But the main reason for not learning is that, whilst it would be fun to know such an obscure language, it is a rather unrealistic goal. Without being in the environment, it would be practically impossible to learn. And even if one could learn, is it really worth the effort? Wouldn't the effort be better spent learning something like Japanese or Korean? Of course, these are not obscure languages, so there's no rewarding feeling of learning them in that sense, but I think the fact that one can actually apply them in real life is a much larger payback for the effort.

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zozzen

I agree most of what you said. One of the biggest frustration is that "local people" don't really speak the language I tried hard to learn.

I've picked up a few phrase from Naxian language. When i spoke something like "numa yu neo!" and "nuke muwa" to shop keepers, many of them don't understand it as they're not ethic naxian at all.

In a place like Banna or Lijiang where Han or other ethic groups people are overwhelmingly more than aborigines, the incentive for learning the language is weakened.

Perhaps in tibet or xijiang, things would be better?

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trien27

I've learned some Manchu words from a book written and translated into Chinese called "功在史册". Said book talks a lot about words borrowed into Chinese from Manchu and vice versa. I'm especially interested in "lata", a modern Chinese term derived from Manchu, which most Chinese don't know about. "Lata" means something like "untidy, etc...", but in Chinese, it now means "especially dirty, etc..." especially in Cantonese. "Indahūn" = dog in Manchu. Is the Scandinavian word for dog, "hund" related to this Manchu word? It is from "hund" through German or Scandinavian languages that we get the word "hound". "dang pu" is Chinese for something like "a pawn shop", but in Manchu, they borrowed the Chinese and added -li to the end making it "dangpuli".

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atitarev

I tried to pick up some Cebuano when I was in Cebu, Philippines. It was only a week and I didn't try hard. You get some benefits if you stay for a longer time but English is too common for the Philippines. Cebuano is not quite uncommon there. The official language is Tagalog or Filipino but Cebuano has slightly more speakers.

But I enjoyed it more to learn and practice more useful languages in the past - Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, German, Polish, Czech. The biggest challenge for me was Finnish, which I almost completely forgot now but it was really rewarding to ask for directions in Finnish, asking the shop- assistants, etc.

I majored in German (Norwegian, Swedish, Danish are somewhat similar to German and to English) and I am Russian, so I found Ukrainian and Polish easy to understand and learned to speak - Czech and Slovak were much harder for me.

I wish I spent more time with French - only self-study and 2 part-time semesters at uni. Never been to any French speaking country.

The current challenges are Asian languages - Chinese (Mandarin), Japanese and Arabic. I stopped learning Korean, although it's very useful and interesting language.

My attempts to learn Spanish and Italian were not serious but amazingly I probably could understand more Italian and Spanish than Arabic, although, I have learned Arabic for two years.

Learning uncommon languages is only worth if you live and plan to live in the area for some time. There are many places in the world where you get discouraged to learn the local language if English or French is overwhelming - Bahrain, New Caledonia, Manila (Philippines) (I haven't been to these places). Even in Singapore I thought - is it really a Chinese speaking country, Mandarin is one of the 4 official languages and it is 85% Chinese?

Sorry guys, I am not bragging, just looking for fellow linguists with the same interests. :D

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Liyisi

I have already started to learn some asian languages not that uncommon but the recent language I started to learn was Latin which is to many people a "dead" language. But I think latin is quite common In modern society even though most people don't think about it. but I noticed today that some people said to me it is uncommon "for a girl your age to be interested in a language like Latin"

then i start to think is that rare for a girl at nealy 18 wanting to learn Latin?

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chrix

no, it's not rare at all. In many Western countries you can study Latin in high school, and in some university systems Latin is a prerequisite for certain subjects (for instance if you want to major in English at most German universities, you need to fulfill a Latin requirement). Whenever 18 year olds discover at uni that they actually SHOULD HAVE studied Latin during high school they come to hate it though, because you need catch up in a semester what high school students studied over years...

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Lu

Not that rare. Many people learn Latin in high school. But I guess people are surprised that you'd pick up a language that you don't have to learn. Good luck studying, Latin comes in quite useful for all kinds of things!

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chrix

btw, since we are on this topic, I think one of the funnest things to do as a language aficionado is to learn an underdescribed language. There's 6000-8000 languages all around the world, depending on how you count, and the vast majority have never been properly described linguistically. A lot of them will also die out over the next few decades.

It's a topic that's quite hot right now in linguistics, with a lot of grants becoming available and what not (like the Endangered Languages Program at SOAS). OK, this sounded like an advert, but I've done it myself, and it's a great experience (or strictly speaking, I am still doing it). The way you learn the language is of course different, since there's no textbook to work with. Native speakers can give you judgement on grammaticality, but they can't necessarily explain the grammatical rules behind them, because it's not necessary for them to know those in order to speak the language (one of the main reasons that untrained native speakers usually do not make good teachers of their mother tongue).

Well, the countries with the greatest linguistic diversity are Papua-New Guinea, Indonesia, Brazil and --- China (probably some more countries in Africa and so on, but I'm biased towards Asia anyways). So if you're in a place with a lot of 少數民族, why not try it... (if it happens to be a crazy tonal language, don't forget to bring the wave recorder)

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Scoobyqueen

I taught myself some written Albanian when I was at school. I had heard about this wonderful country with true communism so I wrote a letter to the government in Albanian asking how I could visit. They sent me back a letter in perfect English -so much for all my efforts in putting my letter together. Anyway, at university I met my best friend who happened to be Albanian and she told me everything I needed to know about this perfect system….

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Daan
OK, this sounded like an advert, but I've done it myself, and it's a great experience (or strictly speaking, I am still doing it).

Would you be willing to share some more information? Which language? And how long did you spend with its speakers? I've always been fascinated by this approach to describing languages.

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fanglu

On underdescribed languages I've always really admired people who work in languages that are closely tied to a particular place and cultural context and yet manage to apply these to other situations. This is from the NAATI handbook:

NAATI recognises that the tasks performed by an Indigenous interpreter are essentially different from the tasks performed by interpreters in non-Indigenous languages. For many English words and concepts there are no equivalents in Indigenous languages. An Indigenous interpreter must therefore endeavour to explain concepts often totally unfamiliar to an Indigenous client, using a language not necessarily geared to deal with such situations. An interpreter may need to coin new phrases or borrow words and consequently becomes involved in the process of enriching and adapting the Indigenous language itself.

In many tribal situations there is a body of knowledge, often accompanied by a whole vocabulary, which is subject to taboo and is totally unknown or never referred to in the company of certain people.

The interpreter with an Indigenous background will be aware of the cultural differences and should be assertive enough to explain if his or her services should not be used in a taboo situation.

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chrix

I spent half a year there, going back later this year. And strictly my goal wasn't to learn to speak the language, but rather to understand how its grammar works. But by the end of my time there, I could make myself understood on a basic level. But some of it overlaps of course. And nobody spoke any English there, but they all spoke the national language, which I became quite fluent in Though they don't use all that slang stuff that's so popular in the hip speech of the capital :mrgreen:

There's two approaches to undescribed languages:

- the total immersion method: you try to communicate only in the target language. Often somebody has done some kind of previous research (often missionaries), and try to go from there. Obviously it involves a lot of nonlinguistic methods, like pointing at objects, picture books, etc. There are some minority groups in some countries, who wouldn't be very happy if you spoke the national language to them, so this method would work for them.

- what most people do is the national/regional language method: usually a different language is used at school and as a lingua franca between speakers of different language backgrounds. So you start with the bilingual speakers, work with them communicating in the national/regional language, and then when you've acquired enough fluency in the target language, you seek out the monolingual speakers, since their language competence of the target language is usually better than the bilinguals'.

About the cultural aspects brought up by fanglu: keep in mind that not all indigenous languages are like that. Often people bring up all these Australian languages as examples for taboos and such, but there seem to be Australian languages that don't have that many taboos either. What's true though, is that many indigenous languages have a body of traditional speech, but if you think about it, any language (or rather the culture associated with it) does. In my case, the traditional language didn't seem to be particularly taboo, but since my primary objective was to understand the language spoken every day, I didn't get to learn too much about it.

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Lugubert

When looking for yet another language to learn the basics of, I normally look at the top 20 list. But I think that Bible Hebrew (took summarized 1 full time semester) must be regarded as fairly uncommon.

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RuiXue

I haven't learned an uncommon language. I grew up with one... My native language is Swedish:oops: Not many people in the world speaking it. Many Chinese dialects has more nativespeakers than Swedish has. In fact, most Chinese cities has a bigger population than my whole home country:roll: Sweden only has about 9 million, and other than us Swedes, it's basically only some Finnish people and some Icelandic who has Swedish as first or second language. But except for Finnish, any Nordic language can be used in the Nordic countries and people can understand it quite ok. I can without any effort or any learning, understand some Icelandic both spoken and written:D Norwegian and Danish are very similar to Swedish so there's no problem to understand those two:)

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atitarev

Hi Ruixue (瑞学 = 瑞典学生?)

Jag talar lite svenska.

I speak a little Swedish.

Jag tror att svenska är inte ett ovanligt språk.

I think that Swedish is not an uncommon language.

Sorry if I made any mistakes. :)

Swedish is very close to German and English and people who come to Sweden should definitely try to learn it!

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Altair

Jag pratade åckso lite svenska. Jag hade en svensk rumscamrad i universitetet och har studerat med honom. Han och jag mycket tyckte om lära oss fremde språk. Män det var flera år igår och nu har jag gloemt nästan alla Svenska vad jag hade lärt mig.

I also spoke a little Swedish. I had a Swedish roommate in college and studied with him. He and I really liked learning foreign languages. But that was many years ago and now I have forgotten almost everything I had learned.

(Sorry for the atrocious Swedish spelling and grammar.)

If lightning can strike twice in the same place, Swedish may not be as "obscure" as you think:D But I would agree about Icelandic. I have studied a little, found the pronunciation and spelling quite difficult, and wondered whether the effort of learning more was worth it.

To be frank, the Swedes are so good with English it might be hard for some to justify learning the language. During my only trip to Sweden, I found that even the bus drivers seemed fluent. The only times in my life I have been compelled to use Swedish were both very unusual events and neither occurred in Sweden.

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RuiXue

Swedish isn't really a language you can learn easily unless you're in Scandinavia or happen to be around a swede. I don't even think it's available at for eg. a German university, and Sweden and Germany are basically neighbours! I learned some German in junior school, but gave it up because it was too boring:lol:

Oh, but one uncommon language I have attempted to learn is Maori! But that was several years ago now so I've forgotten it all now:oops:

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gerri

Since we have moved from China to Northern Europe, let me throw in Latvian.

Already forgetting most of it, but it was a good one - and, talking about uncommon: I can't even find podcasts for/in it, though it's an EU language....

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heifeng

interesting, I was thinking RuiXue was for 瑞雪 :mrgreen: as in 瑞雪兆丰年.

Ruixue will have to tell us:clap

ok, back to the discussion at hand...

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