Native speakers of English

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by ShyRebel, Mar 26, 2013.

  1. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Not really. It is possible to express anything in any natural language. It just sometimes takes a few more words to do it.

    If such limitations as you speak of would really exist, interlingual dictionaries would have many lemmata that would be without translation or explanation.
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  3. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    I wasn't saying they were impossible to circumvent, geez
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  5. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    The biases that Fraggle talks about are cultural, not language-related.
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  7. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    And what is language but a product of culture? Heck we use to say Thee, Thy and Thou but culture changed and those became obsolete.
  8. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    How can you not? Language reflects culture, and to a lesser but still important extent, it influences culture.

    Speak for yourself. We're all different.

    Perhaps you're right. I don't have any scholarly articles to back up my point of view, this is stuff I learned 50 years ago which may have been debunked. Do you?

    My mother's parents immigrated from Bohemia and her father never bothered to learn English (or get a job, for that matter) so the only language he heard at home was Bohemian. (We call it "Czech" today because that is so much easier to spell and pronounce than "Bohemian.") She didn't learn English until she started school. Even when her relatives and friends from the Bohemian community came over, she always made them speak English because she didn't want me to learn the language, or pick up an accent like she had until she married my American father. She didn't want anyone to identify me as a "Bohunk." That "language as a defining character of one's identity" works both ways.

    As reviled as the Irish immigrants were in the late 19th century, they assimilated with lightning speed compared to most other immigrant communities, because they all spoke English. Fifty years ago we had a President of Irish ancestry (Kennedy). We still haven't had one of Italian or Latino ancestry. (We have had Dutch, Van Buren and two Roosevelts. And German, Eisenhower.)

    No. Japanese is a heavily inflected language: it's been asserted that it makes Latin and Russian look like child's play. Japanese verbs are not just inflected for tense, mode, person and number. They're inflected to express the difference in social standing between the speaker and the person spoken to, and the gender of the two parties. The paradigms for a woman speaking to a man place her in a much inferior social position.

    A friend of mine had spent many years in Japan and learned the language so well that if he walked up to someone from behind and began speaking, they assumed he was one of them, and got very perplexed when they turned around and didn't see a Japanese face. A friend of his asked him to translate a very short story into Japanese. He got halfway through the second paragraph and realized that he was going to have to outsource half of the dialog. A woman was speaking and he didn't know the verb conjugations for the feminine gender.

    Racism is one type of bias, and these days it's arguably the most reviled. Look at the racial slang in our language. Gook is simply the Korean word for "country," and in fast vernacular speech it is used to mean "countryman." During the Korean War, the G.I.'s heard the Koreans using that term for each other and they picked it up as a slang word for "Korean." In the next Asian civil war that our shit-for-brains government decided to participate in, the G.I.'s adopted Gook as a generic word for all Asian people. For years it was more often used as a derisive term for Vietnamese than for Korean.

    In colloquial speech we often say "they," knowing full well that it's awkward, but having no satisfactory alternative. "He or she" lasted about six months, and only in government writing. This leads to some amusing constructions. I saw a sign in a church restroom saying, "Every child should remember to wash their face."
  9. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Lol. If you want to argue for that line of reasoning, what are you doing in a science forum??

    You want to talk about "debunking" in linguistics and culturology? Really?

    I think it comes down to what one believes is "language" and what one believes is "culture."
    We probably differ on this point. As do many many linguists and culturologists ...

    What's your point? Irish English is a kind of English, but it is quite distinct from the American forms of English.

    It goes the other way around too: to express a particular social standing, a particular language expression is employed.
    It's not like the Japanese language is forcing women into socially inferior positions, or that it would make them socially inferior.

    This particular case might have to do with the way the awareness for reflexivity seems to be getting lost in modern English.

    In some languages, there is a special pronoun that is used with reflexive verbs, such as in German the "sich" in "sich waschen" ('to wash oneself') and thus no confusion arises:
    Jedes Kind soll sich sein Gesicht waschen.

    Every child should wash their neighbor's cup.
    Jedes Kind soll den Becher seines Nachbarns waschen.

    Although a form like
    Every child should wash the face.
    might be awkward in English, it goes in German:
    Jedes Kind (or: Alle Kinder) sollen sich das Gesicht waschen.
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I don't understand your point. You said, "Too much insight into biases only paralyses a person, it doesn't make things easier for them." I'm simply suggesting that that is not universally true.

    A lot of psychology has been applied to linguistics, e.g. the works of Chomsky.

    Language is a communication technology that uses standardized symbols to represent things, actions, conditions, concepts and virtually anything about which people wish to communicate, by combining them in accordance with intricate standardized rules. Or as puts it more succinctly, "a body of words and the systems for their use common to a people who are of the same community or nation, the same geographical area, or the same cultural tradition."

    Some day we'll figure out whether dolphin communication satisfies that definition. We know that each individual has a name and that each pod seems to have an identifying chant.

    I haven't met an awful lot of linguists, but so far they all hew to that definition of "language." I've certainly never read anything by a professional linguist that disagrees with it. As for "culture," again I find's definition perfectly adequate: "In anthropology, the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another." That group's language is clearly a part of their culture.

    Today it's arguably almost nothing more than a variant of British English, but in those days it was arguably a distinct dialect. Nonetheless speakers of American English and Irish English understood each other well enough, especially after the Irish had been here for a while and both dialects influenced each other. There was never a time when an Irish immigrant tried to communicate with an American and the American gave up in disgust because he couldn't understand him, they way many of them did (and still do) with other immigrants who are struggling to speak a foreign language. And that's my point: An American and an Irishman in the 1880s could understand each other with no more difficulty than an American from Maine and one from Mississippi in, say, 1920 before radio began to level our dialects. This made it far easier for the Irish to succeed in America. They were so well respected by municipal governments that they hired hundreds of them into the police force. Evidence of this is the term "Paddy wagon," a horse-drawn carriage driven by Irish cops to haul miscreants off to the hoosegow. (Actually those slang words would probably not have been used in the same community, since juzgado is Spanish.

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    No, but it reinforces that relationship unconsciously. Just as English reinforces our fixation with time, speed, etc., whereas Chinese, whose verbs have no tenses, does not. The language of the world's oldest continuous civilization comes with an attitude that things have always been this way and always will be.

    Indeed. All of the Germanic languages except English have reflexive pronouns, one word for his/her/its/their own or him/her/it/them self/selves. Well I don't really know anything about Frisian, but in Yiddish zikh has been expanded to even cover "my/our/your self." The Romance and Slavic languages have a generic reflexive too. I don't know why English lost it.

    A lot of our grammar was superimposed by Old Norse forms in the chaotic years after the Romans left, often to avoid the ambiguities caused by phonetic changes. For example, they/their/them is Norse. Our pronouns had degenerated into hi/hir/hem, which is way too close to he/her/him. It's been suggested that the colloquial 'em for "them" is a holdover from hem, rather than an abbreviation of "them."

    Spanish and Portuguese, and perhaps the other Romance languages, do the same thing. They figure that if you're talking about "the face" you must mean your own (or the one belonging to the subject of the sentence). But it's proper to say, "Your dog is washing your face."
  11. rodereve Registered Member

    That might work to your benefit. People that talk slowly are sometimes considered more wise. Just don't show you're having difficulty. Maybe thats just me though or a product of watching too many movies lol
  12. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    If you want to argue that "we're all different," then there can be no generalization; and with no generalization, there can be no science.

    But I don't really believe you believe that "we're all different." Perhaps that "we're all different" was just a soundbite that found its way into your mind.

    Read again. I stated a truism.

    And you believe that psychology discovers and states universal rules, laws or at least guidelines about human behavior and cognition?

    I hope you see this is also a very broad definition, leaving much open space for debate.
    That debate pretty much comprises the field called linguistics (and the other one for culturology).

    I think it does so only for someone who is already so disposed.

    As someone who speaks several languages, I just don't experience these things this way.
    I suppose that once one is fluent in several languages and lo(o)se(n)s attachment to a particular language, expressing anything in any language becomes easier.

    Research it!
  13. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Everyone does that unless pedantically prevented or discouraged, and not just in colloquial speech. As with the ending of sentences on a preposition, appropriate use of "they" as the gender neutral singular is solid and standard American English as employed by its very best writers and speakers along with pretty much everyone else who isn't tripping themselves as they go - it's not at all awkward, and passes without ambiguity, unnoticed by anyone unless they have been carefully miseducated to attend to it.

    The various odd and intrusive workarounds employed to dodge this natural fait accompli of grammatical evolution have become tedious - I just finished a fine book ("Quiet", Susan Cain) in which somebody (editor or author or combination) has adopted the practice of alternating the gender of reference in alternate sections of prose or even paragraphs, apparently in an attempt to avoid gender specificity in the book overall without offending somebody's notion of high class grammar - now that is awkward.

    In a foreigner's thread on native-level speaking of English, competent and standard native speaking of English should be recognized as such.

    Not really. Even in those cases in which some part of a difficult meaning can be approached via verbose circumlocution, those aspects of the meaning which depend on the original concision and precise wording will be lost . Or as the guy put it: "Poetry is what is lost in translation".
  14. andy1033 Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    Op, the best way if your an adult to learn a language is you need to be around people speaking it.

    If i was you, i have no reason to learn a new language. I would just get tapes of the language i want to learn and play them on my ipod or something over and over. Your getting your brain used to that language, even though you have no idea what they are saying.

    You really have to emerse yourself into that new language as much as possible.
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Uh, okay.

    You said, "Too much insight into biases only paralyses a person, it doesn't make things easier for them." It seems like this defines a spectrum. Some people are more paralyzed than others. Science deals well with spectra.

    You stated an assertion. It's only a truism if you've been proven right beyond a reasonable doubt. Otherwise, at best, it's a hypothetical truism.

    I'll take "Guidelines" for $500, Alex.

    You asked what I believe is "language" and I told you. It's not much different from the dictionary definition, and in fact the major difference is that my definition is a little less ambiguous. I don't see that I've made the space for debate any larger than it was when we started.

    Linguists don't spend the majority of their time arguing about what is language, so that debate does not in fact "pretty much comprise the field." You're giving pretty short shrift to the study of grammar, phonetics, etc., much less to the current hot topic, which is figuring out the relationships among the world's languages and determining whether they all come from a single ancestor.

    The greatest discovery of the 21st century so far is the unexpected (and still not completely proven) relationship between the Yenisei language of Siberia and the Na-Dene family of northwestern North America. Nobody's arguing whether Navajo and Tlingit are languages.

    Yeah okay. But attributes of culture, including language, affect disposition.

    I'm sure. I've never become really fluent in a second language. I suppose I could claim Esperanto, since I do actually think in it. But I have a small vocabulary and in addition Esperanto is a pretty strange language since it does not represent a culture. Probably not a good candidate.

    Yeah I'll put it on my list of fifty things to research. I don't have access to a university library so it's probably not something I'll be able to find readily. You brought it up, perhaps it's of more interest to you.

    I haven't got the details handy, but that so-called "rule" was made up by one writer about 150 years ago and has no academic support. It's trivial to construct a sentence in which there's no alternative to putting a preposition at the end: "Let me read this book myself! I don't want to be read to!"

    We'll ignore the contest-winner for maximum number of prepositions at the end of a sentence: "What did you bring that book I don't want to be read to out of about Down Under up for?"

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    Since the rise of feminism in the 1960s, we've been grappling with this. The bizarre construction s/he showed up in quite a few government documents--but it cannot be read aloud! I think "they" is with us to stay, if you'll excuse the way that sounds out loud without the quotation marks.

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    And that's exactly the point, isn't it? Half a century later, there is still no standard pronoun that refers to a person without knowing, presuming, or caring about his/her gender.

    Chinese is just the opposite. Neither pronouns nor nouns carry gender. If you want to say "he" you have to put together a mouthful like nei-ge nan ren, "that male human." If you want the maitre-de to send you a waitress instead of a waiter, you have to say "female waitperson."

    For sure. With the possible exception of the blankest of modern blank verse, poetry actively uses the resources of its specific language to create the rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, etc., that distinguishes poetry from prose. This is why the lyrics of many "translated" songs have almost no relation to the original.

    Latinos occasionally show up at the karaoke bar I go to, so just for fun I learned the Spanish version of Ricky Martin's "La Vida Loca." Only about six lines of the lyrics have anything to do with the English original. The rest are new.
  16. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    There is. It's "they". The only missing aspect is the formal recognition and explicit description of the standards of use.

    A cadre of professional grammarians have let us down, not the language or its speakers.
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    In other words, it is not a standard.

    These days my job consists primarily of writing government documents. I can never, ever, ever write "they" to refer to a single person. It will not be approved.

    Sometimes I have to completely rebuild an entire sentence to avoid it. When a professional writer can't find a way to express a rather simple thought, I would say that's a textbook case of "the language letting me down."
  18. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Losses in translating poetry occur because it is not clear what was intended to be expressed in the original to begin with, or because what was intended to be expressed is culturally specific and not specific to (a) language.

    A poetic text may give rise to a sense of awe or wonderment, excitement. These, however, are culturally, and individually specific, which is why it is difficult or impossible to translate them in a 1:1 manner.

    Often, what gets lost in translation are merely plays of words; in other words, trifles.

    And politicians.

    I'd sooner think it's a case of said "professional writer" lacking linguistic competence and insight into his own thinking processes.
  19. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member


    "Too much insight into biases only paralyses a person, it doesn't make things easier for them."

    Note the "too"?

    It's because they differ in what exactly language is (even if they otherwise agree on some general definition of the term) that they have so much to talk about.

    I suppose this is so for some who has little or no meta-understanding of language.

    What has that got to do with language?

    In the original, the music and the lyrics were composed together, so it's no wonder that they fit together.
    In translating pop songs, they should, on principle, also change the music then. Keeping the music and changing the words (such as by translating them) is like taking one person's clothes and forcing them on another. In most cases, they won't fit, or won't fit well.
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    This issue doesn't enter at all into into the research and arguments about the possible relations among languages and their grouping into hypothetical families. The oldest relationship we've been able to identify (and even this has still not been proven true beyond a reasonable doubt to satisfy the scientific definition of "theory") only goes back about 15,000 years. Anthopologists and archeologists have some really persuasive evidence that the technology of spoken language was invented about seventy thousand years ago. Since we have no idea what that proto-language was like (or even whether there was just one), of course we can't speculate with any certainty about when a system of whistles and animal decoy noises was elaborated into a language. But by 15KYA there's no doubt that the systems people were using then comprised language, as much as French and Xhosa.

    Only people like Chomsky delve into the psychology and definition of language. Everybody else is either trying to save the ones that are in danger of dying out in this generation, or trying to catalog and describe them before that happens--or just trying to make it easier for people to learn each other's languages.

    Which would include, what, about 99.999% of the population? Have you got some standard definition of "meta-understanding?" The only decent treatment of that neologism that I could find was strictly about learning mathematics, and it doesn't transfer very well to any other subject.

    For starters, Spanish has a much higher syllable count than English. English is at the lower end of the syllables-per-idea scale, comparable to French but not quite as efficent as Chinese. Spanish is up at the top end, comparable to Japanese and Hawaiian. So you can't possibly fit the Spanish translation of a line of poetry into the same number of beats in a song as the English original. For another, pop music lyrics are full of contemporary cultural references that mean almost nothing to someone in another country who speaks a different language--or simply come across much differently

    "She'll make you take your clothes off and go dancing in the rain." -- That's a cute and only slightly risqué commentary on the antics of young people in New York City. There are probably several kids doing that every night. But in most Latin American cities? Outrageous! Probably only common in the tourist hangouts, and done only by tourists.

    Not always. Of course the award-winning lyricist-composer teams like Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, or Carole King and Gerry Goffin, write songs that are integral wholes. But many melodies are written as instrumentals, and somebody writes the lyrics later. Johnny Horton's smash hit, "The Battle of New Orleans," was an ancient fiddle tune with lyrics written by Jimmy Driftwood a few generations later.

    And just as many (perhaps more) existing poems are set to music. It's an art unto itself and there's a whole cadre of people who have those skills.

    Also, people routinely write new lyrics to old songs. "The Star Spangled Banner" (the U.S. national anthem) is an old British drinking song, "To Anachreon in Heaven." Many songs have been re-written several times over the centuries, in new languages. The Italian standard O Sole Mio emerged on this side of the Atlantic as Elvis Presley's big hit, "It's Now or Never."

    It is very difficult. It helps greatly if the two languages have similar syllable-to-idea ratios, like French and English.

    "La Vida Loca" was not an insurmountable task because A) the title, which is repeated often in the lyrics, was already in Spanish and didn't have to be translated from "the crazy life" with an extra syllable, and B) the whole song had a deliberate Latin flavor, for Ricky Martin's debut into the anglophone market, so the Spanish lyrics don't clash with the mood of the music.

    Nonetheless, despite all those advantages, as I noted, only a few lines are translations of the English. The rest were rewritten.

    "She's into new sensations, new kicks and candlelight" comes out as: "The spider's web, the dragon's claw."

    Shakira is a genius. She translated her own song, Ojos Así, (probably her most popular outside the USA) into English ("Eyes like Yours") and did a masterful job.
  21. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    That's a problem with a bureaucracy, not a language.

    If you have to completely rebuild an entire sentence of competent, clear, literate, eloquent, and concisely meaningful prose to avoid violating some rule that no one follows in any major venue of that languages employment, your problem is not with that well-written sentence or the language it was written in.

    The way to express that simple thought is so easily found that you have to rebuild entire sentences to avoid it, so natural and normal you almost have to be a professional to even notice it.

    You mistake the verdicts of a few miseducated and pedantic twits for a problem with the language itself as universally spoken, written, and read.

    As you have pointed out, English has no governing body - its standards are set by its best speakers and writers, and these "best" are chosen by a consensus of listeners and readers. The standard in question has been set, for centuries actually: English has a conventional, normal, ubiquitous, ordinary, gender neutral singular, used by everyone including the very most competent speakers and writers. It's common to every dialect, found in the best writing of all genres, ineradicable in practice and without available replacement if eradicated. It's "they", and yes, it's "standard".
  22. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    It works well only in the nominative case. It's clumsy in the accusative but you're right, nobody complains about it. But people find themselves in very awkward situations in the genitive.

    As I pointed out, the sign in the children's bathroom in the church made everyone do a double-take: "Every child must wash THEIR face."

    Just as people eventually became uncomfortable using "he" to include women and overthrew the custom, they will eventually become uncomfortable with this custom as well and overthrow it.

    The internet and cellular technology have caused a quantum increase in the proportion of written vs. oral communication. A teacher might not agonize over speaking the phrase "I made sure every kid washed their face after lunch" in the teacher's lounge, but he or she will not be very happy about writing it, even in a text message, much less a tweet or an e-mail.

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