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Linguistics Is Fun

135

Posts

  • MorninglordMorninglord Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    There's a lot of factors behind something like that. Any one person might have different reasons for acting the same way.

    I personally think one factor is extreme sensitivity to the few bad examples (or in some cases many if they are unlucky) that people have in their life. If most people you see use english correctly and the ones who don't are also being really unpleasant to be around you are going to naturally associate the two without even thinking about it unless you watch yourself.

    There's also going to be the attachment to the rules that is the result of effort. Learning the details of language is effortful. It's not as easy as you might think. We learn it as children and pick it up easily, but actually studying it in a thorough fashion is a difficult occupation. So there's going to be the natural feeling that the rules are important. After all you spent a hell of a lot of time learning them. Someone saying they are not important is basically undermining all your effort.

    For some people it is just another form of elitism, but I don't think that's as present here.

    And for some people it's nothing passionate at all. It's simply that there is a rule and when it is broken they data dump about it. Entirely similar to what happens when you get any expert started on something they are an expert about and like talking about: you get a lecture. In detail.

    Im presenting these as likely alternatives to what you only thought of as fear. It's important to realise that not everything needs an extremely negative reason. In some cases you may not be understanding the motives of the person and they might be nothing controversial. They might not have even realised it could be taken that way!

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  • poshnialloposhniallo Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    I personally think it's extreme sensitivity to the few bad examples (or in some cases many if they are unlucky) that people have in their life.

    If most people you see use english correctly and the ones who don't are also being really unpleasant to be around you are going to naturally associate the two without even thinking about it unless you watch yourself.

    That's baseless. There's no such thing as correctly and no evidence that people who use other kinds of English (e.g. less educated people, foreigners, out-of-towners) are going to be 'really unpleasant to be around'.

    I'm hoping you misunderstood my point or I'm misunderstanding yours, because it makes you sound extremely intolerant.

    I figure I could take a bear.
  • MorninglordMorninglord Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    poshniallo wrote: »
    I personally think it's extreme sensitivity to the few bad examples (or in some cases many if they are unlucky) that people have in their life.

    If most people you see use english correctly and the ones who don't are also being really unpleasant to be around you are going to naturally associate the two without even thinking about it unless you watch yourself.

    That's baseless. There's no such thing as correctly and no evidence that people who use other kinds of English (e.g. less educated people, foreigners, out-of-towners) are going to be 'really unpleasant to be around'.

    I'm hoping you misunderstood my point or I'm misunderstanding yours, because it makes you sound extremely intolerant.

    I'm not presenting my opinions in that post at all.

    I'm describing possible attitudes others might have. In this case I'm presenting a very common cognitive bias. I am fully aware it is a baseless bias. (I actually wondered if I should add quotations surrounding "correctly".)

    I added much more to my post and I recommend you reread it.

    My Dark Souls 2 Diary Day 6 and 7 Updated
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  • MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
    edited April 2011
    poshniallo wrote: »
    Why are so many people (in this thread, for example) so deeply attached to their own idiolect's variations in phonology and lexis? And this attachment seems to me to be more deeply entrenched in educated people.

    There are all sorts of benefits to not only being able to demonstrate class through speech markers, but also to forcing everyone to accept your particular high-class dialect, which you constantly show off, as being correct spoken English. Traditional prescriptivist hobby horses--for instance, conforming the language to latin--have a social explanation in terms of their role in reinforcing the social dominance of the elite speakers who have fully mastered them.

  • Jealous DevaJealous Deva Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    poshniallo wrote: »
    Is this thread really going to be about people using long words to describe low-status or foreign accents and dialects which are wholly effective as 'wrong' because they are different?

    That would be awful.

    I think it strongly depends on context.

    If two Appalachians want to engage using their native dialect, a dialect that diverges strongly from whatever the Received Pronunciation analogue is for US English, the descriptive difference is negligible.

    But dialects and accents can become so insular as to hamper communications outside their boundaries. When I worked in very rural parts of the South near the Ozarks, people who spoke with pronounced regional dialects became far enough removed from common understanding that I would have trouble figuring out what they were talking about. Which, since my work is in emergency medicine, that's kind of a problem. For example, these are some of the terms and phrases I would frequently come across:
    - "I've been vomerkin"/I've been vomiting
    - "burl" or "risin"/infected abscess
    - "leg fever"/peripheral blood clot
    - "rummatiz"/arthritis
    - "high blood"/diabetes
    - "poltice"/a homemade salve, usually quite useless or even harmful


    It's hard to say any form of facilitated communication is objectively "wrong," but I would lay more fault upon the user of the fringe dialect in instances where communication is NOT easily facilitated.

    I think you're heavilly confusing medical knowledge and dialect here.

    I know plenty of people who speak perfect english that can't accurately fill out a health history.

    Edit: For clarification, lets say I'm talking to a doctor from Mexico who speaks Spanish. We both have a high level of knowledge, but because of linguistic differences may not be able to communicate. This is absolutely not what's happening in your example. For most of the general public at large, medical knowledge is virtually nonexistant, and where it is present it's largely based on folk and popular beliefs rather than any real training. Your average guy on the street isn't going to understand what a peripheral blood clot or infected abcess is, and probably doesn't have much of a clue about diabetes either. Now if you are talking about a doctor or nurse using those terms, then fine, but in my experience even when people using fringe dialects become educated in a field they use the generally accepted terms that they were taught with.

  • Uncle_BalsamicUncle_Balsamic Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    But dialects and accents can become so insular as to hamper communications outside their boundaries. When I worked in very rural parts of the South near the Ozarks, people who spoke with pronounced regional dialects became far enough removed from common understanding that I would have trouble figuring out what they were talking about. Which, since my work is in emergency medicine, that's kind of a problem. For example, these are some of the terms and phrases I would frequently come across:
    - "poltice"/a homemade salve, usually quite useless or even harmful

    What's so strange about poultice?

    6wVwf51.gif
  • ToxTox I kill threads Pharezon's human garbage heapRegistered User regular
    edited April 2011
    This thread taught me something today. Well, too things.

    1) The schwa is still as awesome as I remember it being.

    2) Infixes are fanfuckingtastic.

    Grey Ghost wrote: »
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    James Deen is both an actor AND in the sausage business.
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  • Apothe0sisApothe0sis Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Tox wrote: »
    This thread taught me something today. Well, too things.

    1) The schwa is still as awesome as I remember it being.

    2) Infixes are fanfuckingtastic.

    Everything you need to know about the schwa.

    1. Kiwis use it too much.
    2. South Africans use it WAY too much.
    3. Australians use it juuuuuust right.

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  • L|amaL|ama Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    australians don't use anything to do with language 'just right'

  • poshnialloposhniallo Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    MrMister wrote: »
    poshniallo wrote: »
    Why are so many people (in this thread, for example) so deeply attached to their own idiolect's variations in phonology and lexis? And this attachment seems to me to be more deeply entrenched in educated people.

    There are all sorts of benefits to not only being able to demonstrate class through speech markers, but also to forcing everyone to accept your particular high-class dialect, which you constantly show off, as being correct spoken English. Traditional prescriptivist hobby horses--for instance, conforming the language to latin--have a social explanation in terms of their role in reinforcing the social dominance of the elite speakers who have fully mastered them.

    Oh sure of course, that's the obvious reason. But there seems like something else going on, some deep anger towards people who talk wrong. I feel it myself sometimes, but squelch it as I would many of my other wrongheaded impulses.

    I figure I could take a bear.
  • MorninglordMorninglord Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    L|ama wrote: »
    australians don't use anything to do with language 'just right'

    no worries

    best two words in the english language.

    invented right here

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  • EchoEcho staring is caring Super Moderator, Moderator mod
    edited April 2011
    Mblackwell wrote: »
    As an aside in some southern dialects, mostly African-American, you'll hear people say "you is" when it is intended to be singular.

    Swedish had a pretty major language reform in the late 1800s. It used to have separate forms for... uh... dangit, I have no idea what that's grammatically called. The "are" part of "you are".

    (pause music while checking wikipedia)

    Aha, copula.

    English still has separate forms: am, are, is.

    Swedish used to have a whole bunch of different forms but the reform replaced them all with "är", which would be equivalent to English getting rid of "I am" and say "I are" instead, and using "are" for all forms.

    Another random thing about Swedish: directional adverbs. These don't exist in English. "Home", for example. English has the same in both directional and positional forms: "I'm going home", "I am home."

    Swedish has a different form for the directional adverb - "jag går hem", "jag är hemma"

    My main gripe with English: why can't you ever spell things like they are pronounced and vice versa? :P

  • EchoEcho staring is caring Super Moderator, Moderator mod
    edited April 2011
    Also, I am required by law to post this whenever I talk about Swedish grammar.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-mOy8VUEBk

  • CasedOutCasedOut Registered User
    edited April 2011
    When it comes to language, one specific cause resonates with me.

    Free the unbound morphemes!!

    452773-1.png
  • L|amaL|ama Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Echo wrote: »
    My main gripe with English: why can't you ever spell things like they are pronounced and vice versa? :P

    That's a completely valid complaint and similar the main reason I stopped learning japanese in high school: needing to learn a (large) non-phonetic alphabet. Fuck that.

    That's one thing that is really good about korean: one phonetic alphabet that usually makes sense and is really simple to learn (you can get most of it done in a week very easily).



    edit: Oh and I've had 2 danish lecturers so far, one of whom has a fairly normal accent but the other used "uhhhhhh" in a tone similar to how one says "duhh" to imply something is stupid. It was pretty hard not to laugh at times.

  • JebusUDJebusUD Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    But dialects and accents can become so insular as to hamper communications outside their boundaries. When I worked in very rural parts of the South near the Ozarks, people who spoke with pronounced regional dialects became far enough removed from common understanding that I would have trouble figuring out what they were talking about. Which, since my work is in emergency medicine, that's kind of a problem. For example, these are some of the terms and phrases I would frequently come across:
    - "poltice"/a homemade salve, usually quite useless or even harmful

    What's so strange about poultice?

    It's fantasy folk medicine.

    You haven't given me a reason to steer clear of you!
  • EchoEcho staring is caring Super Moderator, Moderator mod
    edited April 2011
    Weeell. This is what it actually means.
    A poultice, also called cataplasm, is a soft moist mass, often heated and medicated, that is spread on cloth over the skin to treat an aching, inflamed, or painful part of the body. It can also be a porous solid filled with solvent used to remove stains from porous stone such as marble or granite.

  • AtomikaAtomika Hypercritical Queen Bitch of Cinema Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    The last patient I saw that used a homemade poultice was trying to treat a 5"x5" full-thickness burn from a propane torch with a mixture of VO5 hair tonic and toothpaste.

    I mean sure, the wound was horrible and infected by the time she got to the hospital a week later, but there was nary a bit of gingivitis in sight.

  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Off-topic: if you want to know what's wrong with homemade poultices, go to Quackwatch and look up "black salve." It's gory, though - there are pictures of people who have literally burned their noses off using "natural" salves.

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    MrMister wrote: »
    Who pissed in your Cheerios?

    I think his point is legitimate. It might be harder to understand "die-sect" than "dis-sect" if you are attempting to puzzle out the meaning of English words via their latin etymologies. But of course that is not how anyone learns English. English is a living language which is responsible to the standards and conveniences of actual speakers, and actual speakers do not learn English by first learning Latin and then attempting to puzzle out the meanings from the constructions.

    That's how I learned English. In pretty much my entire primary education, new vocabulary words were introduced by breaking them down to their roots and suffixes/prefixes when possible. I didn't realize that this was unusual.

    ...

    In any case, regarding the thread at large (not necessarily you, MrMister), I suppose it's inevitable that this would turn into a bickering match between prescriptivism and descriptivism. Personally, I find unyielding descriptivism to be wishy-washy and distasteful for similar reasons I find unyielding moral and cultural relativism to be distasteful. (For the record, I also find unyielding prescriptivism to be dysfunctional, but are there any hardcore prescriptivists left?) As far as I can tell, they all seem to be reactions against erudite ethnocentrism - obviously, there is no single One True Way to do things, and everybody could use a dose of humility... but at the same time, not all competing ways of doing things are equally functional. Clearly, language fulfills a purpose; the very reason we even bother to teach children correct nouns and grammar is because that purpose is more easily fulfilled if everybody is using the same words in the same ways. I don't see how it is possible at all to have either functional languages or an academically-rigorous study of language without having a good strong dose of both prescriptivism and descriptivism.

    Am I just restating the obvious here? My knowledge of linguistics is poorer than I would like. I guess I'm surprised that this issue isn't mostly settled.

    The comments earlier in the thread by Bagginses and LoveisUnity that African-American and Appalachian dialects are 'valid' because they're internally consistent resonate with me. My ignorance here is showing, but what other ways are there to judge a dialect without settling into stereotypically stuffy prescriptivism?

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • AtomikaAtomika Hypercritical Queen Bitch of Cinema Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Feral wrote: »
    The comments earlier in the thread by Bagginses and LoveisUnity that African-American and Appalachian dialects are 'valid' because they're internally consistent resonate with me. My ignorance here is showing, but what other ways are there to judge a dialect without settling into stereotypically stuffy prescriptivism?

    I guess if you go on purely descriptivist terms, internal consistence is all really takes to legitimize and distinguish a dialect.

    I think the argument of whether or not a legitimate dialect deserves anything more than acknowledgement is a different matter entirely.

    I know for my own tastes, I'd like to think that the pure existence of a dialect's descriptive function doesn't somehow give it an academic standing relative to received pronunciation. To go back to something Jeff said a few pages back, legitimate methods of changing lingual rules generally tend to come from an understanding of those rules. A dialect born out of not necessity, but rather persistent ignorance, doesn't seem to me all that impressive or in need of academic justification.

  • EchoEcho staring is caring Super Moderator, Moderator mod
    edited April 2011
    What really gets under my nerves is people mangling dative cases in Swedish, like going "I gave it to he" instead of "to him".

    edit: "gets under my nerves"? Nice mashup I did there.

  • AtomikaAtomika Hypercritical Queen Bitch of Cinema Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Echo wrote: »
    What really gets under my nerves is people mangling dative cases in Swedish, like going "I gave it to he" instead of "to him".

    edit: "gets under my nerves"? Nice mashup I did there.

    Maybe some native speakers can help me out, but I just recently was informed that Thai has some extreme problems with verb tenses.

    As in, they don't really have any.

  • Pipe DreamerPipe Dreamer Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Feral wrote: »
    In any case, regarding the thread at large (not necessarily you, MrMister), I suppose it's inevitable that this would turn into a bickering match between prescriptivism and descriptivism. Personally, I find unyielding descriptivism to be wishy-washy and distasteful for similar reasons I find unyielding moral and cultural relativism to be distasteful. (For the record, I also find unyielding prescriptivism to be dysfunctional, but are there any hardcore prescriptivists left?) As far as I can tell, they all seem to be reactions against erudite ethnocentrism - obviously, there is no single One True Way to do things, and everybody could use a dose of humility... but at the same time, not all competing ways of doing things are equally functional. Clearly, language fulfills a purpose; the very reason we even bother to teach children correct nouns and grammar is because that purpose is more easily fulfilled if everybody is using the same words in the same ways. I don't see how it is possible at all to have either functional languages or an academically-rigorous study of language without having a good strong dose of both prescriptivism and descriptivism.

    I think you misunderstand descriptivism in linguistics. Linguists don't argue that there should be no standard written form of a language, they just believe that such a standard is not objectively better than the alternatives. Nonstandard English is not intrinsically inferior or born of ignorance, it's just not what you'd see in edited forms of writing. Learning the rules governing standard written English is obviously of value to students, but speakers whose dialects more closely resemble standard English are not superior to speakers whose dialects don't.

    I don't think you'll find any linguists claiming that the New York Times should start using the habitual "be" rule of AAVE in their articles, or arguing against standardized spelling, or arguing that dropping the -s ending of present-tense verbs in the third person singular should be accepted by all publishing houses.

    (Though I wholeheartedly believe that last one should happen. That -s ending causes so much grief for Asian ESL learners.)

    The problem is that many prescriptive "rules" for standard written English are not based on any actual study of standard written English. Some writer of a usage guide or grammar book just suddenly decided that things should be this way, and the made-up rule spreads like a virus. Using "they" for indefinite singular antecedents was standard for hundreds of years before some 17th-century grammarian decided it shouldn't be. Nobody ever batted an eye at the splitting of infinitives until somebody imported a rule from Latin saying that it was wrong. The passive voice was a perfectly normal part of English until usage guides thoroughly stigmatized it without ever understanding what the passive voice actually is. Etc etc etc.

    Descriptivists are against rules that don't conform to how people use the language, yeah. Because these rules are wrong.

  • Pipe DreamerPipe Dreamer Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Echo wrote: »
    What really gets under my nerves is people mangling dative cases in Swedish, like going "I gave it to he" instead of "to him".

    edit: "gets under my nerves"? Nice mashup I did there.

    Maybe some native speakers can help me out, but I just recently was informed that Thai has some extreme problems with verb tenses.

    As in, they don't really have any.

    I don't know Thai but I do know Chinese, which is another language that is often said to "have no tenses." That's not really true, at least in the case of Chinese. You can choose not to be explicit about the time of the action, but there is always the option to mark it, and speakers do mark it when the context makes things confusing.

    For example, the sentence 我去買東西 (literally, "I go shopping") can take place either in the future or in the past depending on the context:

    A: Where are you going?
    B: 我去買東西 (I'm going shopping).

    A: Where did you just go?
    B: 我去買東西 (I just went shopping.)

    In Chinese, both of the questions above would be explicitly marked for time, so there's no need for the answers to be marked for time as well. The time is clear from the context. When there's no context to make things clear, however, such as when beginning a conversation, adverbs of time will be employed:

    昨天去買東西,碰到老師 (I went shopping yesterday and ran into my teacher).

    This may all be confusing for speakers used to languages where tense marking is obligatory, but there's no problem here for native speakers. We know where time marking is necessary and when it is not, and it's just part of the grammar that learners need to get acquainted with.

  • AtomikaAtomika Hypercritical Queen Bitch of Cinema Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
  • Uncle_BalsamicUncle_Balsamic Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    JebusUD wrote: »
    But dialects and accents can become so insular as to hamper communications outside their boundaries. When I worked in very rural parts of the South near the Ozarks, people who spoke with pronounced regional dialects became far enough removed from common understanding that I would have trouble figuring out what they were talking about. Which, since my work is in emergency medicine, that's kind of a problem. For example, these are some of the terms and phrases I would frequently come across:
    - "poltice"/a homemade salve, usually quite useless or even harmful

    What's so strange about poultice?

    It's fantasy folk medicine.

    Sorry. I thought the complaint was about the word rather than improvised folk medicine.

    6wVwf51.gif
  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    I think you misunderstand descriptivism in linguistics. Linguists don't argue that there should be no standard written form of a language, they just believe that such a standard is not objectively better than the alternatives. Nonstandard English is not intrinsically inferior or born of ignorance, it's just not what you'd see in edited forms of writing.

    No, I understand that. It's an issue of convention, not correctness - you use proper English when writing a business letter for the same reason you wear pressed slacks to a business meeting. It's not that pressed slacks are intrinsically better than jeans, and in fact in some contexts jeans may be better than slacks (when doing manual labor, for instance).

    I just have trouble accepting the idea that there can be no objective measure of quality at all. I recognize the problem you describe here:
    The problem is that many prescriptive "rules" for standard written English are not based on any actual study of standard written English.

    ...but such a prescriptivist is making fundamentally the same fallacy. Without objective criteria for quality, he is no more equipped to say that his rules are better than any other. It strikes me a little bit like rejecting Puritan ethics and then saying that there can be no objective morality, or rejecting the divine right of kings and then saying that there can be no objective basis for law. It's throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    Perhaps when people do things the "wrong" way it's because the "wrong" way is actually better than the "right" way. We can discuss whether it's better to use "they" as a genderless third-person pronoun rather than "he" but first there has to be agreement that something can actually be better and that we have some way of figuring out what better is... even if better is contextual (e.g., perhaps 'something we suspect but aren't really sure of' is a fine use of 'theory' in the context of a conversation over the family dinner table but not in the context of a scientific conference).

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    I don't know Thai but I do know Chinese, which is another language that is often said to "have no tenses." That's not really true, at least in the case of Chinese. You can choose not to be explicit about the time of the action, but there is always the option to mark it, and speakers do mark it when the context makes things confusing.

    That reminds me of the tendency of the Japanese to drop the first-person pronoun. I find that students of introductory Japanese have problems with that, but English speakers do it a lot too, just in different contexts. If I say "so... went to the bar last night, and ran into Julia," in conversational English, most people would make the assumption that I'm talking about myself. There's little chance for confusion. It's just that we would formally consider that a sentence fragment even though the subject is implied.

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • EchoEcho staring is caring Super Moderator, Moderator mod
    edited April 2011
    Feral wrote: »
    That reminds me of the tendency of the Japanese to drop the first-person pronoun. I find that students of introductory Japanese have problems with that, but English speakers do it a lot too, just in different contexts.

    That happens a lot in Swedish too. Haven't really thought about contexts though.

    ...I just did it.

  • poshnialloposhniallo Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Feral wrote: »
    I think you misunderstand descriptivism in linguistics. Linguists don't argue that there should be no standard written form of a language, they just believe that such a standard is not objectively better than the alternatives. Nonstandard English is not intrinsically inferior or born of ignorance, it's just not what you'd see in edited forms of writing.

    No, I understand that. It's an issue of convention, not correctness - you use proper English when writing a business letter for the same reason you wear pressed slacks to a business meeting. It's not that pressed slacks are intrinsically better than jeans, and in fact in some contexts jeans may be better than slacks (when doing manual labor, for instance).

    I just have trouble accepting the idea that there can be no objective measure of quality at all. I recognize the problem you describe here:
    The problem is that many prescriptive "rules" for standard written English are not based on any actual study of standard written English.

    ...but such a prescriptivist is making fundamentally the same fallacy. Without objective criteria for quality, he is no more equipped to say that his rules are better than any other. It strikes me a little bit like rejecting Puritan ethics and then saying that there can be no objective morality, or rejecting the divine right of kings and then saying that there can be no objective basis for law. It's throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    Perhaps when people do things the "wrong" way it's because the "wrong" way is actually better than the "right" way. We can discuss whether it's better to use "they" as a genderless third-person pronoun rather than "he" but first there has to be agreement that something can actually be better and that we have some way of figuring out what better is... even if better is contextual (e.g., perhaps 'something we suspect but aren't really sure of' is a fine use of 'theory' in the context of a conversation over the family dinner table but not in the context of a scientific conference).

    Well I think that trying to objectively rate languages/dialects falls into the same trap as rating cultures - you can't objectively rate something except by criteria related to its purpose, and language doesn't have a single purpose, or a simple one. Communication, self-definition, expression, attacks both indirect and direct, power games... the list goes on and on, because its a fundamental human activity.

    I'm afraid that if you have a strong desire to objectively rate concepts and therefore descriptivism bugs you, you should see that the problem lies quite clearly within yourself and the debate should stop there.

    But then I'm a massive cultural relativist (which I think is a position that goes misunderstood a lot though) so you might think I'm ignoreable. :P

    I figure I could take a bear.
  • ArbitraryDescriptorArbitraryDescriptor Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Echo wrote: »
    What really gets under my nerves is people mangling dative cases in Swedish, like going "I gave it to he" instead of "to him".

    edit: "gets under my nerves"? Nice mashup I did there.

    Maybe some native speakers can help me out, but I just recently was informed that Thai has some extreme problems with verb tenses.

    As in, they don't really have any.

    I don't know Thai but I do know Chinese, which is another language that is often said to "have no tenses." That's not really true, at least in the case of Chinese. You can choose not to be explicit about the time of the action, but there is always the option to mark it, and speakers do mark it when the context makes things confusing.

    For example, the sentence 我去買東西 (literally, "I go shopping") can take place either in the future or in the past depending on the context:

    A: Where are you going?
    B: 我去買東西 (I'm going shopping).

    A: Where did you just go?
    B: 我去買東西 (I just went shopping.)

    In Chinese, both of the questions above would be explicitly marked for time, so there's no need for the answers to be marked for time as well. The time is clear from the context. When there's no context to make things clear, however, such as when beginning a conversation, adverbs of time will be employed:

    昨天去買東西,碰到老師 (I went shopping yesterday and ran into my teacher).

    This may all be confusing for speakers used to languages where tense marking is obligatory, but there's no problem here for native speakers. We know where time marking is necessary and when it is not, and it's just part of the grammar that learners need to get acquainted with.
    The English responses may differ on an English exam, but in common use, "Shopping," would be an easily understood response to either question. But 'shopping,' in English, has the tense implied by the verb conjugation; if the Chinese version contains no tense, are you actually conjugating the verb "shop" into "shopping" or are you effectively saying "I go {to shop}"

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  • Pipe DreamerPipe Dreamer Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Feral wrote: »
    Perhaps when people do things the "wrong" way it's because the "wrong" way is actually better than the "right" way. We can discuss whether it's better to use "they" as a genderless third-person pronoun rather than "he" but first there has to be agreement that something can actually be better and that we have some way of figuring out what better is... even if better is contextual (e.g., perhaps 'something we suspect but aren't really sure of' is a fine use of 'theory' in the context of a conversation over the family dinner table but not in the context of a scientific conference).

    I understand what you're saying, but I don't think "better" really exists in the way that you describe it. I also don't think your analogy with moral/cultural relativism is entirely appropriate. I feel comfortable judging a moral system inferior when it causes demonstrable harm (say, mutilation of females, or death of innocents). But what demonstrable harm can an accent or syntactic structure cause?

    Any judgment we can make on a linguistic feature would be unavoidably colored by our preconceived notions and the language we grew up with. I've seen a lot of Western commenters (including Sinologists!) proclaim that the alphabet system is objectively superior to the Chinese writing system because it is intrinsically easier to learn. Having worked with Taiwanese ESL learners who struggle mightily with the concept of alphabetic writing, I feel comfortable saying that these claims are full of shit.
    The English responses may differ on an English exam, but in common use, "Shopping," would be an easily understood response to either question. But 'shopping,' in English, has the tense implied by the verb conjugation; if the Chinese version contains no tense, are you actually conjugating the verb "shop" into "shopping" or are you effectively saying "I go {to shop}"

    I'm not sure what exactly you're asking here, because you're trying to fit Chinese into English grammatical paradigms. You can't "conjugate" a verb in Chinese; the form of the verb stays the same regardless of what adverbs expressing time or aspect you attach to it. But the difference between the Chinese response and the English response is that the English response is a sentence fragment according to English grammar, while the Chinese response is a complete sentence according to Chinese grammar. You can add further adverbs to clarify and add nuance, but they're all optional.

  • ArbitraryDescriptorArbitraryDescriptor Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    You can't "conjugate" a verb in Chinese

    That's what I thought you meant, interesting. As a lay person thinking about verb conjugation and the evolution of language, it seems like it might be a vestigial trait.

    Consider the 47 forms of "arrive," in French, versus four in English (arrived, arrives, arrive, arriving). and one (I presume) in Chinese. French is a second generation romance language, English is a 3rd gen Romance/Germanic hybrid, and, according to wikipedia, it seems that modern variants of Chinese have been refactored and revised for thousands of years. So I am curious if any Chinese dialects had come up with verb conjugation 3,000 years ago, and gradually phased it out in favor of verbal shorthand, like your example. Similarily, will 'Shopping,' as a sentence, be some day accepted as proper grammar in English.

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  • Pipe DreamerPipe Dreamer Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    If Chinese ever had a verb conjugation system similar to the European languages, it has never been reflected in writing--and since we have examples of Chinese writing dating back over 2500 years, I think it's pretty likely that Chinese never had verb forms at all. A quick look through Wikipedia and Google gives no evidence to the contrary.

    I don't really agree that losing verb forms is an inevitable trend in language evolution, though.

  • AtomikaAtomika Hypercritical Queen Bitch of Cinema Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Any judgment we can make on a linguistic feature would be unavoidably colored by our preconceived notions and the language we grew up with. I've seen a lot of Western commenters (including Sinologists!) proclaim that the alphabet system is objectively superior to the Chinese writing system because it is intrinsically easier to learn. Having worked with Taiwanese ESL learners who struggle mightily with the concept of alphabetic writing, I feel comfortable saying that these claims are full of shit.

    Though I would agree that English's much more streamlined alphabet and numerical system is what guaranteed its success as the leading technological language across the world.

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  • EchoEcho staring is caring Super Moderator, Moderator mod
    edited April 2011
    Though I would agree that English's much more streamlined alphabet and numerical system is what guaranteed its success as the leading technological language across the world.

    Lingua Franca. Italian and French brought the alphabet and numeral system across the world. English as the lingua franca is fairly modern - French was the lingua franca for several centuries.

    (and technically it's the Roman alphabet and Hindu-Arab numeral system)

  • Akei ArkayAkei Arkay Registered User
    edited April 2011
    Echo wrote: »
    French was the lingua franca for several centuries.

    Hence, y'know, lingua franca.

  • jothkijothki Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Consider the 47 forms of "arrive," in French, versus four in English (arrived, arrives, arrive, arriving).

    That's not an entirely fair comparison, considering how English tends to split out the subject when dealing with verbs, while Romance languages don't. For example, the first person singular form for 'arrive' (whatever the heck that is, I'm not going to bother looking it up) would translate to 'I arrive'. If you bear in mind that English can't drop the subject without resulting in a fragment, English has plenty of verb forms, though most of them are multiple words.

  • Pipe DreamerPipe Dreamer Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Any judgment we can make on a linguistic feature would be unavoidably colored by our preconceived notions and the language we grew up with. I've seen a lot of Western commenters (including Sinologists!) proclaim that the alphabet system is objectively superior to the Chinese writing system because it is intrinsically easier to learn. Having worked with Taiwanese ESL learners who struggle mightily with the concept of alphabetic writing, I feel comfortable saying that these claims are full of shit.

    Though I would agree that English's much more streamlined alphabet and numerical system is what guaranteed its success as the leading technological language across the world.

    Chinese will run into huge problems as a lingua franca because the vast majority of the (literate) world grew up with alphabetic writing systems, but I don't think it necessarily follows that alphabets are intrinsically easier. Do native Chinese-speaking children take longer to read at similar levels as native English-speaking children? (This is a genuine question, I don't know if there's been any research into this.)

    EDIT: I was assuming that Atomic Ross was talking about how we say the numbers, not how we write them down. In that respect English is streamlined because you can say "seventy-eight" instead of "sixty and eighteen" and "ninety-seven" instead of "four twenties and seventeen" like in French... ignore this tangent if he was talking about arabic numerals.

    From anecdotal experience, native Chinese speakers tend to find Japanese much easier to learn than English. This isn't just due to kanji, it's also because the way kana works is a lot closer to how Chinese characters work. One syllable per grapheme, etc.

    (And pshaw, Chinese has the most streamlined number system in the world. English is a lot better than most European languages, but it's sunk by the existence of separate words for eleven and twelve.)

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