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In comparison to the other languages, I think English is much more simpler. For example, compared to French, English nouns have no gender, adjectives have only one form and verbs have extremely simple conjugations. I'm wondering if there is a historical reason behind it. Has there been any scholarly research about the relative ease of learning the world's major languages, and if so, how does English compare to the others?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Lynn, Jim, tchrist, choster, Hellion Mar 24 '15 at 4:02

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    You may think it, but millions will disagree (even with your examples; e.g. adjectives do not inflect for case but they can for degree). And I would expect a speaker of Catalonian, say, to pick up French more readily than English due to their similar grammars. Any answer will be too broad or too opinion-based to be answerable here. The global use of English is attributable to forces of history and economics (the British Empire, Pax Americana, Hollywood, etc.), not because English is so easy (or, for that matter, so beautiful, expressive, or logical). – choster Mar 24 '15 at 2:28
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    @choster You mean Catalan. – tchrist Mar 24 '15 at 2:45
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    It's not even clear to me that French is more complicated than English. I think the maximum number of forms for a French verb in the indicative case is 10, for etre (counting only the phonetically distinct forms), and the 1st person plural form is less commonly used nowadays. English "to be" has 8 forms. So French does have more inflection here. But English has a fair number of irregular verbs, and also phrasal verbs. French has gender, but for the vast majority of nouns the singular and plural forms sound the same. As choster pointed out, English has adjectives that can inflect for degree. – sumelic Mar 24 '15 at 4:17
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    Vim, this a great question. (The fact that it is closed just reflects on the usual voting hilariousness on this site, so don't worry about it.) (1) before the rise of China, English was the "lingua franca" of the world for a good 100+ years and subsequently has many messy forms (2) during the 20th century, culture became extremely populist - we all celebrated and embraced anti-intellectualism (3) pop music (which is all-but primarily English) is a massive storehouse of memetic English – Fattie Mar 24 '15 at 6:00
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    It is relatively easy to reach a pre-intermediate level in English, in other words you can achieve simple communicative tasks by knowing the basic rules of construction (grammar) and learning its vocabulary. It is MUCH harder to reach proficiency level, and then you seem to dismiss the pronounciation aspect. For many Romance speakers, the English language is a hard beast to pronounce. – Mari-Lou A Mar 24 '15 at 6:05
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It started out as a pidgin, a simplified version of Anglo-Saxon that Norse invaders could understand. Anglo-saxon was(is) highly inflected, "the king gives horses to his men" can be written in many different ways. "king giveth horses", "horses are giventh by king" "by king horses givening" (Not really Anglo-saxon but you get the idea).

Now imagine you are a Norseman who knows the words, horse, give and king (because your language is also Germanic) but you can't pick up the endings. You have no idea who gave what to who. So if you are trying to buy cows from a farmer you need to simplify it to "me give you money, you give me cows".

Then after the Norman conquest all the people who cared about grammatical rules and correct language (monks, poets, grade-school teachers) spoke Latin or French, leaving English to be spoken by the normal people. Who just dropped complicated inflections when they couldn't remember them, or the most common endings were applied to all cases. Sometimes irregular endings have been kept as modern plurals simply because that was the most common usage.

Today, although the spelling is a bit random, English is easy to understand because it is so highly redundant. There are many ways to say the same thing, so even if you might not get a phrase exactly correct (to EL&U standards) you will be likely to be understood. In languages with a much more grammatical structure, where who is doing what to who (or whom?) is based solely on a suffix that is easy to get wrong - it is much more difficult to be understood.

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    The theory that English went through a pidgin stage is far from accepted, so I wouldn't present it as a fact like you're doing here. English preserved ablaut in verbs and nouns, and still has widespread inflection for past tense, 3rd-person singular and noun plurals. It may be simpler in morphology than some other European languages, but it's not as simple as a creole and shows no signs of ever having been. – sumelic Mar 24 '15 at 4:02
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    Also, you don't seem to understand how a pidgin works. "Normal people" don't forget the rules of their own language, even if all the "people who care about grammatical rules" go away. For a native speaker of a language with cases or gender, remembering the inflections is no more complicated than it is for us modern speakers of English to remember that 3rd person singular verbs end in -s. It's automatic, it doesn't take effort! Languages get simplified as a result of contact where people who don't know the language try to use it, and fail to learn it perfectly. – sumelic Mar 24 '15 at 4:09
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    @sumelic So you don't feel that many people today have forgotten the difference between lay/lain or who/whom ? – mgb Mar 24 '15 at 16:17
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    Your argument seems to largely be based around the fact that, the majority of the time the majority of speakers of English were common people. Except, of course, the issue with that is it's true of every living language. Most people, anywhere, aren't grammarians. His original question is "is learning English easier than learning other languages?", which your answer kind of sidesteps. – Parthian Shot Mar 24 '15 at 22:31
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    And furthermore, the developments you describe (things like dropping desinences, losing distinctions between things like lay/lain and who/whom, etc.) are constantly happening in every single language in the world. It's a natural part of Dixon’s cycle, and it has nothing to do with pidgins or people needing to trade with foreigners. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 24 '15 at 23:24

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