Is there a "best" language?

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

  1. w1z4rd Valued Senior Member

    This makes sense. Would be interesting to see China make that transition. As well as for english to clean up some of its strangeness. Ghoti.

    I know a helleava lot about IT, and AFAIK 98% of them use english words. I also know there non-english ones.. like Chinese Basic... that didnt last very long.
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  3. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    To w1z4rd:

    Are you a pig or corn farmer? (You have: "Eat more pork" under your name.)

    Pork is doing very well:

    "... Hogs are getting a boost from improved demand for pork. On average, each American will eat 50.2 pounds of the meat in 2009, up 1.8 percent from 49.3 pounds in 2008, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. Annual per capita beef consumption will decline 1 percent next year to 62.1 pounds, the agency said.

    Retail U.S. pork prices reached $3.002 a pound in the third quarter, the highest since at least 1970, government data show. Ham prices averaged $2.466 a pound in November, up from $2.29 a year earlier, according to USDA.

    Worldwide, pork consumption will reach 97.6 million metric tons in 2009, up 1.3percent from this year, the third-consecutive annual increase, USDA data show. Chinese consumption* may rise 2.9 percent to 46.2 million tons**, the agency said.

    Hog farmers blame the six-year rally in energy costs and the policies of President George W. Bush for increasing prices of animal feed and forcing them to cut production even as demand rises. ..."


    *The urban Chinese is "living high on the hog" now - and paying more than twice /Kg what he paid last year for pork. His total consumption is up 22% YoY. - Life in China is rapidly improving!

    ** That is probably "metric tons" (1000kg) or 46.2E9Kg or 1.0164E11 pounds. Dividing by 1.3E9 people, that is 78.2 pounds / person. Now 78.2/46.2 = 1.70 or the Chinese eat 70% more pork than Americans do. (but much less beef) I think they eat about twice as much pond fish as Americans do, and infinitely more of a lot of things like cat, dog, etc. - "If it moves, it is food for the pot" seems to be the rule.

    I recently read, but find it a little hard believe, that they eat a billion chickens per day! Anyone have data on this? I am getting the impression that not only are very few hungry in China anymore, but they now have a moderately high protein diet. - Not too hard to understand why the CCP is very popular, except when it decides your farm is needed for a new city or will be flooded by a new dam.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 22, 2008
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  5. w1z4rd Valued Senior Member

    My family has farms, but we dont farm pigs.. were cattle and sheep farmers. Though I dont work on a farm at all.
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  7. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Do you know anything about the use of sheep in China? I don't, but it would seem to be a good small animal food source as can can cut the grass close to the ground. Likewise, Rabbit ought to do well in China, but so much of this is cultural, perhaps not. (I think they do have a year of the rabbit but as they eat 70% more pork than Americans do, and I am certain they have a year of the pig, it probably is no problem to eat the animal of the year.)

    Sorry if off thread too much, but culture and language and food are related. Perhaps the terms for sheep and rabbit have bad "karma" or something in China, if they are not popular foods. I have long held the view that Americans eat very little horse, compared to the French, as we do not have a euphemistic word for horse meat. (We have "beef" for cow, Pork of pig, etc. but nothing for horse meat, but the French do and eat much more of it.)
  8. w1z4rd Valued Senior Member

  9. EntropyAlwaysWins TANSTAAFL. Registered Senior Member

    It certainly could be a factor but its probably not the only one.
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    People who have different styles of thinking bring different approaches to problems, which makes them easier to solve. Every manager knows that. We try very hard not to staff a difficult project with people from similar backgrounds, skills and interests. If you can get people who are actually from a different culture it's a real boon.

    Of course this can work against you because people with different ways of thinking can end up with intractable disagreements. But it's a leader's job to make sure that doesn't happen by helping them find compromise. That's true for the leader of a business project, a church picnic, or an alliance of nations.
    And Aramaic for more than a thousand years before that. Most of the Talmud and much of the Bible was originally written in Aramaic.
    That's almost one chicken per person, which doesn't pass a reality test. Seed magazine says that even twenty years from now, China's per capita meat consumption is predicted to only be about 150 grams (six ounces) per day. They don't even expect Americans to eat a pound of meat a day (454gm) by then, despite what you might think after seeing a few TV commercials.
    When I was a kid in the 1950s, it was common for parents to admonish their children not to waste food, to "think of all the starving children in China." That was not hyperbole; something like a couple of million Chinese died of starvation. Today no one goes hungry in China. It's hard not to feel a little joy over their success, regardless of the political and human-rights issues raised along the way.
    I don't think that quite explains it, since all our kitchen words for meat (beef, pork, veal, mutton, venison) are of French origin!
  11. tim840 Registered Senior Member

    Karma is an Indian thing... also the euphemisms are not important - we eat plenty of chicken, and just call it chicken - no substitutional name for it, and we eat even more chicken than we do pork. I think the reason we dont eat horse is that horses arent just stock animals: many people ride them or have them as pets, so they're thought of in a different way from the farm animals. Cows dont do anybody any good, they just stand around eating and such, but horses are useful animals... that is why we dont eat them.
  12. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    That is why karma was in quotes. I was only trying to express compactly the idea that some foods may be though to bring bad luck, etc. The Chinese, I think, are more superstitious than westerners. To be on thread: perhaps the "best language" is one that can freely borrow from others to compactly express an idea, as I did. In this regard, French is the WORST language. The French Academy sees to that - carefully trying to keep all foreign words out.

    BTW, studies have shown that the Indian's not eating cows is very productive. (And that Americans eating so much beef is very costly. - Fortunately US per capita beef consumption is dropping.)* They provide, milk,** fertilizer and fuel from grass in place where the trees were cut down centuries ago. More manure used as fertilizer and less as fuel would be even more productive. This is possible with the introduction of cheap solar stoves. I do not know hard numbers, but bet about 1/3 of Indian meals are cooked with dried dung in rural areas. I wonder to they have separate words for what the cow expels and what they cook with? If not a solar stove, a "biodigestor" and cooking with its "natural gas" would help, I think.

    Chickens, ducks, geese etc. are not mammals - Ok to eat without separate name for that reason, I think. Most horses are eaten, but by dogs, perhaps cats too, in canned dog food. Very few horses in the US are given a burial.

    Here in Brazil many are many still used for transport. I had a farm* and a 4-wheel drive car (A Russian Lada). One day a horse was tied to my fence on the road side of the fence, near my gate. The next day it was still there, but dead. With some rope and the Lada, I dragged it about half a mile to where the road curved around a hill with steep fall off on one side. With help of my hired man, we pushed it over the side to slide down the hill far from all. A week later it was only bones - buzzards had a feast, I think.

    I do not know who was the owner of the horse, but admired his "horse knowledge" and how cleverly he transferred the problem of a dying horse to someone (me) who could solve it.
    *My farm was a cattle farm. I thought about the social / economics of beef production a little. One thing that can be said for it is that cows do reduce the cost of transportation to market. (Beef has a much higher value /kg than most crops. This makes land far from customers more valuable. Alcohol from sugar Cain is doing some of this too and helping to industrialize rural areas. Cain cannot travel far economically, so Brazil has hundreds of local alcohol plants.)

    **Well half do (give milk) and the other half make horns, which as the English name*** indicates, were good for controlling troops in battle or just getting your dog to come home, etc. Milk is such an obvious benefit, a source of protein that I forgot to mention it until Fraggle did. He mentioned it has about 9 times the meat value over the natural life of the cow. Religious prohibition of eating beef is probably the only way to keep cows form being stolen for food (rustling) in a poor land like India.

    ***How 'bout it FR: Do other languages also have this horn / horn association in meanings? Also, as I grew up in West Virginia, eating squirrel was a natural, but it shocked my Norwegian wife to find me cooking one when she returned from shopping. Does language play a role in this (For her it was the same a eating rat - perhaps the names are similar if they are thought to be closely related, etc.?)
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 22, 2008
  13. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    But they're a bit schizophrenic about it. They don't have a problem with modern technical words built artificially from Latin and Greek roots like telephone and automobile. I think their main goal is to avoid the wholesale importation of English words, since they haven't gotten over the ascendence of English over French in international culture.

    The Germans are more even-handed about it, trying their best to avoid even Latin and Greek. Since German is an analytic (word-building) language they do pretty well at coining their own words. "Telephone" is Fernsprecher, a perfect translation of our Greek-Latin hybrid "distance-speaker," and "automobile" is Kraftwagen, "powered wagon." (All German nouns are capitalized.) The Chinese do the same thing out of necessity, since the language's phonetic structure makes it impossible to assimilate foreign words in any recognizable form. "Telephone" is dian-hua, "electricity (lightning) speech," and "automobile" is qi-che, "powered vehicle."

    Sometimes the resistance to foreign borrowings can be humorous. Italian nationalists once tried valiantly to fend off the invasion of the word hotello for "hotel," since it came from French, English and several other languages. They wanted to resurrect the old Italian word albergo. Their scholars had to set them straight and explain that "hotel" comes from the word hospitale for "guest room" in Latin, the ancestor of Italian and all of its "national" vocabulary. Albergo, as it turns out, was a word borrowed in the middle ages from German!
    Beef is one of the least resource-efficient sources of food, even compared to other mammal meat such as mutton, pork and goat. You get something like nine times the return on your investment in feed if you let a cow live a normal lifespan and collect the milk, than you do by slaughtering it when it reaches adulthood and eating the meat.
    Even just a few decades ago, horse carcasses were used in the manufacture of glue. (I think the primary material is in their hooves.) It was a staple joke on TV westerns in the 1950s, for a cowboy to tell his horse, "If you don't stop being so ornery, I'm going to drop you off at the glue factory."
    I visited Bulgaria in 1973--a very poor country at that time, and horses were in common use. My friend told me that even if a horse were killed in a road accident and the meat was perfectly healthy, they would not eat it.

    Dogs have a special place in our collective unconscious. They were the first animal that volunteered to be our companions without having to be "tamed"; most human cultures, and all of the prosperous ones, do not consider them food.

    But it's hard to explain our disgust for horsemeat. The horse was not the first large domesticated animal; that was probably the sheep. They did not come to us voluntarily and to this day must be "broken" for domesticity; it was the goats and pigs who walked right into our lives, scavengers (like dogs) attracted by the bounty of perfectly edible garbage we leave on the ground. They were not the first animal we were able to use for riding and pulling carts, that was either the ox or the donkey, and in the New World the llama.

    But even people who have never seen a live horse love horses in a way that no human being has ever loved a sheep, goat, ox, donkey or llama. It must be an archetype, I'll have to look it up in our Jungian material. (Today many people do keep pet pigs, who are both sweet and intelligent.)

    We used to buy horsemeat to feed our cats. We had to drive way out into the remote, quasi-agricultural suburbs of Los Angeles, to a little nondescript shop that kept it in a freezer in the back room. It was like buying whiskey during Prohibition. We figured that when our cats went outside and the other cats smelled their breath, they would grovel in awe and say, "Wow, you guys are the best hunters. You killed a horse!"
  14. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    To Fraggle:

    Thanks for reminding me of the life-time milk value - Nine times the meat value - That is impressive!

    Is that really ~4.5 times? as half are males*, but they give horns? I bet by converting the milk into a valued cheese, much more value is possible. Cheese is also a fantastic volume reducer so saves on transport - important if the market is distant from the pasture.

    Please see post 89 again as I have added two foot notes with questions for you.

    I recall reading a decade or two ago that the French Academy had tried to surpress Telephone, Laser, and Television and a few others with "good French words" they invented, but failed in the effort. In fact that is when I first learned that they do try to control the evolution of the language.

    *When I sold cows and bulls in Brazil it is of course by weight, but discounted 50% for the bulls and 55% for the cows (because there is more waste with the cow, I was told). Being a "Rich American" it was hard for me to negotiate good deals on the price, so I decided to mainly sell animals I rasied from birth (to have only the selling deal envolving big money).** I.e. I initially bought young female calves and sold full grown animals I had raised. (I had a big and modest younger bull in the field with my cows. The smaller was "back up" when the big guy had had enough fun.)

    At my first sale I was also buying a few more young female calves.*** They suggested to just subtract the weight of the calves from that of the bulls I was selling to "keep it simple" instead of them paying me for my bulls and me paying them for my new calves, they would pay me on the weight difference.

    It all happens very fast and in Portuguese (adding up numbers, etc.) at the weighing scale. I had weighed myself and my hired man at my farm and made them weigh us on their scale. (It was honest as is run by a third party. Net seller pays his small fee.) I was also careful to watch the scale and add the numbers with my hand calculator, but I was 15 minutes walk away from the scales with the new calves when I realized that I had a PhD and they were literate, but surely not dumb: Part of my bulls (weight equal to the calves I was buying) was effectively sold as if they were cows, earning them an extra 5% on that small part. That never happened again and after a few years my bulls for sale got lots of salt early on the morning of the sale etc. I was no longer a "green horn."

    **Many do not deal in milk. They just buy young but nearly nearly grown steers and bulk them up for a couple of years. I did not sell milk either. - I just let the calves have it to grow faster.

    *** The pasture was full of weeds when I bought it cheap but I trippled the carrying capacity with few thousand dollars in plowing and good seeds, so I got a very good price when I sold. Buyer had money he could not explain where it came from so officially it was sold cheap, with most paid "under the table."
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 22, 2008
  15. temur man of no words Registered Senior Member

    In Mongolia horse meat is perfectly valid food. It tastes a bit different, and some would love and some would not eat horse meat because of this distinct taste.
  16. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    In a culture in which horses were so valuable and not available to the poor in herds (draft, transport, uniquely suited) a cultural disgust for eating them would have the same survival value in hard times a disgust for eating cows has in India, or pigs in the desert lands.

    There are a couple of complications. One is that cattle raised for meat can be ranged over large areas of marginal land. Another is that half the calves are male, and will give no milk, but already represent a large overhead investment.

    So the most efficient arrangement is not milk all, but milk some and range or feed others for meat, the proportion depending on the circumstances.

    Something similar operates with languages, I suspect. There is probably value in some of the apparent inefficiencies. Just as the Chinese are going to lose some fairly significant benefits when they switch to phonetic script - probably a net gain, but the losses will be real.
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The horns we blow are called "horns" because the first ones were made by hollowing out animal horns. So it's not an "association in meanings," it's the same word for the same object. Latin cornu, Greek keras, this is an ancient word shared by all the Western Indo-European languages, and I don't know if the Eastern branch of the family has it too.

    I also don't know whether other language families coined the word the same way. But making musical instruments out of horns goes back a long way, even before the arrival of Homo sapiens in Europe. A few years ago a flute was found in Germany carved from a mammoth tusk. It is 30,000 years old and therefore was made by Neanderthals.
    Rats and squirrels are closely related: both species fall in the order of rodents.

    The biochemical composition of rodent meat makes it an ideal source of human nutrition, and many species have been used as food over the millennia. Nonetheless it is not a popular food and is generally only something people fall back on during hard times. Since the Agricultural Revolution, the rodents most familiar to humans are the pests who steal our nuts, fruits and grain, scavenge our garbage or break into our pantries, and so they have come to be regarded as "vermin," a name that stands in opposition to "game" or "livestock."

    The rare exceptions include the guinea pig, which was domesticated for food in South America more than four thousand years ago, and the capybara, the largest rodent species at 100lb (50kg) which was domesticated during historical times, also in South America. The North American beaver is the second-largest rodent. Its size (30lb/14kg), diet (tree bark), habitat (aquatic) and behavior (building dams) make it easy to not recognize as a rodent, and IIRC the Indians and the European pioneers trapped it for food. Capybaras are also large, herbivorous and aquatic, in addition to being rather docile, so it's doubtful that the South American Indians recognized them as related to vermin.

    Guinea pigs and hamsters (another rodent) are popular pets. Chinchillas, which until recently were farmed for their fur, have recently entered the pet trade. And capybaras have begun to win the hearts of iconoclastic pet lovers with a yen for something huge and exotic, yet tractable. (Here's a sweet YouTube video.) The common rat, being a social species and highly intelligent, makes a surprisingly good pet.

    I rather like the idea of keeping pets that are not also food animals. I'd kind of like to have a pet pig, but I don't think I could maintain the cognitive dissonance required by pork being my favorite meat.
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2008
  18. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    I will not try to find it but more than a year ago in some thread, I extolled the virtues of rat as an economical protein source. They can live on boiled garbage. (BTW that is also used a pig food. - I think that strip of the NJ turnpike which smells of pig shit on hot summer day, is the destination of a lot of NYC / Trenton etc. restaurant waste.)

    Rats require little space and need no illumination to find their food as chickens do need.* A typical basement could have them in cages 15 or more high.

    Now let’s get to work on a suitable euphuistic name: How about: Bar-B-Bits or Ra-Bits or micket (if Disney does not make a legal fuss).

    Food customs are every strange, but strong. Westerner will not eat chicken as pre-hatched embryos and for at least a month after hatching, but parts of the orient (Vietman, included, I think) like the crunchy young chicken bones and embryo eggs before the feathers developed.
    *Unless my memory is failing me, the chicken’s "peck at grain on ground" response is both visually triggered and innate, not learned. If you put prism lenses over the eyes of a chicken, even very young ones, and spread cracked corn grains on the floor, not too densely, they will peck the floor at the prism shifted point and not get the grain. Chickens cannot discover the corn grain only one cm away from their retinal image’s projected location. They will starve to death and never learn to compensate.

    Humans automatically learn to not only compensate in less than an hour** for small lateral shift of the image, but after wearing even “image inverting” glasses for a few days, begin to perceive the world correctly again. One guy after wearing inverting glasses for about two weeks easily rode his bicycle thru street traffic as if his retinal image were normal.

    **For example, quickly and automatically reach for a glass of water on a table instead of knocking it over. (Some of this in humans is no doubt hand / eye loop servo control, at least initially. The chicken seems not to use that, but has what might be called a “ballistic peck” at the grain’s perceived location.)
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 23, 2008
  19. Rick Valued Senior Member

  20. tim840 Registered Senior Member

    o my gosh!!

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

    how cute!!!
  21. Rosnet Philomorpher Registered Senior Member

    Are you German, inzomnia?
  22. Rosnet Philomorpher Registered Senior Member


    Okay. Quick reply here, without too much thinking. I might make a better post later if I happen to think more on this.

    I speak two languages very fluently and am moderately fluent in another. I'm also exposed to different languages quite regularly. And I'm learning many other languages. So, based on my experience with these...

    Obviously, and as stated before, different languages are good at different things. And I think this is necessarily so. That is to say, these aspects must be mutually exclusive. For example, a very simple (easy to learn) language must necessarily be poorer aesthetically than languages with greater vocabularies, a wealth of idiomatic phrases, and more complex language. Just think of creoles vs. English, French, German, etc.

    Or consider some language which has a vocabulary that is adequate to easily express very advanced concepts, and yet is smaller compared to, say, English. How? There are no two words which mean the same thing. [Injective mapping from Meanings to Words, hehe]. This language, too, would be aesthetically weaker. Take poetry for example. It would be much harder or sometimes impossible to find words to fit rhymes or metre.

    Okay, I'm a bit busy now, will post later.
  23. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    That's also a matter of phonetics. The phonetic simplicity of Japanese (consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel-etc. with only a small number of each of the two types of phonemes) makes it absurdly easy to find words that rhyme. English, with its free-for-all phonetics, makes it very difficult.

    Many very common words have few rhymes. That's why paradigms like moon-soon-June-spoon-tune, love-dove-above-shove, ring-thing-sing-fling, work-jerk-shirk-clerk and mind-find-kind-bind are beaten to death in our poetry. Try finding a contextually useful rhyme for worse, forest, army, or a hundred words that would reasonably come up in a poem. There is no rhyme at all for orange!

    Grammar also has an effect. Inflected languages tend to have entire families of words with the same ending. In Spanish, every verb has a couple of forms that end in -amos, -emos or -imos; a couple more in -aron or -eron; more in -aste or -iste; an entire series in -ia, -ias, -iamos, -iais, -ian; and a couple of other complete series like that. End a line of Spanish poetry with a verb, and the next line is easy. English has very few inflections, and none of them contain accented syllables so the poet must still find two words that rhyme on the accented syllable in their uninflected forms.

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