French, Spanish and Italian sound particularly beautiful. Arabic, however, sounds hard and brisk. Do you think so too? Or do you see it completely differently?
Why is it that we like some languages better than others? Is it just the pronunciation of the words? Or do we simply find that which sounds particularly strange and exotic in our ears beautiful?
In this article we take you into the wonderful world of languages. We look at what makes for beautiful languages and why they seem beautiful to us.
If you are also considering which language you would like to learn next, then let yourself be inspired by the various peculiarities of languages in this article. Language lovers are sure to find suggestions for learning a new language or deepening a foreign language.
What seems beautiful - and what not so much?
Do you know the YouTube video which has been viewed over 2 million times and compares the German language with other languages?
People in the typical garb of their countries speak the same terms in different languages, for example "papillon" (French), "butterfly" (English), "farfalla" (Italian) and "mariposa" (Spanish). A German man follows - dressed in a Bavarian outfit, with a grumpy face and a loud voice - who finally throws out the word “Schmetterling" at the audience.
Of course, the video is not meant seriously. But in a humorous way it shows how many people perceive languages: While some languages sound particularly beautiful and melodious, other languages sound harder.
Here, German is presented with a wink as a crisp, comparatively hard language. But where does this perception come from?
Of clicks and consonants
In general, the German language is sometimes perceived as difficult to learn abroad. There are several reasons for this. For one thing, there are all those long words. Composites that are composed of several words and lead to such beautiful but also confusing constructions as for example Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (Beef Labeling Surveillance Task Transfer Act). By the time you get to the end of the word, it's easy to forget how it even started.
Secondly, German is a language of consonants. These not only cause problems for learners of German at the beginning of a word, but also when they become more frequent. Words such as Strumpf (stocking) or ernst (serious) would not exist as such in other languages, because they have a completely different structure.
Another peculiarity is the German glottal stop, the Knacklaut. The vocal cords are suddenly opened and air escapes, as in the word Akt. Other languages don't have this glottal stop.
German language, difficult language. Maybe so, but this doesn't make it any less beautiful, as the famous poets and thinkers of this country prove.
But what is the secret of those languages that are perceived as beautiful by the majority of people, unlike German?
The Romance languages
To find out why, for example, French, Spanish, Italian or Portuguese - all Romance languages - are perceived as particularly beautiful, a brief look at the history of language is necessary.
The Romance languages are derived from Latin. However, it was not literary Latin that was the starting point of the Romance languages, but vulgar Latin. But "vulgar" has nothing to do with "obscene" or "superficial". "Vulgar" derives in this meaning from the Latin "vulgaris" for "belonging to the people".
This spoken form of Latin spread via Italy, Spain and Portugal all the way to France. It is to be expected that vulgar Latin would change on along this long route.
For example, the "s" for the identification of plural disappears more and more the further it goes in the direction of France. There it is no longer emphasized, it becomes silent.
It is similar with the so-called closing sounds "p", "t" and "k" in some words. While the German Freund (friend) in Latin is "amicus", in Italian it is "amico". In Spanish, the spoken "k" becomes a soft "g": "amigo". In French this sound disappears completely. What remains is "ami". Due to the gradually-disappearing consonants, words appear very soft and round in our ears and seem beautiful.
But it was not only the vowels that determined the beauty of a language.
It all comes down to speech melody
But why do we sometimes get the feeling that the French speak more deliberately and softer, while the Spanish and Italians seem to run away linguistically?
The secret lies in the intonation and complexity of the syllables.
French has relatively many vowels, nasal sounds and a pronounced melody. French speakers play a lot with highs and lows, which is why it sounds extremely melodious to us.
The Spanish and Italians also have many vowels, but they work less with ups and downs in their voices. In addition, there are the simple syllables. That's why Spanish and Italian often sound to our ears more stubborn and less melodious. Syllables can be produced faster and the impression of a fast volley of speech is created.
French is romantic... isn't it?
French is undoubtedly considered by many people to be the romantic language par excellence. One only has to think of French people who speak German with a French accent. The German language suddenly seems much softer and more elegant.
Not least romantic love films and the glorification of Paris as a "city of love" ensure that this language has a particularly high status when it comes to the category of romance.
But not everyone sees it that way. Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher, author and university lecturer concerned with the aesthetics of languages. He couldn't get much out of French, for example: He found it to be one of the less beautiful Romance languages and not suitable for declarations of love.
Most language lovers certainly see it differently. But beauty is also in the eye of the beholder.
Why does Arabic sound brisk to us?
So while Spanish, French or Italian sound melodious and light to us, Arabic can sound bold and rough to our ears. Why is that so?
The simple answer is the place where most sounds are made. In Arabic, it is primarily the throat. The back part of the tongue is thus stressed more when speaking and throaty sounds are created. This is exciting, but difficult for many language learners to learn.
The place of origin of sounds is therefore a factor that determines the learnability, beauty and exoticism of a foreign language. For German it is the clicking sounds, in Arabic the throat sounds and in the Siberian minority language Buryat the throaty singing.
Although some languages sound brisk, rough or complicated, it can be precisely this factor that makes a language seem exotic and beautiful.
Fan culture and language
Are you a fan of a foreign-language band? Maybe you love Italian classics, read traditional Japanese mangas or like food from all over the world. Perhaps this has already led you to want to learn a foreign language.
Fan culture can thus also contribute to whether we want to get to know a language better. Someone who likes oriental dishes quickly comes into contact with the language spoken there. Someone who enjoys reading Japanese mangas may want to get to know the culture and language better.
If you also want to better understand your favorite foreign language artists, why not learn their language? It is an enrichment in any case.
Beauty vs. utility
You will have noticed that the English language has not been mentioned in this text.
English, however, is a world language of enormous importance in all areas: Music, film, business, science, travel. You can't do without English. Nevertheless, in many cases it is probably not the first language that comes to mind when you think of beautiful languages.
The reason for this may be the usefulness of the language. English is a world language. We are surrounded by it every day, it is at work, in pop culture or in the news. Since we hear it - at least in most cases - much more often than other languages, it seems less romantic or exotic to us. English is primarily useful.
Beauty determines learning success...
Not least, the personal assessment of a language as beautiful is a good thing if there is any willingness at all to learn this new language.
The personal attitude towards the target language is of enormous importance if learning success is to be achieved.
Above all, there is a willingness to learn languages if the learner perceives the language as beautiful and possibly has a connection to it even before learning.
... and lies in the eye of the beholder
There are of course criteria that cause many Germans find a certain language to be beautiful. The number and sequence of vowels and consonants is just as important as the speech melody. Even small differences make a language seem completely different to us.
Apart from this, fan culture also plays an important role in sympathy for certain languages. Often a positive context of a language, for example by finding the music beautiful, causes that someone would like to learn this language.
Although all these factors contribute to the beauty perception of a language, beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. What sounds beautiful to most people's ears does not have to have the same effect on everyone else.
Which languages do you find particularly beautiful? Whatever your answer may be - whether you find just one language particularly beautiful or, as a language lover, all languages beautiful - at Linguajet you can choose one or more languages that have always fascinated you.
Whatever your taste or aesthetic sensibility, we have a language that you can learn the brain-friendly Birkenbihl method.
Whether you are a language learner, -lover or -scientist: Discover sounds from all over the world with Linguajet.
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