Re: Reservations on differential functionality (was: EXTINCTION OF GALLIC)

Philip Deitiker (
2 Aug 1995 17:55:21 GMT

claird@Starbase.NeoSoft.COM (Cameron Laird) wrote:
>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
>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-

Its probably a large methodological point (if sufficient statistical data
hasn't been gathered :^)), that doesn't make the point invalid, just
unproven. But I would like to argue that the proof of the pudding is in
the eating :^).

>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.

Also true, but the question is not the similarities but the scale of the
differences. For example, if I'm a writer and I know my readers can speak
more or less equally well in two languages, I would tend to express
myself in the language which more adequately conveys meaning and is
simplist for myself to write. An excellent example of this problem is
techical Japanese, which has three primary alphabets (of 70, 70, and 3000
characters) , and in scientific papers uses both english, latin and greek
words and letters. This complicates the writing and publishing of
japanese scientific manuscripts. This push added with the international
pull of the broad based acceptance of techical english as a scientific
language, has resulted in a large scale conversion of japanese journals
written in japanese to english written. In addition, proper names of
towns and places presents an extremely difficult problem for mapping
(even for japanese)(i.e. the writing of the name in Kange and the
recognition of the sound of a name differs widely).
My argument is this, if I say language X has certain deficiencies,
it's really not important; however, if its speakers and writers recognize
the defect and modify their selection of a language, then this has to
have a functional significance (by definition), since the language they
choose is their speaking tool of choice. It was previously said in this
thread that english has been widely accepted because of american and
english political domination over the last 100 years, and while this is a
large contributing factor, the use of english in places with little A or
E foriegn political domination has been on the increase. One could argue
that this secondary increase is the result of english's popularity. The
popularity issue can be further divided into issues of underlying
functionality/usefulness and its universality (preexisting widespread
use). If you wan't to look at universality, many other european langauges
(spanish, portugese, and french) have been as widely used and for much
longer periods of time when compared to english, so I think the
universality issue is not sufficient in itself to explain the increase.
Thus by exclusion, the functionality issue is supported :^).