Is there a "best" language?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Michael, Dec 10, 2008.

  1. LilyCao Registered Member

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    It is similar in Chinese.
     
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  3. LilyCao Registered Member

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    To me, the best language is the one that I am not good at or haven't learnt yet.

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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Chinese is better. If the number of cars you have is not important to the discussion, you don't have to specify it. Wo you che, "I have (an unspecified number of) car/cars." If it is important, you just say the number, but you don't have to put an ending on the noun. Wo you yi-ge che, "I have one car," or Wo you si-ge che, "I have four car(s)." In any case, there's no inflected ending on the nouns.

    Sure it's easy with car/cars, but not so easy with child/children, goose/geese, fish/fish, radius/radii, index/indices.

    Same with verbs: no inflections to indicate tense. If the time the action takes place is important, you just say so, otherwise you leave it out. Wo chi tang, "I eat candy," probably just means that you're a candy lover as opposed to a meat-and-potatoes sort of person. If instead you put in the time words, Wo jin-tian wan-shang chi tang, "I (will) eat candy today night (tonight)," or Wo zuo-tian chi tang, "I eat (ate) candy yesterday," then you're talking about a specific event at a specific time.

    Again, tense is easy with walk/walked, but not so easy with think/thought, make/made, see/saw/seen, eat/ate/eaten, drive/drove/driven. English is full of irregular inflections, including "strong verbs," and that makes it hard to learn.
     
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  7. w1z4rd Cry the beloved country Valued Senior Member

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    You think you can honestly compare a language as ungainly as Chinese with English? I mean.. just look at the alphabet differences. You need to be able to identify over 2000 different characters just to be able to read a newspaper.

    I dont even wanna know what a chinese programming language looks like

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  8. EntropyAlwaysWins TANSTAAFL. Registered Senior Member

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    Virtually every programming language I've ever heard of it based on English, or at least uses the English alphabet.
    The only, possible, exceptions I can think of are those languages that are deliberately designed to be esoteric and hard to use, such as whitespace or piet.
     
  9. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    You people keep equating "Chinese" with the written language. Written languages are relatively easy to reform, especially in a totalitarian society. Both Korean and Vietnamese gave up Chinese characters and adopted phonetic alphabets. Once they complete the educational goal of getting everyone in China to speak Mandarin, so a phonetic script will be possible, the government will simply mandate the transition to an alphabet or a syllabary. The whole process will take about four generations, so come back in a hundred years.

    This will leave English and French as written languages long overdue for an overhaul. Virtually every other European language reformed its spelling to conform to modern pronunciation within the past 150 years. We still use spelling conventions from 600 years ago, when long A was pronounced AH and long I was pronounced EE. And in French, OI is pronounced WAH, and the entire grammatical suffix -ENT is silent!

    The vocabulary, grammar and syntax of a language contribute to its greatness or mediocrity. By those scores, Chinese is at least as good as English, and arguably far better. But in today's rapidly evolving civilization, adaptability is surely the most important measure and by that score Chinese leaves English in the dust. They were able to coin two-syllable compound words for automobile, television, petroleum and computer that are easy to learn and remember because they make sense intuitively.

    Their professional and academic jargon isn't full of ungainly five-syllable words built capriciously from roots in a foreign language that only scholars understand.
    You're just being silly, or else you don't have any friends who work in I.T. Everybody uses the same programming languages.
     
  10. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

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    Proper Portuguese is (it seems to me) even worse than English. - They have more tense inflections possible for the verbs. My Portuguese is terrible, but I make myself understood, by unconsciously being "Chinese." - I.e. liberal use of words like “tomorrow”, “last week,” rather than the correct inflection and often only the verb stem or the full infinitive.

    These Chinese must think we are fools (to use inflections), but very intelligent ones to keep all those crazy inflected tense indicators attached to verb stem ends, especially a few hundred that are irregular.
     
  11. tim840 Registered Senior Member

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    I've read that in China you need to be able to read 4,000 characters to get by every day, and in Taiwan you need to know 6,000.
     
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    In practice there's no difference. The PRC and the ROC disagree on everything and there are just two arbitrary definitions of "literacy." Someone who knows 5,000 characters is very well educated. Anything beyond that is real scholarship. My dictionary is "The Fenn Five Thousand" and no Chinese person I've ever shown it to could think of a word that wasn't in it. Only a Korean guy with a degree in philosophy who had read the original writings of people like Lao-zi.

    A high school graduate who studied well should know 4,000. The PRC wants to be able to claim a high "literacy" rate for its communist educational system, so they lower it without even letting on. I think they count people who know 1,200, which is a fourth-grade education and covers a lot of people out in the boondocks who won't go much further.

    Of course an interesting thing about literacy in the Chinese writing system is that it's incremental. If you know 1,200 characters you can read a lot of signs and labels, and that's pretty useful.
     
  13. John99 Banned Banned

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    My contention is not that one language is necessarilty better than another. i do believe that the simplification and universality of communication in a world that is more interactive would be an improvement.

    More time can be spent trying to solve greater issues but then maybe not because how far can we conceivably take our civilization?
     
  14. temur man of no words Registered Senior Member

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    You learned all but one language on Earth? just kidding
     
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    The problem with that is that it is a trade-off. If you simplify a language to make it easier for more people to understand, you lose nuances that enrich the communication--and therefore the thinking and the culture--of the original speakers. You do even more of that when you eliminate an entire language and require its speakers to adapt to a new one.

    We may not notice this when the two languages are fairly closely related, e.g. Indo-European languages like English, Gaelic, Russian and Hindi. But what if they're not? In the Indo-European languages, we organize our entire thought pattern around subjects, verbs and objects, and it affects the way we view the world. Other languages have totally different structures, such as Japanese with its topic-observation syntax.

    Could anyone but the Japanese have turned Zen into what it is today? Could anyone but anglophones have invented rock and roll?
     
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2008
  16. John99 Banned Banned

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    I understand that this may be the wrong place for a statement like that but it seems to me to be counterproductive to keep perpetuating all these different languages. I really dont see the purposes except for a linguist, historians or hobbyists etc.

    If a new country were to be founded would you recommend they develop a new language or use an already established one where they can actually communicate with others. Consider all the languages no longer used by the general population such as Latin.

    This is just an idea does not mean that it is going to happen.
     
  17. EntropyAlwaysWins TANSTAAFL. Registered Senior Member

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    Ignoring things such as what languages the people founding it spoke at the time, I would think the best language/s to have as the official one/s would be the most widespread one in the region allowing ease of communication with your neighbours and whatever language was most useful internationally for commerce, which at the moment would be English.

    As far as I am aware this is actually the path many new/small countries take, their official languages are usually the native one/s + English + (sometimes) an important regional language.
     
  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    See my post #72. Having a multiplicity of languages is a tremendous resource for humanity because each language guides its speakers into a different way of thinking. Every time a language becomes extinct we lose an irreplaceable portion of human culture. It would be a disaster if there were only one language. Culture would be stifled.

    Read up on some of the languages of Africa, Australia or the New World, which are much different from ours. The difference is not merely "slight." They come with a whole different world view. We dare not lose that.
    I speak Esperanto and I can attest to the fact that artificial languages, since they have no culture behind them, are rather sterile. A new country would probably adopt the language of the majority of its founders, that's how the USA ended up with English. Israel was an interesting exception, taking the language of their religious texts and ceremonies (Hebrew) instead of the one that most of them already knew and had a modest modern literary tradition (Yiddish). I suppose it would depend on the reason the country was being founded. If it was a bunch of Star Trek fans founding a colony on another planet, they'd probably pick Klingon.
     
  19. John99 Banned Banned

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    Good points.

    I am not sure i agree with that though and i think it is actually more of a hindrance.
     
  20. tim840 Registered Senior Member

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    I think it is good to keep all the languages we have because they preserve culture, tradition, etc
     
  21. EntropyAlwaysWins TANSTAAFL. Registered Senior Member

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    Israel actually has 3 official languages; Hebrew, Arabic and English.
     
  22. LilyCao Registered Member

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    Of course not. I meant to say that, the less I know about a language, the more I feel it mysterious and useful.

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  23. Zephyr Humans are ONE Registered Senior Member

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    Languages adapt to the role they find themselves in. An international language like English which is used in everything from science to diplomacy will expand with new words to describe cutting edge concepts in those fields. Other languages will have to play catch up to find words for those same concepts.

    Another language could have taken the same role, had history been different. Arabic was the lingua franca of the middle east a thousand years ago.
     

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