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Linguistic legends - do you know of some in your language pair?
Thread poster: Stephanie Wloch

Stephanie Wloch  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:18
Member (2003)
Dutch to German
Feb 6, 2004

Hi!
I once believed in cool facts about inuits like, they got 20 words for snow, you know? For each characteristic one. They see
so much more than we cause knowing snow is essential to them.
I've just read something that made me think I was misguided:
Inuit words for snow
Another childhood legend is that the Inuit peoples of the Arctic – formerly known as "Eskimos" – have up to 20 different words for snow. A little investigation into this matter does in fact reveal a number of different words for snow in the Inuit languages, depending on the physical location of the snow. In the Umingmaktormuit Inuit dialect, for instance, there are separate words for "snow" in general, "snow on the ground", "fresh snow with no ice" and "falling snow". It's not so much a question of many different types of snow, as where the snow actually is.
Radio Netherlands Wereldomroep
http://www.rnw.nl/special/en/html/031223snow.html

Did you know more of these legends maybe about your language pair?

Disenchanted greetings
Steffi


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frank1
English to Dutch
Linguistic legends Feb 6, 2004

Hoi

Only 20?:-). I heard and read versions of this myth involving a few hundred of words for snow...

The nice Penguin Pocket "Language myths" (by Bauer and Trudgill) sums up a few popular myths, such as "French is a logical language", Some languages are harder than others", "In the Appalachians they speak like Shakespeare", "Some languages have no grammar".

On the internet, the most pupular language myths are:
1. Hebrew is the Original Language
2. Sumerian is related to language X (fill in any language you want)
3. Sanskrit = Proto Indo European
4. Basque is related to language X (fill in any language you want).

What Dutch is concerned, i'm sure you're aware of Becanus, who stated that Dutch was the language spoken in Paradise. And close to home, in Friesland, they have the Oera-Linda Boek (http://www.skepsis.nl/oeralinda.html)

Groetjes,

Frank


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chica nueva
Local time: 15:18
Chinese to English
Myths about Chinese script Feb 7, 2004

There are quite a few beliefs about Chinese script eg that it is purely pictorial and requires great feats of memory and recognition; that learning it exercises the left (or right) side of the brain (different to learning other languages); that Chinese language learners are more intelligent than other people because of this training...I'm not convinced.It is also said that Chinese is very difficult for foreigners to learn.

There is also a general myth about second language learning, that adult learners cannot achieve native-like pronunciation. I disagree. If you have a good ear, and the willingness to train your voice to produce new sounds and sound sequences, then I think it is possible.

This is a book on Chinese (DeFrancis's Chinese language textbooks were the standard in Western universities for many years, until China 'opened up' in 1978):

John DeFrancis "The Chinese Language - Fact and Fantasy", University of Hawaii Press, 1984

Here is the review on the book's cover by Joshua A. Fishman, research professor of social sciences, Yeshiva University, New York (an eminent linguist I believe):

"DeFrancis's book is first rate. It informs. It entertains. It teaches. It demystifies. It counteracts popular ignorance as well as sophisticated (cocktail party) ignorance. Who could ask for anything more? There is no other book like it....It is one of a kind, a first, and I would not only buy it but I would recommend it to friends and colleagues, many of whom are visiting China now and are adding a 'two-week-expert' ignorance to the two kinds that existed before. This is a book for everyone...."

DeFrancis writes in his introduction "This book has grown from the original essay...to the present form as it became apparent that the subject matter transcends the narrow field for which it was originally intended. The nature of the Chinese language, and more particularly the nature of the Chinese writing system, as I have belatedly come to realise, also bears more broadly on such areas as linguistics, psychology and education, especially as it applies to psycholinguistic problems in the teaching of reading."


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Henry Dotterer
Local time: 21:18
SITE FOUNDER
Japanese 'myths' Feb 7, 2004

I don't know if these qualify as myths, but here are a few of my personal feelings about Japanese:

- Rudimentary spoken* Japanese is not as hard as some people assume. The set of sounds is small and similar to Italian ("r" excepted), there are no tones, and the grammar is relatively simple and almost completely regular (albeit reversed, which is confusing for a while.)

- Japanese is not as ambiguous as it is sometimes made it out to be. It is true that sentence subjects are frequently omitted. But not if they are required to disambiguate! Besides, English speakers do the same thing. No one is confused by this exchange: "Q: What are doing?" "A: Reading the paper."

Here is a myth that has some basis: the word "no" is avoided in some situations. You do have to calibrate your meter to reflect the fact that "I'll think about it" can effectively be a flat "no". However, I tend to think the difficulty of re-calibrating is over-rated. People of all cultures I know avoid uncomfortable "no's", and it is easy to find non-Japanese people who avoid direct confrontation to similar degrees.

Just my personal opinions. Many would disagree.

* Written Japanese, on the other hand, is difficult. And the fact that one can not read for a while also makes learning the spoken language more difficult.


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GoodWords  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 20:18
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
The "lisp" in Castilian Spanish Feb 7, 2004

From http://spanish.about.com/cs/qa/a/q_lisp.htm

Common Belief Is Urban Legend
by Gerald Erichsen

Question: I was looking for information on the history/origin of Castilian Spanish and King Ferdinand. I was told (by my instructor, who is Cuban) this was because the King spoke with a lisp and all the people then copied him.

Answer: It's a great story, but it's just that: a story.

More precisely it's an urban legend, one of those stories that is repeated so often that people come to believe it. Like many other legends, it has enough truth (some Spaniards indeed do speak with something resembling a lisp, at least to those who accustomed to the pronunciation of Latin American Spanish) to be believed, provided one doesn't examine the story too closely. (In this case, looking at the story more closely would make one wonder why Spaniards don't also pronounce the letter s with a so-called lisp.)

The fact is that all living languages evolve. And when one group of speakers is separated from another group, over time the two groups will part ways and develop their own peculiarities in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. Just as U.S. English differs from British English (both of which differ from Canadian and South African English, among others), so does the Spanish of Spain and various Latin American countries. Even within one country, including Spain, you'll hear regional variations in pronunciation. And that's all we're talking about with the "lisp." Some people in Spain (and even in a few parts of South America) pronounce the letter z roughly the same as the English "th" of "tooth," while others pronounce is like an "s." It's not a lisp; it's just a difference in pronunciation.

There isn't always a specific explanation of why language changes in the way it does. But there is a plausible explanation given for this change, according to a graduate student who wrote to this site after this question and answer were first published. Here's what he said:

"As a graduate student of the Spanish language and a Spaniard, being confronted with people who 'know' the origin of the 'lisp' found in most of Spain is one of my pet peeves. I have heard the 'lisping king' story many times, even from cultured people who are native Spanish speakers, though you will not hear it come from a Spaniard.

"Firstly, the ceceo is not a lisp. A lisp is the mispronunciation of the sibilant s sound. In Castilian Spanish, the sibilant s sound exists and is represented by the letter s. The ceceo comes in to represent the sounds made by the letters z and c followed by i or e.

"In medieval Castilian there were two sounds that eventually evolved into the ceceo, the ç (the cedilla) as in plaça and the z as in dezir. The cedilla made a /ts/ sound and the z a /dz/ sound. This gives more insight into why those similar sounds may have evolved into the ceceo."

[Edited at 2004-02-07 04:15]


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GoodWords  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 20:18
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
"Complex" and "primitive" languages; "Superior" and "inferior" languages Feb 7, 2004

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 matter 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."

[Edited at 2004-02-10 00:34]


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RafaLee
Australia
Local time: 12:18
Spanish to English
+ ...
about Indonesian Feb 9, 2004

Everyone has been telling me that Indonesian is one of the easiest language in the world because the Indonesian grammar is very simple compared to other languages.

Is that so?
In my opinion, No. The grammar maybe simple but not necessarily easy.

The fact is that the proper Indonesian grammar is pretty rigid like other official languages.
However, very few people in Indonesia speaks "Bahasa Indonesia", the official language, properly on daily basis.A lot of them tend to mix up Bahasa Indonesia with their local dialect. In the case of Jakarta,
sometimes they cut the sentences so you have to read between the lines to understand them.For example:
English version:"Uncle, could you please get a pen from inside of the cupboard?"
- "Om, Tolong ambilkan pen dari dalam lemari" (proper Bahasa Indonesia)
- "Om, pen donk di lemari" (Bahasa Jakarta, the literal translation: Uncle, pen please at cupboard)
The native speakers can easily understand the meaning behind the ambiguous sentence but it would be hard for non-native speakers to decipher the meaning.
Therefore, even those who have been learning Bahasa Indonesia for more than 5 years may have difficulty in understanding the spoken Indonesian language.

The cultural aspects are also the hardest part. Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Jakarta(Indonesian language spoken in the capital)have more than four ways to say "I", five ways to say "you", more than 10 expressions to translate the word "no", 5 ways (around 7 or 8 for Bahasa Jakarta) to say "Please" etc etc. Its pretty difficult for a foreigner to understand these rules without having lived with Indonesian culture.


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Ouadoud  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:18
English to Arabic
+ ...
Arabic as an example Feb 9, 2004

In Arabic there are more than 100 different words for "lion" and more than 200 for "sex".. dialects apart.

I think that comparing languages in terms of superiority or inferiority is an impossible and somehow ridiculous task, no one knows them all.. Some are more concise others are more musical..

Arabic is well-known among its speakers as the language of "Bayan".

A huge literature has been produced explaining what's "Bayan", from Al-Jahiz till nowadays. if I have to explain it in one word, I'd say: clarity..

Salaam,

Ouadoud


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Dan Marasescu  Identity Verified
Romania
Local time: 03:18
Member (2003)
English to Romanian
+ ...
Myth of the "pure origin of a language" Feb 9, 2004

This belief, partly related to the previously mentioned myth of "superior language", seems to be one of the most unjustified myths, probably because it is mainly supported by non linguists. The exemple that I have in mind is the belief that Romanian will have more prestige when it is recognised by all as a language of latin origin. For decades, the main concern of some patriots was to prove that there is something heroic about speaking a latin language in a geographical space dominated by slavic languages. Some wrote books to defend our "latinity".
To some extent, there is an historical explanation for this glorification, as the latin origin of Romanian used to be denied in the past.
So for many, proving that Romanian has latin origin meant proving that Romanian is a "superior language"
A few years ago, an orthographic reform was passed in Romania with the sole porpose of making the latin origin of Romanian more obvious. This is probably the only example of orthographic reform that made the spelling more complicated instead of making it more simple.


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frank1
English to Dutch
Romanian Feb 9, 2004

An almost reverse set of beliefs is popular too, viz. to connect Romanian with Illyrian or Dacian or whatever "indegious" pre-Roman language (about hardly anything is known, btw).

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Lorenzo Lilli  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:18
German to Italian
+ ...
German reform Feb 10, 2004

Dan Marasescu wrote:

A few years ago, an orthographic reform was passed in Romania with the sole porpose of making the latin origin of Romanian more obvious. This is probably the only example of orthographic reform that made the spelling more complicated instead of making it more simple.


What about the ortographic reform of German? Many Germans were so upset! (Flussschifffahrt instead of Flusschiffahrt? gosh! Fluss or Fluß? Fuss or Fuß?). I heard Germans say that it just made things more complicated.


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Dan Marasescu  Identity Verified
Romania
Local time: 03:18
Member (2003)
English to Romanian
+ ...
Very marginal I assume Feb 10, 2004

frank1 wrote:

An almost reverse set of beliefs is popular too, viz. to connect Romanian with Illyrian or Dacian or whatever "indegious" pre-Roman language (about hardly anything is known, btw).


As you mentioned, there is very little we know about Dacian or other pre-latin languages. Therefore the tendancy that you refer to is not so much related to language. And, to my knowledge, it is extremely marginal. But you are right: there is something like that and it usually serves the purposes of nationalists.


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frank1
English to Dutch
Language and culture Feb 11, 2004

Another popular myth is that language of a so called "highly civilised" community is often evaluated as more complex, rich etc. than a language of an "uncivilised" nation, or the tongue of a "barbarious" nation. The idea that German and Japanese are quite often regarded as "aggressive" might be an illustration of this.
The idea also seemed to be popular among a certain breed of authors annex linguists (or worse, purists). The 1935 edition of History of the English language by Baugh contains a lot of examples. Later editions have been heavily revised, not to say rewritten.
Similar ideas can be found back in Goad's Language in History (1958), in a lot of writings on Sanskrit (and Hindi) etc. etc.

Strangly enough (?), also Tolkien's Lord of the Ring has quite a few examples: the elves speak a melodious language, while even merely pronouncing the language of the baddy blackens the skies. (I KNOW this is fiction, but the idea is quite similar.


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vladex  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:18
Polish
+ ...
not Dutch, but Polish, you liar!!! :-) Feb 11, 2004

frank1 wrote:

What Dutch is concerned, i\'m sure you\'re aware of Becanus, who stated that Dutch was the language spoken in Paradise. And close to home, in Friesland, they have the Oera-Linda Boek


Of course, there were people who claimed that Adam (of course taught by Jahveh Himself) spoke Polish

I believe that it is shared by all European languges.


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Lorenzo Lilli  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:18
German to Italian
+ ...
and Irish? Feb 11, 2004

vladex wrote:

Of course, there were people who claimed that Adam (of course taught by Jahveh Himself) spoke Polish

I believe that it is shared by all European languges.


Some time ago, someone in a forum told that God speaks all languages except Irish, is that true?


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