01-18-10, 02:02 AM #1science manGuest
Is anything impossible to say in a language such as English?
I was wondering recently there was anything impossible to say in a language such as English which would prove that the language hasn't fully developed.
Whatcha guys think?
01-18-10, 02:35 AM #2
Well if there was, we wouldn't very well be able to say what it was now would we
I know that in German, there are some words that don't translate well.
For instance, say you ask your mom (in English) if you can go to the theater.
You would say "Mom, Can I go to the theater?"
Mom says "No, you can't."
You say "Yes, I am going!"
Mom says "No, your not!"
You say "Yes, I am."
Mom says "No, your not."
and on and on.
German has a word "Doch".
Take the same conversation.
You:"Mom, Can I go to the theater?"
Mom: "No, you can't."
You:"Yes, I am going!"
At this point, mom would no longer say "No" she would say "doch"
But you would never say "doch" as an answer to a question, such as
"Did your mom let you go to the theater today?"
You would never say "doch" You would say "nein"
Don't know if I explained that well. Make sense?
01-18-10, 02:40 AM #3science manGuest
I got it until the end which confused me.
01-18-10, 07:43 AM #4
I don't think there are any individual sentences that can't be translated from any modern language into another. But as I have often said, the underlying way of looking at the universe does not always translate well.
Chinese has no verb tenses. If you need to clarify that an action took place in the past or will take place in the future you simply insert "last year," "tomorrow" or "when I was still married." But it's been suggested that this clock-and-calendar view of time makes it difficult for the Chinese to deal with the hypothetical. "If I had been here yesterday when you were wondering whether you should go to that dance where a gunfight might have occurred, do you think you would be in the hospital today?"
English makes no distinction between a familiar and formal word for "you," which is common in other European languages and has been elevated to an artform in Japanese. Is this one of the reasons we so easily discard class distinctions?
01-18-10, 01:19 PM #5science manGuest
01-18-10, 01:21 PM #6
I read somewhere that there were no plurals in chinese.
01-18-10, 01:59 PM #7science manGuest
01-18-10, 01:59 PM #8
There are some things that can be conveyed by single words in Japanese about the relative social status and sexes of the person speaking and the person they're talking to, as well as things about the situation in general, that would be somewhat clumsy to convey in English (although you could certainly do it if you wanted to cram enough exposition into your sentence).
There's also a lot of context-specific stuff in Japanese that would be somewhat hard to translate. For example, if you refer to someone you're talking to as "anata," it might be an insult, a compliment, or neutral depending on the speaker's and listener's social status. The insult or compliment might be hard to convey in English, without adding a lot of awkward exposition - and even if you added the exposition, a non-Japanese listener might not realize that they're being insulted or complimented, which makes it somewhat debatable whether or not you've translated it correctly after all.
Last edited by Nasor; 01-19-10 at 09:28 AM.
01-18-10, 02:08 PM #9science manGuest
01-19-10, 08:02 AM #10
Dog eat fish.
We all know the basic meaning of that sentence. If it's important to specify how many dogs, how many fish, and when the action took place it's easy enough to say:
Yesterday morning one dog eat three fish.
But most of the time it's not necessary because the entire conversation up to this point has been about the amusing accident that occurred in the kitchen yesterday morning. If you're really trying to make a deep philosophical statement about the certainties of life, just say:
Every dog always eat all fish.
Chinese also lacks articles. "A," "an" and "the" are noise-words that add very nearly zero meaning to any sentence. It also has no prepositions. Instead of relying on a tiny set of words inherited from the Stone Age to describe every conceivable relationship between two words, it does the job with its thousands of nouns and verbs, or simply word order. Instead of;
I went TO school ON the bus AFTER breakfast (the opposite sequence of the actual events),
I eat breakfast ride bus attend school.
The result of all this is that Chinese is a very compact language. By my own analysis it takes an average of seven syllables in Chinese to translate ten syllables in English or French, which themselves are admirably compact. This means the language can be and generally is spoken relatively slowly, making it easy to avoid misunderstandings, especially in crowded noisy places and among foreigners. Contrast this with Spanish or Japanese, which must be spoken at machine-gun speed in order to finish ordering dinner before the kitchen closes.
But it also presents a different way of looking at the universe. Chinese has only nouns and verbs and a couple of particles that help parse sentences. A very concrete world view.
01-19-10, 08:45 AM #11
Ya so that sentence you wrote I guess can't be translated to Chinese huh lol.And in answer to your last question, yes I do believe so because in Spanish whenever I'm talking to my teacher who I would need to be formal with I never use that form probably because Englisgh has poisoned my mind.
This is a perfect illustration of my screed that every child must be taught a second language. For most of us (excluding musicians, etc.) most of our thoughts are expressed in words so the language we have influences the way we think. If you have two languages in your head you can use the two different ways of thinking to test your thoughts.
People in Aztlán (the cross-cultural region on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border) tend to adopt the English-language perspective on the second-person pronoun. Billboards scream, ˇMira tu nuevo carro! Look at your (familiar) new car! instead of ... su nuevo carro your (formal). A judge, a professor, or the oldest woman in town can walk into a restaurant and the busboy will say, żComo estás? instead of żComo está usted? People from elsewhere in the Spanish-speaking world are outraged by this. When in especially conservative Spain I thoughtlessly addressed my buddy's mother as tú, she was very cold to me for a couple of days and addressed me pointedly as usted for the rest of my stay.Idk why they say Spanish is the easiest language.
- Chinese fails because the tonal system looks difficult to master, even though it's not once you get into it. And also because most people want to learn to read and write.
- French fails because even though the vocabulary is hauntingly familiar, both the grammar and spelling are bewildering.
- German fails because even though its vocabulary is also familiar, the syntax is outrageously complex. And also because even though the grammar is recognizable its verb conjugations are much more complex than ours and it even declines nouns, adjectives and articles.
- Latin fails even though half of our words are of Latin origin, because its grammar makes German look easy.
- Russian simply fails: vocabulary, phonetics, grammar, syntax, alphabet. Try saying zdravstvuytye for "hello."
There was a time when our elders told us that learning Spanish would not be useful because the Spanish-speaking world was not an important player in commerce and politics. They are rapidly changing their minds. My wife insists that Latin America will be the powerhouse of this century. They have certainly made remarkable strides in the last couple of decades, with wise-guys like Chávez and populists like Morales in a distinct and risible minority as democratic, capitalistic centrism slowly spreads. And of course by definition half of Latin America is on the Pacific Rim, the new center of the world's economy.
So if you want to study Spanish, ˇÁndale!
Oh wait, I guess those "elders" are now us.
01-19-10, 08:47 AM #12
there are lots of things that can be explained in japanese that cant be fully expressed in english.
the easiest one i can think of is "genki" there is nothing that can exactly capture that word in english
01-19-10, 09:18 AM #13
01-19-10, 09:25 AM #14
01-19-10, 09:25 AM #15
I've hit a couple concepts that I don't think I could express in English, actually. And not just about C'thulu.
01-19-10, 09:25 AM #16
"You" is so well-established as both singular and plural that the American Southerners have invented a new word to replace the missing plural, "you-all." It even has its own possessive case, "you-all's."
01-19-10, 09:54 AM #17
01-19-10, 10:05 AM #18
01-19-10, 11:32 AM #19
Of courseOriginally Posted by Science Man
Of course, if I could tell you what those things are ....
Start with the idea that in any moment, you might make a decision or identification. It's an instantaneous process. But explaining that instant? A lot of words.
For instance, I bought a new glass pipe last week. Her name is Zoe. The name occurred to me in approximately two seconds. The explanation?
Well, I went into the store to buy a pack of cigarettes. However, I'm trying to quit smoking. I'm doing well enough with Chantix, except that I'm to a point where I'll smoke if there is a cigarette available, but I'm trying to not buy any more. I walked into the store and noticed their case of pipes. Excellent. So I made a deal with myself: Buy the pipe as a ritual to mark the last pack of cigarettes.
Those sorts of things work with me.
Zoe is red and pink with a bit of yellow, and marked with some blue flecks. Now, here's where it gets really complicated.
I noticed a flower opposite the carb, and my first thought was, "I should call you Rose." But I'm not in the habit of naming pipes, although this didn't occur to me at the time. Thinking back, I've only ever named one other pipe: Rosewort. I chose that name as a joke. To the one, my last religion was witchcraft, so I'm accustomed to things like St. John's Wort and Mugwort. And, certainly, it looks and sounds better than Rosewart, which is what the name really meant. It was intended to have a small flower in a glass bubble behind the bowl, but the artisan screwed up and it turned into a red blotch under the bubble. Meant to be a rose, but became a wart. Rose, wart. Rosewart. Rosewort.
So, Rose was out as a name for the pipe.
And then I noticed that the flower wasn't a rose, but a lotus. Well, hey, my favorite movie is called, The Lotus Eaters. One could make a "lotus smoker" joke, to be certain, but that's superficial. The main character in The Lotus Eaters is a young girl named Zoe, which name is conventionally translated as "life", or something similar. Lotus, ritual to mark the end of my nicotine days (e.g., theoretic extension of my life), favorite movie, superficial lotus-smoking joke ... Zoe is the perfect name.
Like I said, two seconds.
Now, take that sort of explanation and try to apply it to something that is actually complicated to begin with.
And there we have a basic idea of how things become ineffable.
Most people I know, even the one with the English degree from a prestigious university, or the advanced degrees in my circle, don't or can't express themselves like this.
"Why did you name your pipe Zoe?"
Additionally, a friend suggests that music is a language unto itself. And, certainly, when you look at a score, it is easy enough to see. This is much like looking at a complex mathematical equation; if you speak the language, you know what it says. In this sense, music often expresses what words cannot. I could not write in prose an English translation of what Brian Wilson's "Our Prayer" actually means. Or Yngwie Malmsteen's "Crying". Beethoven's Ninth is actually based on a poem, and the Third ("Eroica") was originally dedicated to Napoleon. Yet in either case, the music expresses additional sentiments that few, if any, could translate into any conventional language.
English is actually a very limited language. There is a Hopi word, "tunatyava", that translates approximately to "comes true, being hoped for". It is an awkward concept to one who speaks and thinks primarily in English. Having encountered analyses of the word before, I still cannot tell you how the word would be applied. It is said that Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow, and whether or not this is overstated is beyond me. But, for comparison, Douglas Adams once wrote a character who documented the kinds of rain that fell in England. Rather than having individual words for each kind of rain, most of the differences were in adjectives attached to a few different words.
It is easy to convince ourselves, however, that English expresses things perfectly or completely—if that is our native language. The words we learn help define the world we perceive, but they also limit and regulate that perception and concomitant assimilation. Our language often seems complete, but only because in our minds it must be.
01-19-10, 05:46 PM #20
Shame though, isn't it. It would be good to have an alternative to "you" to address those most dear to us. I recommend thou and thee to lovers, and for addressing young children with special tenderness.
And when we wish to show deference, let us not shy away from using the third person. Does Your Excellency not agree?
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