Regular readers of this metablague know that Dr. M. has resumed his study of Italian. Foolish say some, but heroic say others, because to try to master a language when one is an advanced septuagenarian is truly daunting. However, native speakers of English, even older ones, can, if patient, slowly acquire Italian. Its sounds are similar and sometimes identical to those of English; the conjugations, only three of them, are on the whole regular; and very large number of its words have English or Latin cognates. For me, pronouns present a problem, because they're sometimes required when I wouldn't think to use them, and sometimes dropped when I'd like them to be there -- and, moreover, they come in slightly varied direct, indirect, and reflexive forms. And then there are the pronomi combinati or double pronouns which are confusing in themselves and which are sometimes but not always attached to infinitives, gerunds and imperatives as enclitics. It's probably too late in the game for me to become a fluent speaker, but I have hopes of becoming a competent reader. I can now read at about the 6th or 7th grade level; I have the grammar under control so it's mostly a problem of vocabulary.
For a greater challenge, I've begun to study a little Beffa. Beffa is a Kartvelian language with admixtures of Cascagian, Tolossan, Kabardian and Ghetti. Fortunately for me, there's a small Beffan community here in our town. I work with an introductory textbook -- Pathways to Modern Beffa (2012) by Divino Divano -- and with a native speaker named Ismail Kartakov. We meet three times a week when he's available. Sometimes I have a Beffa-speaking dinner with Ismail and his wife Soraya and their three young children. I've also been to some Beffan parties and dances. I sometimes feel odd-man-out but it's been fun. The Beffan community has been very welcoming to an outsider. And the goat, mountain oyster, and black radish stew is superb.
Beffa is a bit more complicated than English. For example, while English has 26 consonants, Beffa has 56, including a two kinds of glottal stops that sound almost like clicks as well as a voiced glottal fricative that resembles a cat's purr. It also has both a voiced and unvoiced bilabial trill that sound a lot like an English "raspberry," and an unusual, possibly unique lingual-dental stop in which the tongue is pushed firmly against not the upper but the lower teeth. One peculiarity of Beffa is its consonant clusters -- a word may begin with as many as six consonants yoked together before the first vowel appears. Some words have six consonants followed by a vowel and then a cluster of five or six more consonants. This can be strange to English speakers and sometimes I notice Ismail's younger children giggling at my feeble attempts to replicate their plosives. (Voiceless plosives are usually aspirated and one must take care not to insert a schwa between aspirants.) Beffa also has a varied repertoire of vowels, including a number of diphthongs and a couple of triphthongs. There aren't any tones, thank goodness. There's one triphthong the use of which can be perilous, for if you get it wrong the request "may I have some more stew" apparently sounds almost exactly the same as "your parrot is pining for the fjords."
Nouns have both natural and grammatical gender. Nouns can be masculine, feminine, neuter, ambiguous, common, animate or inanimate. They can be singular, dual, plural, or paucative (i.e. a few). Neuter nouns rarely have duals. Beffa has six fully formed declensions, distinguished primarily by the fact that plurals in declensions 1 and 3 are formed with a prefix, in 2 and 4 by a suffix, and in 5 and 6 by an infix. There are also some fifteen cases, all useful but some slightly unusual. There are the familiar nominative, possessive, accusative and dative (or indirect object). There are also a series of cases that describe motion: the locative ("the ball that is lying on the ground"), the ablative (("the ball that is coming in your direction"); the separative ("the ball that is moving away from you"); the commitative ("the ball that is touching your hand"); the partitive ("the ball that has left your hand"); the terminative ("the ball that has stopped moving"); the superessive ("the ball that is on top of another ball"); the oscillative ("the ball that is going back and forth"); the perplexive ("the ball that has disappeared"); and the insouciative ("the ball that has disappeared and no one cares"). Nouns can be either proximate or obviative; nouns that are central to the discourse (proximate) are declined very differently than nouns that are of marginal importance (obviative). Moreover, there are two kinds of vocatives: one when a woman addresses a man; a second when a man addresses a woman or an animal. There is also an unusual suffix (an least, unusual to me, for I had never encountered it before) that indicates whether the object specified touches the earth or is removed from the earth. And an infix which indicates whether the object is horizontal, vertical, diagonal, or spiral.
Verbs can be singular dual, plural, paucative, or undetermined: active, passive or middle. There are five fully-formed conjugations and apparently remnants of three others that are retained from the past when the language was more fully synthetic. The most commonly used tenses are present indicative, imperfect indicative, past imperfect indicative, future indicative, future imperfect indicative, future perfect indicative, pluperfect indicative, past pluperfect indicative, future pluperfect indicative, future stative, pluperfect resultative, present optative, future optative, past imperfect optative, present subjunctive, future subjunctive, past pluperfect subjunctive, future pluperfect subjunctive, future pluperfect conditional subjunctive, and future pluperfect optative conditional subjunctive aorist. Curiously, there is no future imperfect subjunctive. There is also votive, a tense that was formerly used for addressing the deities in prayer, but is now reserved for heads of state or royalty. The votive is very similar to the conditional and the erroneous substitution of a conditional for a votive was formerly grounds for execution but nowadays leads only to acute embarrassment, or, in the case of an egregious grammatical lapse, to exile.
For some reason I can't find a good illustration of Beffan typography, but it's similar to Georgian. Beffan script is known as "dabbenaggine."
Beffa used to be written boustrophedonically, but since the reforms of 1912 has been written right to left. For some reason which I cannot possibly imagine, dabbenaggine leaves no spaces between the words but runs them all together without breaks, which makes it just slightly harder to master.
Pronouns and determiners are difficult and complicated and perhaps I'll describe them sometime in the future when I'm more familiar with their multiple and various forms.