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Can one language be better than another?
Thread poster: Wendy Cummings

Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:24
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
May 14, 2003

The other night my boyfriend and I entered into a debate over whether one language can be better than another. My point was that no, it can\'t. Firstly, I tried to define better, and this meant working out the purpose of language. I decided this was communication, ie - a good language is one that communicates the message. Therefore, as all languages communicate (regardless of how fast, how prettily or with how many words) a message equally well, no one language is inherently better than another. I agreed that one language could be faster than another, or more embellished than another, even easier to learn than another, all depending on context, but not plain \'better\' than another.



My Boyfriend heatedly rejected this argument, saying that the point of language was survival through and fast efficient communication (As opposed to writing, say, which is a slower form). He said that you cannot disregard context and therefore maintained that a language that uses fewer words and/or is more precise about the subject is better than another. He quoted for example the fact that Russian does not distinguish between the tenses \'it was\' and \'it had been\', concluding that therefore Russian was a worse language than English because it couldn\'t communicate this idea. I countered saying it uses context and other means to communicate perfectly adequately.



This argument lasted for some hours (and some bottles of wine) and we finally agreed to disagree. I would however be extremely interested in hearing other people\'s views on this point, and any other arguments that may arise. Is there a language hierarchy? And if so, who is at the top?





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Andres Pacheco  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:24
Member (2003)
English to Spanish
+ ...
There is not a "better language" May 14, 2003

There are no linguistic grounds to support the idea that one language is better than another.



Regarding speed, it is a cultural bias to say that \"faster is better\", given that all languages commmunicate whatever is necessary to convey in their cultures in the way that is suitable for each context. And, as cultures change, languages adapt to these modifications.



For an informative intro to the debate see \"Some Languages are Just Not Good Enough\", by Ray Harlow, in _Language Myths_.


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Henrique Magalhaes  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:24
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Sinthetic languages like English are more powerful May 14, 2003

Being portuguese & trying to convert Eng>Por for now quite a few years I have to confess that Eng. is reacher & simpler than most other languages,(mostly latin that I know) especially in technical matters.This is evident whenever I have to convert a given number of words of a text into my native language.But if we compare the tenses of verbs, for instance, Por. comes up as a winner for it is reacher than Eng. So in conclusion: for this era, in which technology is gradually becoming more & more pervasive, your language is better prepared because it also belongs to countries far more advanced, technically speaking.





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schmurr  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:24
Italian to German
+ ...
"better" can't be objective; May 14, 2003

it\'s just that some languages have (dis)advantages that other languages don\'t have. E. g. my language, German, has the disadvantage that often the verb or part of it has to be put at the end of the sentence, thus far away from the subject. This is a pain in the neck not only for interpreters, but also for people who want to write an elegant, understandable style.

On the other hand German has lots of shades of meaning which often get lost when I translate into e. g. Italian. So ...


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Mats Wiman  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 17:24
Member (2000)
German to Swedish
+ ...

MODERATOR
Here is my prejudiced opinion May 14, 2003

No language is the better but better is



French when you want to be sensual

Spanish when you want to be proud

German when you want to be technical

English when you want to summarize

Swedish when you want to sing to your schnapps



Best regards



Mats





[ This Message was edited by: MatsWiman on 2003-05-14 17:07]


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Alison Schwitzgebel
France
Local time: 17:24
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
And Russian.... May 14, 2003

Quote:


On 2003-05-14 17:06, MatsWiman wrote:

No language is the better but better is



French when you want to be sensual

Spanish when you want to be proud

German when you want to be technical

English when you want to summarize

Swedish when you want to sing to your schnapps







And Russian if you want to do all of these

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Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 17:24
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
Here is my prejudiced opinion too May 14, 2003

No language is better but bette is:



Dutch when you want to be poetic.



I do admire English for its ability to describe new concepts.



Regards,

Gerard


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GoodWords  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 10:24
Spanish to English
+ ...
The best language May 14, 2003

Of course there is one best language, one language which is superior for expressing all the nuances of human thought; is most suitable for poetry, technology, or anything else you want. All other languages are inferior, because they are incapable of full expression.



Which language is it?



It\'s your mother tongue.





Here\'s the viewpoint of an expert.



Some excerpts from Chapter 2, \"The equality of languages\", in \"The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language\" by David Crystal:



\"It comes near to stating the obvious that all languages have developed to express the needs of their users, and that in a sense all languages are equal. (...) There may indeed be important differences in the structural complexity of language (...) But all languages are arguably equal in the sense that there is nothing intrinsically limiting, demeaning, or handicapping about any of them. All languages meet the social and psychological needs of their speakers, are equally deserving of scientific study, and can provide us with valuable information about human nature and society. (...)



\"There are, however several widely held misconceptions about languages which stem from a failure to recognize this point of view. The most important of these is the idea that there are such things as \'primitive\' languages -- languages with a simple grammar, a few sounds, and a vocabulary of only a few hundred words, whose speakers have to compensate for their language\'s deficiencies through gestures. (...)



\"The fact of the mater is that every culture which has been investigated, no matter how \'primitive\' it may be in cultural terms, turns out to have a fully developed language, with a complexity comparable to those of the so-called \'civilized\' nations. (...) There are no \'bronze age\' or \'stone age\' languages (...) All languages have a complex grammar: there may be relative simplicity in one respect (e.g. no word endings), but there seems always to be relative complexity in another (e.g. word position). People sometimes think of languages such as English as \'having little grammar\' because there are few word endings. But this is once again the unfortunate influence of Latin which makes us think of complexity in terms of the inflectional system of that language.



(...) \"At the other end of the scale from so-called \'primitive\' languages are opinions about the \'natural superiority\' of certain languages. Latin and Greek were for centuries viewed as models of excellence in western Europe because of the literature and thought which these languages expressed; and the study of modern languages is still influenced by the practices of generations of classical linguistic scholars.



\"The idea that one\'s own language is superior to others is widespread (...)



\"A belief that some languages are intrinsically superior to others is widespread, but it has no basis in linguistic fact. Some languages are of course more useful or prestigious than others, at a given period of history, but this is due to the preeminence of the speakers at that time, and not to any inherent linguistic characteristics.\"



[ This Message was edited by: GoodWords on 2003-05-16 22:10]


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shfranke  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:24
English to Arabic
+ ...
In view of such argumentativeness, you might consider getting a new boyfriend May 14, 2003

Greetings.



Separarate from the merits of the good posts in this thread by other gracious member, here is an observation:



--- In view of his apparent argumentativeness, you might consider getting a new boyfriend.



HTH.



Regards,



Stephen H. Franke


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elrubio
Local time: 17:24
German to Italian
+ ...
Non esiste una lingua migliore delle altre May 15, 2003

Non esiste una lingua migliore delle altre.

Si tratta solo di gusti personali; per qualcuno una lingua può essere più bella di un\'altra.

Per esempio è universalmente riconosciuto che l\'italiano parlato (oppure lo spagnolo) ha un suono molto piú gradevole di una lingua come l\'inglese (oppure il tedesco), che invece è una sequela di suoni sgradevoli.


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writeaway  Identity Verified

Local time: 17:24
Partial member (2003)
French to English
+ ...
A good word for GoodWords who put in the good word May 15, 2003

Quote:


On 2003-05-14 17:49, GoodWords wrote:

Of course there is one best language, one language which is superior for expressing all the nuances of human thought; is most suitable for poetry, technology, or anything else you want. All other languages are inferior, because they are incapable of full expression.



Which language is it?



It\'s your mother tongue.











You have definitely found the very \'best\' language of them all. And I think everyone will agree.

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xxxSimplyMe
English to German
Oh, oh... May 15, 2003

I know this kind of discussion - my girlfriend and me recently had a quite similar one - with one difference: we agreed.



After many years of working with English and German I reached no perfection - but I\'d like to draw the following conclusion:



English is not very precise. Impossible to determine if a word is a substantive oder a verb - if no context is available.

I believe that English is a \"gray\" language; english sentences seldomly have \"power\" without the context.

To be honest: English is (in my very opinion) a quite boring language.

English is the ideal language for worldwide communication - because it\'s easy to learn and understandable even if your English is quite poor.



German IS very precise - but awfully difficult to learn. From 100 german-speaking people there\'s just one or two who master this language. NO MORE.

German\'s very, very versatile - and ideal for poems or quite complex descriptions.

German gets it\'s power from the words, their combination and the grammar used.

You can feel a kind of magic just by reading (and understanding) a single sentence. In English you need context.

You can read a single German sentence - and you got the message; with English sentences you often have to read the same sentence over and over to guess the message.

Drawbacks: Hard to learn - and not that suitable for singing.



If I had to decide which language would be the more developed - I\'d choose German.



But don\'t forget that I just cannot evaluate in an unbiased way: I AM German.



Conclusion: There is NO perfect language. If a language is perfect for YOU depends solely on YOUR needs. If you just want to communicate - choose English. If you wish to enjoy the poetry of words - choose German.


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GoodWords  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 10:24
Spanish to English
+ ...
How I found out May 16, 2003

Quote:


On 2003-05-14 17:49, GoodWords wrote:

Of course there is one best language, one language which is superior for expressing all the nuances of human thought; is most suitable for poetry, technology, or anything else you want. All other languages are inferior, because they are incapable of full expression.



Which language is it?



It\'s your mother tongue.





Thanks \"writeaway\". I\'m glad you agree--not everyone does! I was inspired in my theory after talking with a Tunisian friend who assured me that the most highly developed language is Arabic, followed by French, and far below them, English. I said, \"But Najib, isn\'t that just because you learned them in that order? Arabic is your mother tongue, then you learned French, and finally English.\" This PhD scientist thought for a moment, and then said, somewhat puzzled, \"True, I learned them in that order, but of course that doesn\'t have anything to do with it.\"

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bdoc
English to Hungarian
indo-european vs. asian May 18, 2003


these languages are all indo-europeans (except Arabic)

probably English has the most words approx. 10 million

for me it sounds kinda synthetic but I like it though



asian languages apply different approach (I deduce it from Hungarian \'cause that\'s what I speak)

they are more fluid-like: no fixed word order



\'inherent linguistic characteristics\'

H. has 44 letters = 44 sounds



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