Linguistics Stands Prior to....?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Carcano, Feb 23, 2015.

  1. Carcano Valued Senior Member

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    This is a thread about what kind of linguistic subtleties are required for science to develop within any particular culture.

    I recall reading somewhere that ancient Hebrew does not include a word for 'nature'...or words that define 'qualitative' versus 'quantitative'.

    Chinese scholar (and expert in western philosophy) Fung Yu-Lan has written that ancient Chinese is more suggestive than articulate.

    Perhaps this is the root of it all...what explains why certain societies establish a proto-science, while others do not.

    Your thoughts?
     
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  3. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

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    Did "science" have a word for "proton" or "electron" until it needed them?
    Did ANYONE have a word for "television" until we needed that word?


    If there's any grounds to the proposition I'd suggest that it's lack of cultural/ philosophical "perspective" that's responsible for the lack of words - and the FIRST lack would lead to the "lack of science".
     
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  5. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

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    In English we make a distinction between speed (a scalar quantity) and velocity (a vector quantity). This distinction is not present in, for example, Spanish, or Portuguese, or Italian. It didn't seem to hold back Galileo.
     
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  7. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    No, only scientists and engineers make this distinction. Laymen are satisfied with one word: speed. In order to instruct the average American about the difference between speed and velocity, you'd have to give him a lesson in physics first.

    Remember: this is the country in which Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" is highly popular. The opening sequence is a globe of the Earth, spinning as it scrolls the identifying info about the show. The program was well into its second decade before Jon had Neil Degrasse Tyson (the heir to Carl Sagan as America's premiere popularizer of science) as his guest. Tyson was the first person to point out that the globe was revolving in the wrong direction.
     
  8. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

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    Do we, or do we not, in English have a distinction between speed and velocity? Answer, yes we do. You are correct that it is a distinction typically used only by engineers and scientists, however that does not change the fact that it is still a distinction in English. Your points make an useful expansion of my point. Your faulty correction does not.
     
  9. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    Well, there are two globes depicted; one is rotating the correct direction, one is not.
     
  10. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

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    Um... they do have distinct words in Spanish: rapidez for speed, and velocidad for velocity. Similarly in Portuguese: rapidez and velocidade.
    The laymen of those countries may use velocidad(e) as commonly as we would use speed, but when they want to distinguish between the scalar and vector quantities I'm fairly sure they would use different words. At least that was what I was taught many eons ago.

    No idea about Italian.
     
  11. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

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    Very interesting. I've trained several score Latin American engineers, all of whom have explicitly denied having discrete terms. I know that Latin American spanish and portugese differ from their lands of origin. Do you have any idea if the two terms have general currency in Latin America? If so, several score individuals are going to receive an irate email from me. (I confess, for the Italian, I extrapolated as I was feeling lazy and a single Italian had denied that there were two terms.)
     
  12. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

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    Engineers and scientists also use distinct definitions where there aren't distinct words. Scientists use more rigorous definitions of "theory", "evidence", etc. than lay people use.
     
  13. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

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    I agree completely. Nevertheless - my underlying point - the scientific definition of theory is a definition within English.
     
  14. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

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    Pertaining to the topic, it isn't the availability of words within a language that limits a culture's ability to develop science; it's the usage of the words. If there's a "desire" to describe things scientifically, it can probably be done in almost any language.
     
  15. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

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    That makes sense to me. There also has to be a need: necessity is the mother of invention. And a social/economic environment that will allow the opportunity for individuals to engage in proto-science. I would not rule out some impact of language, but it seems it would be minor compared with other influences.
     
  16. Carcano Valued Senior Member

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    I would suggest that one of the most important words standing prior to the development of science is the word THING.

    Primitive languages may have words for specific things...tree, rock, water, bird...but unless there is an abstract word that can applied to ALL there can be no meaningful inquiry into what defines a THING.

    This is necessary to realize that all things are merely composites of smaller entities...hence the birth of chemistry.
     
  17. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

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    I can see that giving rise to set theory, but you are pushing the bounds of plausibility to suggest it led to the birth of chemistry.
     
  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Italian, apparently, has only one word:
    velocità
     
  19. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Primarily in slang and (particularly in urban Brazilian Portuguese) pronunciation.

    Oh yeah... and there are so many Italians in Buenos Aires that the city has evolved a rather charming Spanish-Italian hybrid.
     
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    It would be nice if that were true, but unfortunately it is not. The proper scientific definition of "theory" is: a hypothesis that has been proven true--by following the steps in the scientific method (empirical observation, testing, peer review, etc.) Yet these same scientists casually coin the term "String Theory."

    Evolution and plate tectonics are theories. String "theory" is nothing more than a bunch of really fun math, supported by a lot of arm-waving.
     
  21. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Indeed. Since the invention of the technology of written language ca. 3000BCE, we've been able to follow the evolution of many languages.

    The Greeks were builders of compound words: combining two words to represent a recently created or discovered concept. The Germans do the same thing: Kraftwagen, "power wagon" for "automobile; Fernsprecher, "far speaker" for "telephone," etc.

    The Romans shamelessly borrowed hundreds (perhaps thousands) of words the Greeks had already created, and simply normalized them by changing the inflections to those of Latin grammar.

    The British and Americans do both of these things. Combination of two words: birdhouse, freeway, pawnshop, sidebar. Borrowing: geography, chaise longue, karaoke, buckaroo (Spanish vaquero, "cowboy").

    But we've gone beyond that by inventing a new grammatical construct: the noun-adjective compound. User-friendly, resource-intensive.
     
  22. wellwisher Banned Banned

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    The language of science is math, not the linguistics of spoken and written language. Spoken and written language is less needed to advance science, as it is there for teaching science. In science, it does not matter what you call things, since the essence lies within its mathematical connections; graphs and charts.

    For example, quarks are the building blocks of matter. These have been labeled as; There are six types of quarks, known as flavors: up, down, strange, charm, top, and bottom.[4] . The scientists who coined these terms, used these silly terms, because it was not about the label of language. It was about the nature of these six things that have been seen, plotted and modeled with math functions.

    With too much linguists, here is a tendency to talk the talk, but not really understand. These quark terms were consciously made not to sound impressive, so people would not try to substitute an impressive term for knowledge. If they had used a term like the, sextuplet qualitative essences, this sounds more impressive and would be easier to use as a way to pretend understanding. The actor can talk the talk of science without knowing anything. The TV doctor can seem more like a doctor than a real doctor with buzz words.

    Biology is one area of science, this is the king of long fancy names; mitochondria. At the same time, much of the subject still remains very dependent on casino math, instead of having reached the level of predictive functions. Words can get in the way of science progress. Just learning all the long fancy names in biology and medicine can take a lot of memory space, so it becomes harder to run subroutines. Physics is more about the economy of words, leaving more room in memory for math subroutines.

    Often in these forums, new and repeated questions from young minds are often addressed with buzz words, instead of by using simplified examples that can give meaning. This approach is not as fancy but contains the essence of the math. This is the mind of science.
     
  23. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    And energy. Photons are quarks.
    That's what they say, but these names cannot possibly have anything to do with the nature of the quark. I can see how "up, down, top and bottom" might--in some vague, bizarre way--refer to the "nature" of those four types of quarks. But can anyone say with a straight face that "strange" and "charm" do the same?

    These guys violated the rules of the English language! "Up" and "down" are adverbs or prepositions, depending on usage. "Strange" is an adjective. "Top" and "bottom" are nouns, although they can also be used idiomatically as verbs. "Charm" is used equally often as a verb and a noun. Scientific terminology is supposed to help us make sense out of science. All these inconsistent labels do is confuse us! The names have virtually no relationship to the qualities they represent. They are not mnemonics that help us remember the qualities of the various quarks, in contrast to, say, the terms "acute" and "obtuse" when applied to angles, or "carnivore" and "herbivore" when applied to animals. I give these guys a grade of F-minus.

    This is why science (as well as many other academic disciplines, such as history) tends to use neo-Latin (i.e., Latin with a huge set of borrowed Greek words) when coining new terminology. Most scholars have studied neo-Latin--either formally, or simply by being exposed to the root words since they were little baby scholarlings.

    It's easy to see the flaw in breaking from this tradition. English-speakers may be able to remember that "radar" is an acronym for "RAdio Detecting And Ranging," or that "COBOL" is an acronym for "COmmon Business Oriented Language." But how many non-anglophones can figure this out--and remember it?

    And even among Americans, who knows that "TASER" is an acronym for "Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle," so named because its inventor was a fan of the Tom Swift series of novels for young boys, first published in 1910? (New books are still written and the publishers have agreed not to sue us for using this acronym, so long as we always write it in capitals.)

    Neo-Latin is the language of scholarship virtually everywhere--even among the Chinese, who wisely don't bother trying to teach us how to pronounce their words. Shame on the physicists who ignore this custom!
    Your point is well made, yet I don't think it's as important as you suggest. Few people realize that the word "cetacean" comes from the Latin word cetus, for "whale," yet most educated people still know what it means.

    Few of us know that Greek demos means "the common people" and kratos means "rule" yet we all know that "democracy" means "rule by the people."
    But seeing the same elements in two different words gives an important clue to the relationship between the two organisms or phenomena that they represent. This helps us make sense out of the discipline.
    And as I suggested (elliptically) earlier, the terminology of physics is not as easy to understand as that of biology.
    I only have authority over the Linguistics and Arts & Culture subforums, so I can't do anything about what people say in Physics or Economics. But on the Linguistics subforum, I do my best to make sure that this doesn't happen. I routinely add comments that explain word origins, to help the discussions make a little more sense.
     

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