Sunday, July 15, 2007

Flexibility

It's really cool how the living languages use and modify what is available around. Take the "@" sign. Couple of months ago, it was just a part of the e-mail address for me, e.g. john@gmail.com means the address of John who has an e-mail account at Gmail. Sometimes I used the sign to express "at" in general: Let's meet @ 2pm. But in Spanish I see it often being used as a gender-neutral way how to address a group of people: chic@s or tod@s. Pretty amazing, huh?

3 comments:

Sergio said...

Well, as a philologist I guess I tend to be a little conservative even if I don't want to, but anyway I don't like that, since that doesn't represent any actual sound in the language. How do you say "tod@s" aloud? tod-arroba-s? so it's unnecessary.

Also, as usual, in my little crusade aganist technology invading fields that aren't related to it, I don't like a technology-related symbol taking over written language.

Indo-european languages have this problem. Maybe we should all learn Chinese. No genders whatsoever! No singular/plurals! No prefixes! No suffixes! Never changing a word. Never. It stays the same in all contexts. No tense, no aspect, no person or number for verbs. No subordinate sentences. Chinese is the easiest language around. If it had originated in a country with white people, it would be the Lingua Franca.

Jan said...

In Czech the "todo/as" will be even more difficult: Všichni = all (males), všechny = all (women) and všechna = all in terms of a neutral gender, as all (kids), for example, but surprisingly it can be also all (girls), which makes it tough, because the girls are females, too. One "@" sign won't help. Thanks for the comment - it's interesting to read the thoughts about Chinese, honestly, I had no idea.

Sergio said...

Obviously not everything is good about chinese, good as in "being easy".

Counters, i.e. words that are similar to "slice" in English, must ALWAYS be used with any noun when preceded by a determiner or number.

In English you say "three books". In Chinese, "san shu" would be wrong. You hav eto add "ben". "San ben shu", with "ben" that has no realy meaning. There are possibly hundreds of measure words, or counters, in Chinese. Fortunately, "ge" can be used with every word even if it sounds a little unsophisticated or childish, so you could say "san ge shu" as well.

Measure words are actually real popular in Asia, ocurring in such unrelated languages like Japanese or Vietnamese. There are, for example, measure words for "flat objects" (paper, or even quilts methinks).

That's I think the major difficult with Chinese together with tones, the fact that depending on the pitch(rising, falling, falling-rising or high), a syllable like "ma" can mean "heap", "horse", "mother" or even be a particle to turn a whole sentence into a question.

But all in all, I think that indo-european languages are over-complicated for no particular reason, while the Chinese seem to have kept it simple and functional.

And Chinese used to be even easier some centuries ago, when all words were monosyllabic. Right now, they prefer bisyllabic words. Sometimes they just add another syllable, "zi" which has no meaning.

"Chengzi" means "orange", and "zhuozi" means "table". I suppose that in the past, "cheng" was "orange" and "zhuo" table.

Sometimes they just use two syllables with similar meaning just for the sake of having 2 syllables for a word. That's the case of the word for "country", which is "Guojia". Guo means "country" as in "Zhongguo" -China, meaning "Country of the Middle- and "jia" means country as well -apart from "family" or "house"-. So actually, Guojia means "country-country".

That just adds some difficulty, because it could be just easier if you had to learn, as it used to be, just one syllable for each word or concept, instead of long words like in indo-eruopean languages, many of which are words from older languages that had already some prefix or suffix, and then to which it was added more prefixes or sufixes.

And knowing that in order to make the continuous form -as in "to be DOING"- you just have to add "zai" before the verb, that makes everything simplier. No gerunds like in English or Spanish, no using a whole new root like in Russian.

Seriously, the worst thing about indo-european languages is the changing of words, so maaany rules. In Spanish, the verb "poder", the root being pod-, changes to pUEd-O (I can) but pOd-éis (You can). In German you have several different plurals for no reason, from -en, -e, -s or even changing the root of the noun, like in Apfel => Äpfeln (apple-apples).

That's why I'm in love with Asian languages -even though I keep studying German-. Apart from the beautiful aesthetics of Chinese characters, I've hated all my life changing words, morphology.

I remember when I did "Spanish Grammar" my first year at uni. I did everything well but that, morphology. It's so boring, it's just stupid rules, some of which which only apply to perhaps 100 words but which you have to learn.

When I learn Chinese, I know that everything I'm learning can be used immediatly, while you may even NEVER use some of the morphological rules of complicated languages such as french or spanish.