Thursday, August 05, 2004

A Linguistic Hypothesis

I wonder if anyone's ever given much thought to one reason why adult English-speakers seem on the whole to be so bad at learning foreign languages. Quite apart from the fact that English has become the global lingua franca, one thing that stands out about the language is how poorly inflected it is; word endings hardly ever change regardless of who is doing what where when (e.g. "I sleep", "you sleep", "they sleep", "we sleep", "to sleep", with the sole exception being "he/she sleeps"). The only language I'm aware of that's even less inflected than English is Afrikaans, but the speakers of that language grow up with English all around them anyway.

The reason I'm bringing all this up is because in studying Latin, I'm now often finding myself scratching my head as to what exactly the difference between the dative and ablative case is; although I know what their definitions are, I'm still not at a point where I can intuitively tell them apart, as I can with the four cases I'm familiar with from German, and though I'm sure I'll reach that point at some date, I imagine that the headaches telling cases apart would cause English monoglots would be far more intense. Is there anyone out there who's had to start learning a highly inflected language beyond the age of 12 or so who can help confirm or disprove this hypothesis?