This is not a cat.

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Magical Realist, Mar 23, 2011.

  1. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The most common types of syntax are subject-verb-object and subject-object-verb... hereinafter represented by their customary abbreviations SVO and SOV.

    But there are many others. Japanese syntax, for example, comes from a completely different universe: topic-description. This explains why those zen koans sound so utterly weird in English translation: they were invented by people who think in a completely different pattern.
    Said the man who is apparently only familiar with Indo-European languages. Chinese has no adjectives, only nouns and verbs. (And a couple of particles which European grammarians desperately describe as parts of speech but actually are just placeholders to help in parsing a sentence.) All other parts of speech in our language are expressed by nouns, verbs or combinations thereof in Chinese. The word customarily translated as "red" is actually a verb meaning "to be red." Hua hong means "flower is-red." Reversing the order, in a language whose syntax is so rigid it makes English look like a Scrabble game, gives "hong hua," where the verb becomes a participle (by syntax rather than inflection), meaning "the being-red flower," which we translate less clumsily but also less accurately as "the red flower."

    Ideas which we express in adverbs have a similar syntactical solution. "The dog runs quickly" becomes "dog run action hurries." Prepositions are replaced by nouns and verbs. Wo zai fang li is customarily translated as "I am in the room," but it's literally "I occupy room interior."
    Q.E.D. Although Chinese is not really "a language as we know it." It's much more streamlined, efficient and adaptable than English.
    It's just the "Rhymes with Orange" comic strip from Saturday March 26. You should be able to Google it. Try the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website, that's where I normally read it. It's a sight-gag so I can't just explain it in words.
    These are abbreviations, not acronyms. An acronym is an abbreviation that can be, and is, pronounced as a word, such as NATO or COBOL--or USA in Hungary, where it's pronounced OO-sha. Yes I know this distinction is breaking down but we really need it. I see the term texpeak for this type of abbreviation--even though both of these were used in e-mail before text-messaging was invented. I like it so I have adopted it.

    I don't see how you could describe them as arbitrary since they are both properly constructed abbreviations for the phrases they represent. I suppose "laughing out loud" was not in wide use before the age of e-mail, but "oh my god" certainly was.
    Human babies have very undeveloped brains compared to other newborn mammals, because as it is the human pelvis is so preposterously wide compared to other apes, in order to accommodate birthing, that the musculature in our hips and thighs has been completely rerouted to allow us to walk with the constant weight transfer required. (No other mammal even has a gluteus maximus or "butt" like ours.) So babies' ability to form sounds is very limited. They can open and close their lips, forming the M sound, so they all say "mama." The next ability they acquire is to close their nasal passage and say "baba" or "papa," depending on how your language interprets that sound.
    The peculiarities of English phonetics (or any language) result in some phonemes carrying a certain connotation. Comedians all know that words beginning with K- prepare us to expect something amusing. The initial combinations SHT-, SHP-, SHM-, SHN-, and SHL-, which are common in German, do not occur in English words. Jewish comedians found that Yiddish words (Yiddish descended from a medieval dialect of German) beginning with those sounds always get a laugh out of anglophones. Shtoop, shtick, shlong, shlemiel, etc.
    That is the case in English. It will rain tomorrow, verb. The rain was cold, noun. Our rules of syntax identify the part of speech. Latin doesn't work that way. Parts of speech are identified by inflections, so you have great leeway in arranging the words in a sentence for emphasis or dramatic effect. In Chinese, in which every word has an average of twelve homonyms, you cannot vary your word order at all or you wind up with a different word than the one you wanted.
    It seems that the only mandatory parts of speech are nouns and verbs. Acts and actors.
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  3. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    So just nouns and verbs in Chinese.

    I wonder whether when humans invent a language, that they only invent ways of saying things that they need to say. Or whether the opposite is true, that a language forms organically, independent of needs, and so enables or restricts the way people think.

    I think that the former is probably true.
    The Brazilian tribe that cannot count is a famous example.
    In their culture, they don't need to count.

    Can you think why the Chinese would not require adjectives, and why we would?
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  5. quinnsong Valued Senior Member

    The stative verb in Chinese seems to have same function as Adjectives do in the English language so not really needed is my guess.:shrug:
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