03 Jan 2011

World’s Hardest Language

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Toyuca people-secondhand water-secondhand play

The Economist thought it over, back in 2009, and decided to give the award to Tuyuca.

On balance The Economist would go for Tuyuca, of the eastern Amazon. It has a sound system with simple consonants and a few nasal vowels, so is not as hard to speak as Ubykh or !Xóõ. Like Turkish, it is heavily agglutinating, so that one word, hóabãsiriga means “I do not know how to write.” Like Kwaio, it has two words for “we”, inclusive and exclusive. The noun classes (genders) in Tuyuca’s language family (including close relatives) have been estimated at between 50 and 140. Some are rare, such as “bark that does not cling closely to a tree”, which can be extended to things such as baggy trousers, or wet plywood that has begun to peel apart.

Most fascinating is a feature that would make any journalist tremble. Tuyuca requires verb-endings on statements to show how the speaker knows something. Diga ape-wi means that “the boy played soccer (I know because I saw him)”, while diga ape-hiyi means “the boy played soccer (I assume)”. English can provide such information, but for Tuyuca that is an obligatory ending on the verb. Evidential languages force speakers to think hard about how they learned what they say they know.

Wikipedia clarifies:


Tuyuca is a postpositional agglutinative Subject Object Verb language with mandatory type II evidentiality. Five evidentiality paradigms are used: visual, nonvisual, apparent, secondhand, and assumed, though secondhand evidentiality exists only in the past tense and apparent evidentiality does not appear in the first person present tense. The language is estimated to have 50 to 140 noun classes.

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One Feedback on "World’s Hardest Language"

Stan

uhhh. wow. cool.



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