When people think of the most difficult languages to learn, they often cite Chinese or Arabic or Russian. But The Economist argues, these languages are child’s play compared to some of the world’s lesser-known tongues. Take, for example, a language spoken by a few thousand people in Botswana called !Xóõ (go ahead, sound it out). Here’s how The Economist describes this baffling language:
[!Xóõ] has a blistering array of unusual sounds. Its vowels include plain, pharyngealised, strident and breathy, and they carry four tones. It has five basic clicks and 17 accompanying ones. The leading expert on the !Xóõ, Tony Traill, developed a lump on his larynx from learning to make their sounds.
A language in New Guinea called Berik requires speakers to end many words with suffixes that describe what time of day something occurred. Bora, a language spoken in Peru, has more than 350 genders! How does that work?
But according to The Economist, the most difficult language to learn (other than the one you’re currently studying), is Tuyuca, spoken by less than 1,000 people in the eastern Amazon. There are between 40 and 150 genders in Tuyuca, and verbs require suffixes that tell how a speaker knows something. For example, “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).'”
So next time you’re struggling with remembering “Je suis, tu es, il est…” think of !Xóõ and Tuyuca and consider how lucky you have it.
Elsewhere in Gadling: Learn to read the Cyrillic alphabet in 5 minutes. (Go on, give it a shot.)