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

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by science man, Jan 18, 2010.

  1. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    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.
    "Ye" is second person plural.
    • Nominative singular: thou
    • Accusative singular: thee
    • Nominative plural: ye
    • Accusative plural: you
    For a minute I was expecting a really adventurous story here.

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    After David Bowie's daughter. The adventure continues. Ground control to Major Tom...
    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.
    That was complicated. You're selling your thoughts short.
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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."
    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 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?
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  3. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    Could be why they never thought of making gunpowder into a weapon.
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  5. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    They did.
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  7. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member


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    Thanks for link.
    It's a commonly held myth.
    I thought it was true. How could I have been so stupid.
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2010

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