Subjective descriptions

And this means what?

Via StumbleUpon, I encounter Learning Languages. On the page about Portuguese it says


Brazilian is clearer and has less particular sounds.

which not only makes almost no sense to me, but seems to be contradictory.

I’m amused (in a sardonic way, of course) when I read

you can definitely learn [English] in 6 months.

To what level? After learning English for about four years, our pupils are about IELTS 4 (5 in some cases). In terms of proficiency, that’s the shallow end of the pond. (14.11.13. Even worse, some students I’ve encountered can boast that they’ve been learning English for nine years; their level of competence in the language is typically dismal.)

On the Spanish page I read

In Madrid, people pronounce ‘S’s in a wet and whistling fashion that recalls mating snakes.

That really helps because I’m familiar with the noises mating snakes make. [Obi-wan senses more sarcasm. –ed.] And the following is… Well, see for yourselves.

There are also many regional languages in Spain. Within the current political context of Spain, they are called languages and enjoy an important political status.

I assume that “regional language” is implicitly synonymous with “dialect”, or perhaps some sort of distinct linguistic entity which might lack status along some axis (e.g. political; official; literary etc.).

The site also has some information about the polyglot Cardinal Jospeh Caspar Mezzofanti who allegedly acquired more than 38 languages. I’m trying to work out how it could be known that the cardinal was fluent in Ancient Armenian. Was it a liturgical language? Who was competent to say the cardinal was truly fluent if the language lacked a body of native speakers? What about Illyrian, unless that means Serbo-Croat? (Probably now Serbian or Croatian.) One of the other pages about the languages the cardinal was supposedly familiar with raises doubts about several of them, including a number which are either non-existent or extremely obscure.

I don’t doubt that the cardinal had a facility for acquiring languages, but I’m a little sceptical about some of the claims made about his proficiency.


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