Reservations on differential functionality (was: EXTINCTION OF GALLIC)

Cameron Laird (claird@Starbase.NeoSoft.COM)
1 Aug 1995 19:19:43 -0500

In article <3v60va$>,
Philip Deitiker <> wrote:
> Agreed. And spanish grammer is more predictable than english; however,
>this may be a downfall of the language, because, when a number of related
>words need to be chained together, such as 'ammonium acetate' spanish
>requires the insertion of 'de' and word order reversal. In this case, the
>modification is not troublesome; however, chemical formulas are generally
>greatly more complex than NH4HCO3 and expression of many compunds in
>spanish is overly cumbersome. My spanish speaking colleages tell me that
>writing and speaking technical and scientific information in spansih often
>results in 'wordy' expressions which complicate the expression and
>perception of what said. OTOH, they find English greatly inadequate for
>domestic use. This is the major general complaint against english and I've
There's a small methodologic point I feel obliged to make here.
Evidence of this sort (the attestations, for example, of "[m]y
Spanish-speaking colleagues") should always be treated with
respect, and it often is productive and persuasive; it is *not*,
however, conclusive. What people think they're doing sometimes
is different from what a trained, objective observer records
them doing. In general, I think the burden of proof lies with
those who claim that languages differ in their functional effici-
ency. There are quite a few propositions of this sort floating
around ("ancient Greek is better than Semitic languages for
philosophical abstraction", and "Chinese speakers don't think
fluently in the counterfactual", for example), but I understand
the literature records problems with each of them.


Cameron Laird +1 713 267 7966 +1 713 996 8546 FAX