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https://www.duolingo.com/sunsloth

Why are the important verbs the hard ones?

sunsloth
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Have you noticed that in the European languages (at least German, French, Spanish, English) most of the core/vital verbs are irregular?

In particular, verbs like "be" and "want", the really fundamental ones.

It's kind of interesting right? Why do you think that is?

1 year ago

12 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/widle
widle
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I think it's rather the opposite process - most verbs (and generally word forms) tend to be regular, because who would remember all the quirks of this or that verb? But the most used ones, well, they are used so often that you just memorize whatever forms are in use and don't think twice about them.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Mr_Eyl
Mr_Eyl
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"most verbs (and generally word forms) tend to be regular, because who would remember all the quirks of this or that verb?"

This really depends on the language. What you say is mostly true for synthetic languages, but isolating languages tend towards more irregularity.

Obviously there are exceptions, as Mandarin is isolating but quite regular, whereas Latin is synthetic and has hundreds upon hundreds of irregular verbs.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Osnakezz
Osnakezz
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A clarification for the non-linguists under us :-)

Synthetic = a language with a high morpheme-per-word ratio.
Morpheme = the smallest meaningful unit in a word.

Isolating = a language with a very low morpheme-per-word ratio, and no inflectional morphology whatsoever.
Inflection = a word changes depending on its intended meaning.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Mr_Eyl
Mr_Eyl
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Oops. I tend to get a little carried away sometimes. Thanks for the clarification. :D

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Arixandrian
Arixandrian
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In Greek it is quite the same.

The only possible explanation that I can think of is that those verbs have been so vastly used by so many people ever since the ancient years and through the wear and tear of everyday interactions they have obtained their irregular forms. That's a totally uneducated guess though, some linguist's input would be appreciated.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Mr_Eyl
Mr_Eyl
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Exactly right. Irregular verbs are often the most widely used verbs in any language, and it's this use -'wear and tear,' as you so nicely put it -which causes such frequent change.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Zzzzz...
Zzzzz...
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The reasons for irregularities vary. One reason is the late development of standardised writing systems. The English language, for instance, has gone through many pronunciation changes over the centuries. Some features were reflected in written language, others were not. This is why older verbs like "to keep" have irregular past tense forms, but newer verbs like "to seep" do not. Also, what is considered regular changes. "To sing-sang-sung" is, in fact, a regular verb! A long time ago that is how regular verbs were formed. This also applies to many strong German verbs (schwimmen-schwamm-geschwommen). Sometimes, verb forms are stolen from other verbs: "went" had nothing to do with "to go". The influence of other irregular verbs is evident also in other ways. You must have noticed that even among irregular verbs there are regularities. If you are interested in the history of German verbs, I recommend Nancy Thuleen's site.

Finnish, by the way, has very few irregular verbs. Even "to be" is regular! :)

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/WendyMueller
WendyMueller
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Thanks Mari, This is very interesting. I have also looked at the information on Nancy Thuleen's site, as you recommended. Need more time to read through it properly! I gave myself a present when in Germany this time: Duden: Das Herkunft's Wörterbuch.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/chirelchirel
chirelchirel
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"Olla" is not quite regular, if you look at all the different modus. The indicative forms are, but it has two stems ol- and lie-, the latter one is used for potential.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/chirelchirel
chirelchirel
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My guess is that they are old, so they are examples of old paradigms that have remained when newer paradigms appeared and most other verbs conformed to those (or never had any other forms). AND these are the words that are used a lot, so they adapt to changes in pronunciation or to faster speech.

There's an interesting example in Finnish. The verb 'to stand' has two dictionary forms (as do many other verbs) seistä and seisoa. Both of these are acceptable, but the first one is formed from the consonant stem (seis-) while the second one is formed from the vowel stem (seiso-). In Finnish in general, using the consonant stem is the old way of forming words. I'm starting to feel like a relic these days, as I don't really hear other people using the 'seistä' form, while I have a strong preference for it :D So this is a current change, not quite completed yet.

Another example: 'jälsi' and 'pursi' (cambium and barque) belong to the same paradigm, but it was impossible for a full class of students studying the Finnish language (natives) to figure out the correct forms for 'jälsi' while they could do it for 'pursi'. This is because we don't really use the word jälsi much anymore (it used to be important for people who used it for all kinds of things). Pursi is more common, so people knew it's forms and had probably used them as well.(Well, ok, I figured it out, since my sense of language is very old fashioned... and I've studied nature related things so I've even used the word. But even I had to think.)

So the third thing I'd add is the word must be common to retain it's old paradigm. If it's not used enough in all it's forms, it'll start to adapt to other, more common paradigms. And when there are less and less words in old paradigms, those are under more pressure to change. Language is a net, if you pull at it somewhere, it'll affect the whole net eventually.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/rspreng

Spanish has five important verbs that are irregular. But many important verbs are regular : gustar, hablar Many, like estar, dar have only minor irregularities in the present. English has many more irregularities in important verbs than Spanish, I think.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Ontalor
Ontalor
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Languages lend towards more efficiency, so for less used verbs it's more efficient to stick to the rule and not complicate things, but for a verb you use all the time it's more efficient to have an easier or shorter form since it's used so often learning its irregularities isn't much of a problem.

Wild educated guess.

1 year ago