I Will Soon Know Grammar Better Than You
I’m lucky I have a decent ear for languages. Azerbaijani (Azeri) is no treat. The last language I put some real effort to was Thai. I really enjoyed Thai because of the structure of sentences, using tones, and a rather rigid, well-defined structure of rules for pronunciation. While it was certainly more complicated in other ways, verbs are very simple in Thai–there is no conjugation and tenses change only when you add a word to your sentence that changes the time.
Azeri is different. We’re back to verb conjugation (thank you, high school Spanish class). Pronunciation of words varies from person to person, as in English, which is change from Thai, where the tones and rigid pronunciation rules at least guided the words to a somewhat consistent sound. The sentence structure is generally Subject-Object-Verb, so I am adjusting to sticking the verb at the end of clauses.
This is all good up to this point. I can deal with structural changes and verb conjugation and changes in syllable emphasis. There are two things, however, that are going to be the bane of my Azeri-language learning. For a while, at least. First, the less intrusive concept: Vowel Harmony. Vowel harmony means that when adding suffixes to words, you change the vowel sound to match the previous vowel sound. For example, if at the end of a word that sounded like “bat”, I would know that, depending on the type of suffix, the next vowel sound would be like “a” as in cat or “e” as in meet. If my word is “lot”, the next vowel sound will be a long “a” sound or a short “i” is in “fill”. Azeri classifies sounds together first as soft or hard, and then as rounded or unrounded. When it all comes together, soft, rounded vowels go together; hard, unrounded vowels go together; and so on.
Vowel harmony would be a rather manageable task except for one thing: Azeri loves suffixes. At the end of any given word, its a suffix clusterfuck (excuse my language). In the end, it may work out okay for me but, for now, it’s overwhelming. There are 4 different suffixes for prepositions, 5 suffixes for making adjectives, 6 suffixes for forming participles, a suffix for indirect objects, 2 suffixes for diminishers (such as “ish), a suffix for when an adjective is formed from a noun (ex: chicken meat), 6 suffixes to denote possession, and 4 types for gerunds. This is what I am aware of so far. I don’t know how to use them all. Now, keeping in mind vowel harmony, each one of those suffixes that you could possibly add will change it’s vowel depending on the word to which you add the suffix. That multiplies the total suffixes by 6. Yes–it is overwhelming. Doable, I think, but certainly overwhelming. (If you would like a more detailed version of this, let me know and I’ll throw you some examples.) The last complicating part is that suffixes can be stacked over each other. The most common I’ve seen so far is a possessive suffix with a prepositional suffix. And so as I learn these suffixes, I’m going to learn all the grammar we often don’t bother with in English class.
Aside from that, the language learning is pretty good. It helps that I’ve got Mahira, quite possibly the best language instructor I’ve ever had.