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Thread: Is anything impossible to say in a language such as English?

  1. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite View Post
    It is dead, but not buried. Any serious English speaker will have explored Shakespeare, or the Victorian poets. Thou wilt find many a second person singular in such works.
    Many more not-so serious English speakers have read the King James translation of the Bible in Early Modern English, and it is full of thou, thee and ye. There was a time when many Americans had read that book and very few others--probably not Shakespeare and Donne. A relatively recent time when those words were already obsolete in vernacular speech. It's only in my lifetime that translations into contemporary Modern English have been in wide circulation.
    Quote Originally Posted by Nasor View Post
    But the fact remains that no one actually uses those alternate second person singulars any more.
    "Ye" is second person plural.
    • Nominative singular: thou
    • Accusative singular: thee
    • Nominative plural: ye
    • Accusative plural: you
    Quote Originally Posted by Tiassa View Post
    For instance, I bought a new glass pipe last week.
    For a minute I was expecting a really adventurous story here.
    Her name is Zoe.
    After David Bowie's daughter. The adventure continues. Ground control to Major Tom...
    The name occurred to me in approximately two seconds. The explanation? Well, I went into the store . . . . Like I said, two seconds.
    I just clocked myself and it took exactly 46 seconds to read that. You don't think a 23:1 dilation is reasonable? You did a lot of thinking in those two seconds, using ideas that were already in your head from past experience, and there were a lot of concepts to explain. I don't think that doing it in Chinese or Hopi would have made it much faster. Sure, people sit down and crank out pulp novels and headline news stories as fast as they can type, but that's formulaic linear thinking. They don't do that with great poetry or anthropology treatises. The origin of your pipe's name is a unique sequence of concepts and experiences that doesn't condense neatly into one word or one pithy phrase in any language.
    Now, take that sort of explanation and try to apply it to something that is actually complicated to begin with.
    That was complicated. You're selling your thoughts short.
    . . . . Zoe, which name is conventionally translated as "life" . . . .
    Yes. The Greek word for "life," cf. protozoa, zoology, Paleozoic. A literal translation of the Hebrew biblical name Havah which is customarily rendered as "Eve" in English. Biblical scholars like to say it means "life giver" because that was Eve's archetypal role in the legend.
    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.
    Experts at understanding other people's expressions of their ideas are not necessarily experts at expressing their own. You're a good writer like I am, but most scientists are not. Not even all people with advanced degrees in English are. They write competently and get the job done, but they're not gifted. You should talk to some journalists instead. Or maybe real-time intepreters, those folks are truly gifted communicators.
    Additionally, a friend suggests that music is a language unto itself.
    That's using the word "language" as a metaphor. A strict definition of the word includes "speech." In precise communication anything else should take a qualifier, such as sign language, written language or computer language. To say "music is a language" is like saying "my dogs are my children." And I'm not complaining too strenuously because as a musician and a dog breeder I have said both of those things.
    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.
    It's because music expresses emotions more than narratives. Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" is commonly said to be a rendering of those paintings into music, but it is more properly a record of how Mussorgsky felt when he saw them and when he walked from one to the next.
    English is actually a very limited language.
    So are all the others. Each is no more or less than a collection of tools, and every craftsman learns how to do what he needs to do with the tools he has. Certainly the toolset influences the subtleties of his work, but he gets the job done. Conversely, each crafts guild slowly invents and perfects the tools it needs to best accomplish the work that needs to be done in its community.
    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.
    Yeah sure. I used to live in Arizona and I've driven through the Hopi rez and observed their "alternative perspective on the universe." Ask one of them to translate "arthroscopic," "Hubble volume," "economy of scale," "relativistic velocity," "capitalism" or "tectonics" into Hopi, much less a nice concise Hopi phrase. I don't mean to be quite so rude to them but my point is that their language evolved for a culture that existed in the past and ours evolved for one that's progressing into the future. So of course they don't have the same needs and capabilities. The OED is full of obsolete English words that could probably be easily translated into Hopi or Bantu or some Native Australian language, but are useless to us today.
    It is said that Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow, and whether or not this is overstated is beyond me.
    That's an urban legend. According to one popular science site the Inuit have about fifteen words for snow and snow-related concepts, which is not much different from English. Every crossword puzzler has encountered "gelid." I couldn't help myself so I looked up "types of snow" in Wikipedia and found the amusing word "graupel."
    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.
    That's the kind of language English is! German, Finnish, Chinese and others are synthetic languages that form gigantic compound words by running morphemes together. English is admittedly more synthetic than many languages such as Spanish, but it much farther toward the other end of the scale with those analytic languages that have one morpheme per word. (Truly analytic languages have no inflections, which are morphemes, so Spanish isn't all the way at the end of that scale.) We express ideas by using adjectives, adverbs and prepositional phrases instead of ungainly compound nouns, but we manage to express more-or-less the same ideas. Adams is a good anglophone, making the most of his toolset. Sure, it affects our view of the universe, but not as drastically as your comparison implies.
    Our language often seems complete, but only because in our minds it must be.
    Our language seems complete because we are inside it. It's our universe. Again, this is why every child MUST learn two languages! If each of your languages points out the glaring gaps in the other, how big a leap is it to wonder whether there are gaps that they share?

  2. #22
    All aboard, me Hearties! Captain Kremmen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fraggle Rocker View Post
    But it's been suggested that this clock-and-calendar view of time makes it difficult for the Chinese to deal with the hypothetical.
    Could be why they never thought of making gunpowder into a weapon.

  3. #23
    Penguinaciously duckalicious. Dywyddyr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Captain Kremmen View Post
    Could be why they never thought of making gunpowder into a weapon.
    They did.
    The military applications of gunpowder began in the Tang Dynasty. Explosive bombs filled with gunpowder and fired from catapults were used in wars. During the Song and Yuan dynasties (960-1368), the military applications of gunpowder became common and some other weapons like "fire cannon", "rocket", "missile" and "fireball" were introduced.
    http://www.chinaculture.org/gb/en_ab...tent_26504.htm

  4. #24
    All aboard, me Hearties! Captain Kremmen's Avatar
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    Accepted.
    Thanks for link.
    It's a commonly held myth.
    I thought it was true. How could I have been so stupid.
    Last edited by Captain Kremmen; 01-22-10 at 09:08 AM.

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