teaching foreign languages at an early age

john at research.haifa.ac.il john at research.haifa.ac.il
Mon Jan 17 21:51:52 UTC 2011

As an extreme example of this, there are a number of things about Chinese
which made it feel particularly easy to me as an English speaker. It has no
grammatical gender (as a native English speaker, when I'm speaking a language
like Hebrew or Spanish I not infrequently 'forgot' about which grammatical
gender the antecedent of a pronoun is and use the wrong one--of course I know
in principle which one to use but in running conversation I just don't pay much
attention because I don't instinctively track the gender of inanimate objects).
It has diphthongs galore, many sounding very similar to English diphthongs. The
serial verb constructions usually wind up decomposing and expressing meaning in
a way parallel to English verb plus particle combinations. Same dummy for
existential constructions ('you' in Chinese). Even the /r/ sounds much like
English /r/ (obviously more frication, but the same general idea). (On the
other hand, writing is another matter...). Of course these are just
coincidences, but it's still very helpful.

Quoting "A. Katz" <amnfn at well.com>:

> Daniel,
> For purposes of ease of learning as a new language, Arabic and Spanish, or
> Arabic and Catalan, need not have any elements that can be properly traced
> to historical borrowing or genetic common origin. All that is required is
> that there be some genuine similarity in their present forms of whatever
> origin  -- even mere coincidence.
> For instance, the definite articles are superficially similar. Are they
> related? Most would say "no." The Spanish comes from Latin ille and the
> Arabic from maybe hal-, but "el" and "al" seem very similar, and this is
> not just a sound similarity, but a similarity of function. After all, not
> every language has a definite article, let alone one that sounds like
> that.
> As Jo said, it can all seem very mysterious why one language seems easy to
> learn, and the ease is often a subconscious assessment of similarity that
> has nothing to do with the rigors of genetic classification.
>     --Aya
> On Mon, 17 Jan 2011, Daniel Riaסo wrote:
> > The influence of Arabic over modern Spanish is amazingly scarce, specially
> > considering the centuries of Moorish presence in the Iberian Peninsula.
> > Probably even less over Catalan. The identifiable influence of other
> Semitic
> > languages over Modern Spanish (outside toponymy and modern borrowings) is
> > almost zero.
> >
> > Almost all the influence of Arabic on Modern Spanish affects the
> vocabulary,
> > and even there, the quantity of words of Arabic origin in the common modern
> > vocabulary is surprisingly small, probably around one or (at most) two
> > hundreds, mostly restricted to substantives, and almost all of them
> > belonging to a small number of semantic fields: water and irrigation,
> > warfare, local institutions, building, horses, some crafts, and specially
> > plants and food. Most educated Spanish speakers identify the "al" element
> at
> > the beginning of many words with an Arabic etymology, with or without
> reason
> > (usually with). A good number of scientific terms entered the Spanish
> > vocabulary via the arabic scholars, most of them of Greek origin. There's
> > one expresion of Arabic origin ("ojala", "God Willing") that
> > Spanish-speaking people use vey often.
> >
> > With much philological pain it has been collected a list of almost 4,000
> > words of Arabic origin used in documents written in Spanish at some time,
> > but most of them are words out of use, often terms to designate aspects of
> > Islamic life.
> >
> > There is very little of Arabic in modern Spanish morphology: an -i suffix
> > used almost only with Arabic (or muslim-) related realia ("nazarם") and
> > maybe an "a" causative prefix (as in "acalorar") still productive.
> >
> > Most phonetic and syntactical phenomena that have been attributed to Arabic
> > influence, and there's not much of them, are best (and usually) explained
> > otherwise.
> >
> >
> > Daniel
> >
> > P.S. The influence of Berber languages over all romance languages of the
> > Iberian Peninsula is much smaller, limited to local lexical borrowings in
> > some small locations.
> >
> >
> > 2011/1/17 A. Katz <amnfn at well.com>
> >
> >>
> >> I don't know much about Catalan, but I am wondering if there might not be
> >> some grammatical or areal feautures of the language that might make Arabic
> >> not that hard to learn, if you already speak Cat. After all, Spanish had
> >> some Arabic influence in it in general, and I imagine that all languages
> >> spoken on the Iberian peninsula have Semitic influences from both the
> >> moorish conquests and the earlier Carthaginian occupation.
> >>
> >>>
> >>>
> >

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