Studying Japanese? You groan about their three different alphabets. Learning German? You think it's silly that bridges and sidewalks have to be designated male or female. Trying English? Good luck. We've stolen every third word from wholly unrelated sources, and we have silent letters literally just to fuck with you. All languages are tough. But these next few are "hardcore" difficulty ...
The English language has three different verb endings. These are -ing, -ed, and -s. "He farted," "He's farting," or "He really farts constantly." With us so far? OK. Archi, an indigenous language spoken in southwest Russia, has 1,502,839 verb endings. Chew on that for a moment -- an Archi speaker can tell you to piss off in more ways than there are words in the Oxford dictionary.
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Even Dr. Dan Streetmentioner finds it to be a bit excessive.
In addition to tense, the Archi language has a bunch of verb modifiers for things like gender (of which there are four options, because, hey, they're progressive), case, number, and a bunch of other grammatical nuances missing from English. For example, an Archi verb takes the ending -cugu if the speaker is expressing doubt that something happened, -ra if it possibly happened and -er if it happened with certainty.
So when expressing "He farted" in Archi, the speaker can account for who farted, when they farted, how many of them farted, how sure you are that they did in fact fart, how loudly they farted, the circumstances under which they farted, and probably how badly the fart smelled -- just by slightly changing the verb. So by the time you, as a new speaker, figure out how to tell this bastard to stop fogging up the car with butt, everybody has long since died from methane poisoning.
It's pronounced with a silent but deadly T.
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Silbo Gomero, spoken by the inhabitants of the Canary Islands, is the simplest language on this list. It has an "alphabet" of just two vowels and four consonants. Finally, a culture that appreciates simplicity! But if you want to speak it, you'll need a really keen ear and outstanding breath control, because Silbo Gomero is a language articulated entirely by whistling.
The modern language is a variation of the one used by the indigenous Africans who once populated the islands. The Canaries were claimed by the Spanish, who all but wiped the original inhabitants out, because that's just how imperialism rolls. But the Spanish settlers were enamored with their unique way of communicating and adapted it to their own language. And they're really serious about it -- the whistling language is a mandatory part of their school curriculum.
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Kindergarten classes involve a lot of raspberries and spittle.
The English language has two things that can be expressed by whistling, which translate to "I am impressed by that," and "Would you kindly shake it, strange woman." But Silbo Gomero is complex and nuanced enough that whistling can be used to communicate news and announce celebrations over the vast distances. The indigenous farmers of the islands can hear a skilled whistler up to two miles away, making it well suited to the mountainous terrain of the region. When you're working at the top of a ravine and you spot some Lothario out with your wife a mile below, you can explain in detail via a jaunty tune how you're going to replace his ass with his face.
You already know you're in trouble when the name of the language has a punctuation mark in it. !XÃÂ³ÃÂµ is spoken by around 3,000 natives of the Namibia and Botswana regions in Africa. And while speakers of English and other European languages grapple over a mere 26 letters, !XÃÂ³ÃÂµ, by some counts, has 122 consonants alone. That's because the language uses a whole lot more sounds than average. Just listen to this:
It sounds like Chinese spoken through bubblegum and ping pong balls. But all those lip-smacking, popping, and clicking sounds are fraught with meaning. There's no written alphabet, and most of these noises lack even an approximate equivalent in our tongue, so linguists have to resort to all sorts of weird symbols to transcribe what they're hearing. For example, if you:
You waited for a man, shot him with a bone arrow, then refused to help.
"I didn't aim for the dick. I've done enough."
Linguists have posited that !XÃÂ³ÃÂµ, or something like it, may in fact be the world's oldest language. As we migrated out of Africa our communications radically diverged, and all but a few lost their ancient clicks. Which is kind of a tragedy, if you ask us: how bitchin' would the alphabet song be with 47 more verses and a didgeridoo solo?
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The Pawnee, a Native American tribe from central Oklahoma, speak a polysynthetic language, in which words are formed by sticking together various components, so that complete, complex thoughts can be expressed with a single elaborate word. For example, kutatii'i translates to "it is mine," and is composed of a bunch of smaller words that indicate possession and being. Seems pretty straightforward, right?
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Or like German.
But things quickly get out of hand. Hatkaahuhtiirahpuh means "to dig a small trench or ditch around the periphery, as of a dwelling to prevent seepage or a yard to prevent runoff." Ikstaahkatiictiiruuwaahak means to "blacken someone's hands in a prescribed manner, i.e., as that person has dreamed." And then, just for the hell of it, the Pawnee decided the best thing to call a barbershop was an iririiraktahkictapiriwu. Which we're going to go ahead and guess means "a place for tending to hair where people make awkward small talk to avoid thinking about the fact that they are intimately touching strangers in a public setting."
Ah, Tuyuca, the end boss of linguistics. An endangered language spoken among indigenous Colombians, Tuyuca is possibly the most difficult language on Earth. It combines the most difficult aspects of other, still pretty difficult languages into one Megazord of linguistic shenanigans. Like Pawnee, it's polysynthetic, so it's made up of elaborate words created by sticking smaller word fragments together -- for example, hÃÂ³abÃÂ£siriga ("I do not know how to write").
Or like German.
Tuyuca, by some counts, has 140 genders. No, the whole thing wasn't cobbled together by a think tank of liberal arts majors discussing Tumblr posts -- "gender" in linguistics refers to a sound that modifies a noun. For most languages, the only noun modifiers they have are masculine or feminine. Tuyuca speakers shift that concept into overdrive and then ramp it into the damn sea. They have a gender that means "bark that does not cling closely to the tree," which can be used to describe the literal peeling wood ... or baggy pants.
Also, like Archi, Tuyuca has a large catalog of verb modifiers. It's what's known as an evidential language, which means that every time you report an event, you have to include how you know this as part of the word. For example, the ending -wi means "I know because I saw it" whereas -hiyi means "I assume." Sure, it makes casual conversations difficult, but there is an upside: it's hard to spread bullshit conspiracy theories when every word comes with the "I pulled this out of my ass" morpheme.
The words for "Alex Jones" and "Daily Mail" are the same as the word for "total bullshit, you moron." It's like "snow" for Inuits.
Adam Hoss is a writer and immature linguist from Cleveland, Ohio.
For more on linguistics, check out 5 Reasons the English Language Makes No Freaking Sense and The 10 Coolest Foreign Words The English Language Needs.
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