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RE: [OT] Does language model thought!? (was RE: Re[2]: Business Case for i18n?)

From: Eric Jarvis <webmaster@befrienders.org>
Date: Thu, 14 Jun 2001 13:51:47 +0100
To: <www-international@w3.org>
Message-ID: <NEBBIHPCGLLJLCMNKHFLIEBGCEAA.webmaster@befrienders.org>
From: Marco Cimarosti [mailto:marco.cimarosti@essetre.it]
Sent: 14 June 2001 11:31
To: 'webmaster@befrienders.org'; www-international@w3.org
Subject: [OT] Does language model thought!? (was RE: Re[2]: Business
Case for i18n?)


Eric Jarvis wrote:
>> One final point. There are ideas that are easy to express in some
>> languages but difficult or impossible in others. Anyone who
speaks
>> both English and Italian will know how many concepts related to
time
>> and duration simply can't be translated accurately. This means
that
>> diversity of language encourages diversity of thought. So whilst
it
>> may be convenient in the short term to try to standardise as much
as
>> possible into English, in the long term it will be limiting.

> Eric, can you make at least one examples of time and duration
concepts that
> would be easy to express in Italian and not in English, or the
other way
> round?
>
> I am a native speaker of Italian and speak an acceptable English,
but I
> really cannot imagine any such cases.
>
> I rather find that the verbal tenses in the two languages are
perfectly
> comparable, if not identical, and express exactly the same degree
of
> precision. Also the time-related vocabulary and repertoire of
idioms
> connected with time are totally analogous in the two languages.

The Italian words that come immediately to my mind are "subito" and
dopo" both of which have English equivalents that can sometimes be
substituted directly and sometimes not...they cannot be directly
translated by the words "sudden/suddenly" and "later", that would
lead to circumstances where the translation lost at best a whole
layer of meaning.

I was under the impression, after time working in Italian schools,
that some of the more precise past tenses in English have no simple
Italian equivalent. Where there is a common Latin root then there is
usually a direct equivalent. Where there is not it can sometimes be
very difficult to conceive of an exact translation. I can speak
forms of both English and Italian that use almost exclusively words
taken from the same original root. I have no doubt this can be done
also with Dutch or French and English. It's not using the complete
range of the language though.

> If there are any such differences of expressiveness between
languages, it
> normally only depends on the fact that, for historical reason,
certain
> technical or specialist terminologies are more developed in one
language
> than in another. But, also in this case, it is quite easy to fill
the gap:
> just import or imitate the terminology of the leading language. So
English
> lacked terminology for talking about opera music, but is easily
solved the
> problem importing lots of Italian terms. Similarly, Italian
massively
> imported computer terminology from English, because information
technology
> evolves so quickly that it is difficult to keep the pace inventing
new
> Italian words.

This explains differences in vocabulary. It doesn't explain
differences in grammar. In many ways it is grammar that shapes
thinking, or at least the verbalisation and hence communication of
that thinking. (What Sophocles thought is of no value to me, what
has been passed along the ages of what he communicated is important)

> But these situations only occur with the specialized terminology
for new
> disciplines, not with everyday concepts as time and duration!

It isn't the everyday use that varies. It is the more complex ideas
that depend both on grammar and the culture at the time that aspect
of the language was being developed.

> Sorry for being so blatantly off topic, but I think that spreading
myths
> about languages is not the best way of favoring i18n. Especially
if such
> myths are used to conclude that it is necessary to "try to
standardise as
> much as possible into English".

My argument is EXACTLY the opposite. It is intended to give a reason
why standardising to English is a very bad thing in the long term.

> By the way, Eric, if you really want to standardi*z*e to English,
could you
> please beging by standardi*z*ing to proper English spelling? You
certainly
> understand that we "foreigners" take the time to learn English
because it is
> the language of a large, crowded and wealthy country in northern
America,
> not certainly because it is accidentally also the languages of two
small
> islands in northern Europe. ;-)

Actually it's only the language of part of one of them. Not even the
part my family originate from. However, Cornish, which should be my
native tongue has all but died out. Which is possibly another reason
I believe very strongly that we must make the web as multilingual as
we possibly can. If I'm correct and certain ideas are easier to
formulate in particular languages, then every language that dies
could mean losing the next great advance in human thought. The
philosophical equivalent of biodiversity.

but we digress

--
Eric Jarvis
Assistant Manager, BI Online
Tel: ++44- (0) 20- 8541 4949
website: www.befrienders.org
Received on Thursday, 14 June 2001 08:48:34 GMT

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