Author Topic: Helping to compare 'descriptive power' of languages  (Read 902 times)

Offline frostysh

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Helping to compare 'descriptive power' of languages
« on: February 25, 2019, 09:43:23 AM »
Hello to everyone who read this! And sorry for my English...

I have a discussion on some particular internet forum which is now about a languages. In short:

I saying that all languages have basically the same ability to describe something. In example English speaker can hypothetically understand any thoughts and cultural things of a China speaker, but with a different language (in this case English) and my opponent saying to me that sometimes translation is impossible and I am saying that translation is a more stub term than 'description' and means basically finding a proper 'shortcuts' which have same or similar meanings.
Please help me to understand which of us is speaking truth and if it possible with some academic writings or something like that.

Thank you for the future answers!

P. S. I am a far from linguistic science, so please not explain more simple.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2019, 09:46:34 AM by frostysh »

Offline Daniel

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Re: Helping to compare 'descriptive power' of languages
« Reply #1 on: February 26, 2019, 02:28:32 AM »
Quote
all languages have basically the same ability to describe something
Yes, that is correct.

One important type of difference between languages is which types of meaning contrasts are grammatically required (or just used often, or available in short, concise forms). For example, Evidentiality is a category of grammatical "evidence" for statements, like "I think" or "I know for a fact" or "someone told me", etc. Languages with obligatory evidentiality marked on every verb are different from English (and other languages without evidentiality) because speakers engage in that sort of behavior so often, and it may even have some effects on how they classify the world around them. But these are questions of usage and grammar, not questions of what can possibly be expressed because we can paraphrase anything we need to-- as shown by the examples above, like "I think", "I know", etc.
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Offline frostysh

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Re: Helping to compare 'descriptive power' of languages
« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2019, 03:01:18 AM »
I will send my opponent to this forum instead! And will be totally perfect if you can provide with some reference to such subject as a 'descriptive power' in some academic articles or like that.

If we can name all this things that language can describe as 'medium' the same descriptive power means that for all languages this medium will be basically the same. Is it right? About difference of description and translation of a particular text, in translation we usually obtain end data near to the size of the initial one, and in description we can turn any single word into the Wikipedia article and still we will correctly show the meaning. Is it true?

I am not the linguist, and actually unemployment so I interesting in science because I want to study and find a job, and of course I need to have some knowledge in the field of Linguistic. The discussion about translation and a description has showed to me that.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Helping to compare 'descriptive power' of languages
« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2019, 12:24:44 PM »
It is generally assumed to be axiomatic that all languages have the same descriptive power. It is more that there is no good counterevidence to this, than that there is any obvious proof.

One important point is the infinity of languages: that we can generate longer and longer sentences, from a finite, relatively small, set of words, and build up sentences of any imaginable length, and therefore can express many ideas, although certain ideas may take longer to express (and may be longer in some languages than others). There has been some research into questions like the information rate (over time, e.g., per second) of different languages, but it's not entirely clear what the point of that research is, or what the results should mean, and it is controversial how to measure it anyway. In short, there are probably better questions to ask.
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