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Intellectually esurient
Posted: Sunday, March 6, 2016 10:56:00 AM

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Guten Morgen! minYa zavUt Andrew and Soy de los Estados Unidos. I have found it quite difficult through my years to perfect the je ne sais quoi of other languages and that it takes a great amount of time to become fluent in them. Why haven't we united globally to create a universal language that will replace every language? It would lead to a more efficiently run world where miscommunication would never be an issue. Please respond with your thoughts. Konnichiwa or Ma'a salama!
thar
Posted: Sunday, March 6, 2016 12:37:35 PM

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Hæ hæ

We do have one. It's English, for now!
It is just tough that it is harder to access this for some people than others.
A different choice wouldn't solve that problem.

Some people have trouble simply communicating with their classmates, parents, colleagues and neighbours. I don't think language is the problem! I certainly don't think it will be the panacea.

I live in Iceland, where 320,000 people all speak one language. Nobody else understands us except for Faeroese. When we communicate with anybody else, we speak another language, usually English - a bridge language. Even speaking to Danes or Norwegians, both sides speak English. It is a life skill, like cooking or dressing yourself.

We also learn Danish, German, French, Swedish, increasingly Russian and Chinese. I guess our coastguard working in the Med probably learn some Arabic, for when English doesn't work.
But my language is in no danger of disappearing. I love my language. I love other languages as well - English, German, Swedish, Hungarian. I plan to learn more. All have a different way of looking at the world.

In my language, everything has a name. From a rock by the side of the road where someone was killed 800 years ago, to a bucket. It has a name and a cultural relevance. People's names have meanings.

I don't always want to wear the same sort of clothes, eat the same sort of food, be with the same sort of people. But your culture is not those things. It is the way you communicate with people, and what everything means. That, and a value system, is all you really inherit from your parents, and is the expression of your culture. The way you interpret the world.

Icelandic has at least fifty words for snow. Far fewer than some other languages, I know. We don't even get that much snow - we just have a lot of dark evenings to do nothing but sit around and tell tales!

Iceland was a tough place in the 19th century - worsening climate, Danish trade monopoly, and finally the eruption of Askja in 1875 which killed livestock and led to famine, causing 1/4 of the population to die or emigrate. They mostly went to central Canada, such as the town of Gimli in Manitoba.
Gimli is a place in Norse mythology - it is paradise, the most beautiful place, the home of the gods after Ragnarök - the end of the world. And now it is on the shores of Lake Winnipeg! That is the power of language.

Edit
I think we can at best call anything a global language. I really have no idea what the rest of the universe is doing - we are not really socialised yet!

Whistle
boney_friend
Posted: Sunday, March 6, 2016 2:16:40 PM
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Thar, thank you for that beautiful post. There was a lot in there that I didn't know.
Romany
Posted: Sunday, March 6, 2016 4:48:27 PM
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Me too. That's the most I remember Thar ever saying that wasn't part of a grammar/vocab response. Ever!

Thanks, Thar.
thar
Posted: Sunday, March 6, 2016 5:14:24 PM

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Thanks, boney and Rom.
I did get a little precious didn't I! Must have caught me in Mama Bear mode.
I felt like speaking out for every language that is not seen as important. Every language is part of what makes us diversely human. Uh oh, on that horse again!


I agree wholeheartedly with the aims of global understanding, and completely understand the motivations of the Polish/Ukrainian Jew (I think? Think ) who designed Esperanto - but I can't agree with his solution.
A language without base culture is an orphan.
(No offence to Esperanto speakers! I am not one myself so that is a prejudiced statement).
Elvandil
Posted: Sunday, March 6, 2016 6:07:29 PM

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A universal language would be an unmitigated disaster, provided that it were more than a simple lingua franca. It is agreed among linguists and linguistic philosophers that no 2 human languages can be translated to one another with anything other than a very low degree of fidelity, if at all. Every language contains within it a world-view, a culture, and a history of an entire people. That is why the world doubles when a foreign language is learned.

It has been shown in many psychological studies that people who know more than one language see more objects and perceive more facets of those objects. People taught new words for previously unknown objects then see those objects in pictures (where they were all along) and often comment that those objects were absent from the original (they weren't).

"The more you know, the more you see."

See such books as "The Hazards of English as the Default Language" and TED talks by English teachers on the prejudices, assumptions, and influences of religion in English. It is a well-known fact that Englsh-speaking scientists limit their fields of study for lack of vocabulary to describe systems studied by those speaking other languages, especially East Asian ones.

Good translators are brilliant and knowledgeable people.

The field of study tentatively called "the geography of thought" explores some of these ideas, such as the near absence of vandalism in Japan which has no concept of ownership that corresponds to the English one. Objects are (etymologically) "taken into care" rather than owned. Because of that, vandalism hurts the person who entrusted the object rather than a person of whom the object becomes a part (as in English). New fields in some universities that have names like "universal intellectual history" also explore these ideas.

(Obeisance to thar.)



Hope123
Posted: Sunday, March 6, 2016 7:20:08 PM

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Thar, I just learned something about my own country - a great post. Elvandil, a couple of good ideas there to be explored.
Jyrkkä Jätkä
Posted: Monday, March 7, 2016 3:50:06 AM

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But we DO HAVE few universal languages: mathematics, arts, music...

(Nice post, thar!)
Drag0nspeaker
Posted: Monday, March 7, 2016 3:53:50 AM

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Szia Intellectually Esurient!

Egen, you are right (and so is thar).

Esperanto was/is a great idea, but is not the solution to all ills.

As far as I know (I only studied Esperanto for a few lessons fifty years ago) it was never meant to replace all the natural languages - it was intended to be a lingua franca used in addition to one's own language.

If everyone in the world spoke their own language and Esperanto, it would work reasonably well. It is true, though, that even Esperanto - an artificial language - is 'infused' with European culture.
I mean . . . if you look at a couple of the political discussions between Romany and FounDit, you will see the difficulties that even two people who speak very good English can have. This, even though England and America are not 'alien' in culture, really, like England and the Orient would be.

Of course, no artificial language can compete in flexibility, 'colour' and complexity with any natural language. I would hate to read a Tolkien book translated into Esperanto! How can you translate "eleventy-first"?

To really understand a language, you do have to know the culture, but a lingua franca would works wonders as a first step.

I have a couple of friends who know several languages and can 'pick up' a new one in a couple of months to 'conversation' standard - and a couple of friends who just cannot grasp the idea that 'chat' in French means the same as "cat" in English. However, I think that anyone could learn an international language along with learning their own language, as a child.

Hello Elvandil - an enlightening post.

One of the first things I learned when studying how to study (not how to read) - and something which I have proved for myself thousands of times since then - is that if there is a word in a text which one doesn't know (or understands wrongly), the following few sentences/paragraphs "disappear".
As you said about objects 'suddenly appearing' when someone learns the name for the object, I have seen people insist that someone has inserted text into a book after they have looked up a couple of words at the start of the book.
Blodybeef
Posted: Monday, March 7, 2016 4:42:25 AM

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Also, the sign language used by the people with hearing disability is universal.

I do not know how will it translate into written form, though.
thar
Posted: Monday, March 7, 2016 5:04:43 AM

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As far as I know there is no global sign language. Think

Icelandic Sign Language is based on Danish Sign language, as Icelanders used to go away to schools for the deaf in Denmark. It has since diverged, but is still close enough to Danish Sign Language to be mutually intelligible.
But it does show how quickly a language diverges from its parent. Any language.

British Sign Language and American Sign Language are not mutually intelligible.
They are different systems.

When deaf people with different sign languages (or languages from different sign language families) communicate, they do so with signs and gestures - but not their formalised sign language. They try to make do just like anybody else!
It is just that they are way more successful at it than most, being more used to communicating in that way and having a base to start 'negotiation' from.

I am not deaf or particularly acquainted with the languages. Maybe any deaf and signing forum members will be able to give a more accurate account.
Lotje1000
Posted: Monday, March 7, 2016 5:13:37 AM

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thar wrote:
I am not deaf or particularly acquainted with the languages. Maybe any deaf forum members will be able to give a more accurate account.


I took a course in sign language at University and for as far as I can see, your explanation was correct. Sign languages have grown much like spoken languages have. The main issue for creating a standardized sign language is that for a long time, there were no deaf communities as such. It wasn't as much a matter of deaf people communicating with each other, but about managing to communicate with people who aren't deaf. Later, when schools for the deaf were created, language started to evolve from there.

The first standardized sign languages were imposed by non-deaf people and were very strongly based on spoken language (a sign for each word). The systems usually originated with one person or one school where deaf people were taught. As such, British sign language and American sign language are very different, because they originated from different people who created different systems.

However, there can be a certain amount of overlap between sign language because the signs by nature often mimic objects. Still, there's enough variety that it can be confusing.

thar
Posted: Monday, March 7, 2016 5:37:38 AM

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Every map I look at for sign language families globally seems to show completely different classifications. So this is just one possible representation.




[image not available]


Edit
Thanks, Lotje1000.
pedro
Posted: Monday, March 7, 2016 6:00:32 AM
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We'll all end up speaking this; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_emoticons
Elvandil
Posted: Monday, March 7, 2016 10:58:56 AM

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Drag0nspeaker wrote:
Szia Intellectually Esurient!

One of the first things I learned when studying how to study (not how to read) - and something which I have proved for myself thousands of times since then - is that if there is a word in a text which one doesn't know (or understands wrongly), the following few sentences/paragraphs "disappear".
As you said about objects 'suddenly appearing' when someone learns the name for the object, I have seen people insist that someone has inserted text into a book after they have looked up a couple of words at the start of the book.


This also seems to account for that strange phenomenon when we learn a new word and then start to see it frequently in the next few days, as though it magically started being used more often. But, we know, it had to have been there all along.

It's interesting to compare originals to translations in books with acclaimed translations (Lao Tzu and Proust come to mind). There sometimes seems to be no relation between the original sentences and the newly rendered ones. But examination shows that, moved through time and space, the new sentences transfer meaning in better ways than literal products would have. The good translator has turned a meaning around and shined a light on it so that it becomes recognizable by a new mind.



Romany
Posted: Monday, March 7, 2016 11:01:58 AM
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I agree with those who think a universal language too limiting. I speak a couple of languages pretty fluently and snatches of others. There are words I bring over from one language and insert into another simply because the concept behind those words is unfamiliar to others. Then there are words I use from other languages which are, simply, more expressive than those available in my own language.

(e.g. there is no actual English word which equals the Afrikaans "jol" - the only one which comes close is the Irish 'craic'. So I use both craic and jol often when "I'm going out to-night" just doesn't cut it}

So I agree wholeheartedly that different languages teach us different things and enrich our cultural capital.

Vive la difference. Toujours!
Elvandil
Posted: Monday, March 7, 2016 11:23:18 AM

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Romany wrote:
I agree with those who think a universal language too limiting. I speak a couple of languages pretty fluently and snatches of others. There are words I bring over from one language and insert into another simply because the concept behind those words is unfamiliar to others. Then there are words I use from other languages which are, simply, more expressive than those available in my own language.

(e.g. there is no actual English word which equals the Afrikaans "jol" - the only one which comes close is the Irish 'craic'. So I use both craic and jol often when "I'm going out to-night" just doesn't cut it}

So I agree wholeheartedly that different languages teach us different things and enrich our cultural capital.

Vive la difference. Toujours!


I've found it enlightening to study the origins, meanings, and usages of words such as "self", "life", "being", "belong", and so on in other languages. Different ways of looking at the world become apparent and insight into our own concepts is gained. A good example is "self-esteem". The Japanese use the word (as "serafu esiteemu") but consider it patently absurd both that there is an unchanging "self" to even talk about, and also that if there were, it could be both the subject and object, the seer and the seen, the examiner and the examined, simultaneously. East Asians generally find it very hard to fill in forms that say, "Tell us a little about yourself", since they wonder, "Which self? The one when I am with friends and loud and raucous? Or the self when I am quiet and respectful with my grandmother? Or the self where I am industrious and serious at work?" What could such a question even mean?

They also see little continuity between former "selves" and the present one. If you showed a picture of yourself as a youth, the result might be, "I would have liked to have known that Romany. I wonder how similar he is to this one!"


Drag0nspeaker
Posted: Monday, March 7, 2016 12:23:12 PM

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What an interesting thread!

I was reminded of the film "The Gods Must be Crazy" - not a serious film, but the story was all based on the concept of a tribe of people with absolutely NO concept of 'ownership' - and therefore, of course, no concepts of 'steal', 'buy', 'sell', 'envy' and everything which goes with it.

Some of them learned English, but just couldn't "think with" sentences containing words like "my", "his" and so on.
thar
Posted: Monday, March 7, 2016 12:56:15 PM

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You don't have to compare vastly different cultures to see differences.

Introducing yourself in three Western European languages:

My name is X. I am X.
Je m'appelle X.
ég heiti X
(that is the same root as German Ich heiße, but I won't use that as I don't know if the rest of my argument works)

So, in English, your name is a separate entity. Or it is your identity.
Your name is you.

In French, you tell them what you call yourself.
Your name is what you call yourself.

In Icelandic, heita translates as 'to be named' but it is not just that. Heita is to promise, to vow, to commit to something. With another case ending it is to invoke, to call on. Your name is your credentials.
Your name is what you are called.

I think there may even be a shift here, in English. 'I am called' feels familiar from historical writing, but it is certainly not the norm now.

Those are pretty big cultural differences for people who think they know what the other is saying!

I am sure there are lots of other variations in what you actually say when you give your name.

Verbatim
Posted: Monday, March 7, 2016 9:31:46 PM
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Intellectually esurient wrote: "Why haven't we united globally to create a universal language that will replace every language? It would lead to a more efficiently run world where miscommunication would never be an issue."

How long before the universal language, too, would be spoken with a forked tongue?
But granted it would take some time, imagine the number of tongues set a wagging in the meantime!
thar
Posted: Tuesday, March 8, 2016 2:37:26 AM

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Well, this one speaks to the interests of people who lurk around a dictionary site! The others, not so much.
Lotje1000
Posted: Tuesday, March 8, 2016 3:31:31 AM

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Intellectually esurient wrote:
Why haven't we united globally to create a universal language that will replace every language? It would lead to a more efficiently run world where miscommunication would never be an issue. Please respond with your thoughts. Konnichiwa or Ma'a salama!


I've had this discussion with my friends on a regular basis (usually with my more mathematically and scientifically inclined friends) and I always arrive at the same conclusion: while you could hypothetically create a universal language, it would not stick and it definitely would not make miscommunication disappear. It's a fact of life that we all live in different cultures, even within one country or state. If you were to impose a single language on all those cultures, they would use it and then inevitably make it their own. There is a reason why, even though English is widely spoken, we have British English, American English, Australian English, Indian English etc.

Every culture has its own requirements and things to focus on. As such, misunderstandings are always going to happen, even with a universal language. It's not even a matter of deciding on a language to use with others (such as British English). Enough of the differences will slip in because they happen without thinking. Simple example: crisps vs chips. Or sweets, candies and lollies.

So yeah, you can decide on a universal language and that'll definitely diminish the odds of miscommunication, but it's not going to make them all disappear.
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