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The national language and the national character
Thread poster: xxxwonita
xxxwonita
China
Local time: 11:11
Dec 22, 2007

The Germans are accurate and good at planning. Of course they are, if they are trained to be so after their birth. The German language is so accurate that you need 2 different articles for "in the room" and "into the room". The German sentences have a so-called "frame structure", eg., if it has two verbs, one follows the subject, and the other must be placed at the end of the sentence. For example, the order of the English sentence "I must have a cup of tee" should be "I must a cup of tee have" in German. Behind the surface, a mere change of word order, is a change in the thinking process. The German must plan the whole sentence before opening their mouth, whilst an English speaker may still be thinking what to take actually after the verb "take" appears. As long as a German baby starts to learn the German laguage, it is trained to think, to plan like a German.

In my jobs as an interpreter for the German industry, I often hear such comments about their Chineses business parnters: they are not punctual, not calculable, but really nice and easy-going. Well, think about my mother language, the Chinese language - the nouns do not have genders, you never need to decline them; a sentence doesn't even need a verb to be a sentence; and the verbs are never conjugated. It is often unclear, if an action has happened or it will happen. You need to find it out according to the context. Well, maybe we are not as correct as the Germans; but for us everything is OK and not really so serious, just as our grammarless language implies.

when I observe the Europeans of different nationalities, I find more or less a distinguishing national appearance, which might be a result of their national language. You see, to talk a language, you need to excercise certain speech organs and facial muscles; for those who talk the same language, their face tend to be formed in a more similiar way than those who talk different languages. Of course an Asian wouln't have the appearance of an European even if he talks an European language; however, he might look slightly different to his counterparts in his home country.

If you want to be as accurate as a German, learn the German language;
If you want to be as handsome as a Frenchman, learn the French language;
If you want to be as easy-going as a Chinese, learn the Chinese language;
......

Wish all of you a nice holiday time!
Bin




[Edited at 2007-12-22 20:06]


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Hilde Granlund  Identity Verified
Norway
Local time: 17:11
English to Norwegian
+ ...
interesting observation Dec 22, 2007

I am not so sure about "national character" though. I do believe there are all kinds in all countries. But I am sure you are right that the language you speak and think in will influence your thought process.
I gather German is a real headache for simultaneous interpreters - since you often need to wait for the verb at the very end to know what exactly is going on, and taking a chance may land you in deep waters.


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 17:11
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
Noam Chomsky would not be amused Dec 22, 2007

As long as a German baby starts to learn the German laguage, it is trained to think, to plan like a German.

My grand kids would have a different opinion. Or at least find this kind of tagging questionable. See, they assume to be the property of their own future (free after Bakunin). They think and plan ... their own way.

By the way, the problem may lie in the definition. If the definition of "Germanship" is the 08-15 sentence above, oh me oh my...


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erika rubinstein  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:11
Member (2011)
English to Russian
+ ...
Bin, are you serious? Dec 22, 2007

I hope, it is a joke.

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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:11
English to Spanish
+ ...
Then of course... Dec 22, 2007

We have languages such as English and Spanish that represent many diverse national characters, races and ethnic groups so it's a bit hard to say. Some people can be intentionally vague or very precise in either as they so choose. Within these main languages there are also numerous subculture languages.

However, we all seem to be more united by them, even though our thinking may not necessarily be the same.


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xxxAdrian MM.
Local time: 17:11
French to English
+ ...
Interesting points Dec 23, 2007

Bin has a point. A German University Professor I had - who used to teach at Heidelberg Uni. until arrested by the Gestapo in 1938 for giving a lecture on British parliamentary democracy - claimed that his own native German was a tortuous and antagonistic language that caused an overwrought personality and obsessive attention to detail cf. sloppy and slovenly Wienerisch, whilst the way conversational Arab, Hebrew or Turkish is spoken might lead observers to conclude a threatening argument was going on.

By the same token, Indonesian or Polynesian languages - maybe on the lines of Chinese - are supposed to have a relatively simple grammar with few articles, conjugations and tenses. What are we to conclude from that: that such ethnic groups and those of us who learn Maori etc. are relatively easy-going, straightforward and peace-loving but do not wield a mathematically predictable lingo that lends itself to scientific endeavour?

The US and UK have at their disposal an English language that is notoriously ambiguous - no surprise that they have a sprawling law of evidence predicated on a plethora of spoken and written misunderstandings - as well as full of irregularities and lax on grammatical rules. Yet these two countries, paradoxically, each have a fair share of all technical patents registered and (albeit sometimes German/ Austrian/ Swiss-born!) Nobel Prize winners for science.

Hilde will know that the Scandinavians, like the Swedish soccer team, are minimalists with impoverished language at their disposal and many borrowed ('loan') words due to previous, historical cultural isolation, with no opening in letters for Dear Sir/Madam and a very terse one-word sign-off, whilst Latins - French, Italians and Hispanics with less attention to grammatical and syntactical detail in the written word to translators' and interpreters' despair - may still take a whole para. to sign off.

Also why speech is faster in countries like France vs. Canada and Argentina vs. Colombia must also tell us something - besides speed of thought - about national traits.

Vito mentions the non-translator and non-interpreter Noam Chomsky whose theory of deep structure ties up with Henry's universal meaning point and is safely encrypted in - ironically impenetrable - linguistic and pseudo-mathematical jargon.

How the national character shapes language or the other way round is far more complex. Those of us who purport to utter in many tongues may certainly have to split our personality.

[Edited at 2007-12-23 00:36]

[Edited at 2007-12-23 00:39]

[Edited at 2007-12-23 00:42]

[Edited at 2007-12-23 00:43]

[Edited at 2007-12-23 00:45]


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Geneviève von Levetzow  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:11
Member (2002)
French to German
+ ...
it is a joke??? Dec 23, 2007

????

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Nesrin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:11
English to Arabic
+ ...
A bit off-topic: On the topic of national character Dec 23, 2007

erika rubinstein wrote:

I hope, it is a joke.


There may be some truth in what Bin said about the influence of language on the character, but I briefly want to comment on the topic of "national character", which always causes a lot of discomfort among many people, for fear that it may lead to stereotyping, racism and worse, as history has shown.

There is always the irrefutable reply that there are all sorts of people in all countries. And of COURSE there are - so I'm not belittling your reply, Hilde.

But can anyone who's ever gone to other countries for some time really deny the feeling I'm sure they had that there IS some kind of prevailing national character??

Just as an example: Germans are often considered by other nationalities to be (in addition to accurate, efficient etc), well, kind of rude. Britons, on the other hand, are considered polite. I lived in Germany for 7 years and as many years in England. While I really love British people in general (yes, there are all sorts), if you ask me which people I prefer to deal with, I'd say the Germans. Why? Because I have found that what people often perceive as German rudeness, is in fact German straightforwardness - telling things as they are without "decoration", without mincing their words. You know where you stand with them ("in general"!). British politeness on the other hand is due to a great effort they make to put their words in a least possible offensive way.
For example: If your kids are playing loudly in the garden, a German neighbour would come out and say: "Please tell your kids to be more quiet or play inside."
A British neighbour would say: "Your kids are lovely. We always hear them playing in the garden".
And I'm bringing this example because this was actually told to us by our British neighbour. Unfortunately, we had just arrived in the UK then, so we didn't "get it". Only months later, we happened to mention this comment to someone, who explained to us that this would be a British way of saying "could you tell your kids to be more quiet?"!
Yes, Germans can be terrifying at times, but at least you don't need a "cultural translator" in your head to tell you what's actually meant!

Bottom line: I reserve the right to generalise, as it helps draw useful conclusions, BUT it has to be put into perspective, and we have to be aware that exceptions may be almost as many as the rules..

[Edited at 2007-12-23 21:04]


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 18:11
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Perhaps Dec 23, 2007

I would take another exemple. Finnish and Estonian language are very similiar, have developed from the same roots. But Estonian sentence structure follows the German structure, perhaps due to 800 years of slavery under the rule of German landowners. National character is said to be also quite different in Finland and Estonia. And the national character of Swedish speaking Finns is quite different from that of Finnish speaking Finns, though they are genetically identical. A saying here goes, if you want to live longer, move to a Swedish speaking place and start to speak Swedish.
Cheers
Heinrich


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:11
Flemish to English
+ ...
When you want to be a Belgian... Dec 23, 2007

from the FAZ:

http://www.faz.net/s/RubCF3AEB154CE64960822FA5429A182360/Doc~EBA3403E782AE4056ADF4B41BD301CADD~ATpl~Ecommon~Scontent.html

what national languages must you learn?
Dutch or French or German or English, the lingua franca in the Brussels international institutions and business community.
---
Isn't Chinese is a tone language with four different tones -the famous"ma, ma, ma and ma" (sorry, i did not succeed in placing diachritic signs) which have four different meanings and about 5000 characters, which are not easy to master. You are right: language determines the way we look at the world.

[Edited at 2007-12-23 16:04]


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Madeleine MacRae Klintebo  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:11
Swedish to English
+ ...
Language Myths by Bauer et al Dec 23, 2007

As the members/users of Proz are all linguistists to some kind of degree, I also assumed this thread was some kind of joke at first.

Tom - I have no knowledge of Indonesian and some other languages mentioned, but I do have extensive knowledge of Swedish and, to some extent, other Scandinavian languages.

Tom Thumb wrote:

Hilde will know that the Scandinavians, like the Swedish soccer team, are minimalists with impoverished language at their disposal and many borrowed ('loan') words due to previous, historical cultural isolation, with no opening in letters for Dear Sir/Madam and a very terse one-word sign-off, whilst Latins - French, Italians and Hispanics with less attention to grammatical and syntactical detail in the written word to translators' and interpreters' despair - may still take a whole para. to sign off.

,

I'm not going to comment on what Hilde might or might not know, neither will I comment on the Swedish football team as I couldn't care less about them.

But please explain the "historical cultural isolation" you deem Scandinavians to have suffered. Are these the same Scandinavians who in the Viking era were the first Europeans to settle in North America (Leif Erikson, present day Norway), visited, looted, traded with, settled in, etc. countries/regions such as England,Scotland, Ireland, Normandie, Iceland, Greenland (vikings from present day Denmark and Norway), Russia, Turkey (ditto from present day Sweden).

Or are you thinking of the 17th century north European superpower that colonised major parts of Poland and the Baltic states (Sweden's 2nd oldest univeristy, I think is in Estonia), not to mention parts of northern Germany (almost forgot our Scandinavian neighbour, Norway, and Finland)? The final end of this era only came in the mid-18th century when Gustavius III really got himself into a mess in Russia.

I'll happily admit that Sweden wasn't a major international player during the latter half of the 18th and the 19th century. The last colony, St. Bartholomew in the Caribbean, was sold to the French in the mid-19th century. But Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia, historically and culturally isolated?

And yes, Swedish does have openings in letters, only we rarely use them these days as they're somewhat old-fashioned. The sign-off in letters is by no means one word, the standard "Med vänlig hälsning" is 50% more wordy than English "Best regards".

I'm not going to spend any more time debunking your language "truths". Instead, I recommend everybody to get their hands on "Language Myths" by Bauer et al. It contains a number of essays which dissect and debunk myths such as: some languages are faster, have less grammer, etc.

Finally, Heinrich - don't you think that the fact that the Swedish speaking Finns were, for some time, the upper, ruling class, might be of some relevance? This might in some teeny-weeny bit explain the saying "if you want to live longer, move to a Swedish speaking place and start to speak Swedish". And no, I see no major difference in nature between Swedish and Finnish speaking Finnish friends.

Merry x-mas everyone.

PS. Sorry for the long posting, forgot to be a minimalist Scandinavian...


[Edited at 2007-12-23 22:17]


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Anita Gashi
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:11
English to Albanian
As the old saying goes; when in Rome do as romans do! Dec 24, 2007

Dear Bin

It is interesting bringing this up. I think there are no wrongs or rights how diffrerent countries communicate and express themselves. In my opinion after living for so many years in UK, I have come to the conclusion that I do not change the way I think only the way I express myself. In other words, what british say how to manage the colloqual English-where the most proficient speaker of english language find oneself lost for words, don't try to reason and compare word placement or grammar rules.

Perhaps you might consider the fact that an interpreter or a translator has been and is the link of this transition and augmentation of cultural co-operation. Therefore our role is seen as advocates and believe me we all have our ways of adding our interpretation to what we find unusual.
On th eother hand, I think you are feeling strongly about the chinese-german new way. Perhaps more observation of german ways could help you understand why you steel feel strongly chinese within the circumstances.

Regards
Anita Gashi


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:11
English to German
+ ...
Hahahaha! Dec 24, 2007

Bin Tiede wrote:

The Germans are accurate and good at planning. Of course they are, if they are trained to be so after their birth.


As long as a German baby starts to learn the German laguage, it is trained to think, to plan like a German.


If you want to be as accurate as a German, learn the German language;
If you want to be as handsome as a Frenchman, learn the French language;
If you want to be as easy-going as a Chinese, learn the Chinese language;




[Edited at 2007-12-22 20:06] [/quote]


Dear Bin,

The only active training that German babies undergo at a very young age is potty-training. As far as I know, my parents never stuck any flash cards with imprints such as "Be accurate!", "Be organized!" in my face.

BTW, you are mentioning French. I learned French. Did you? Didn't make me prettier, darn.

This is all so hilarious...

Hehe.


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Evangelia Mouma  Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 16:11
English to Greek
+ ...
interesting subject Dec 24, 2007

Dear Bin,
The subject you raised is very interesting indeed.
My view is that the comparisons you mention, the ideas about language and behaviour/attitudes, can only be mere observations [interesting observations maybe] but not conclusions, and they are also sweeping generalisations.

I believe that things are not so clear-cut and obvious. There has been ongoing research and several views have been expressed about cognition but nobody knows for sure how it is shaped, how its systems, of which language is only one, interact. We can only "chat" about that. Cognition is rather complex to be defined and explained in a few words, at least for now. Is language the only, or most important, factor that shapes our behaviour? I believe the answer is negative. Does language shape our behaviour at all?
Scientists work on that. We can only express our views, with caution, and state explicitly that they are personal views.

[slightly off-topic]
I read somewhere, I do not remember where, that people in countries where there is much cold must have languages with not many vowels because that way they won't have to have their mouths open for long (in order to pronounce the vowels) and get colds. I found it hilarious (think of Finnish) and just wanted to share.

[back to the topic]
My mother tongue is Greek, quite free in word order, but personally I am German (according to what you say) regarding my attitude.

Merry Christmas everyone
Evangelia


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