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Inflectional morphology& expressiveness of language

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mallu:
Is there anyone among linguists who believe languages with rich inflectional morphology(like Latin or Sanskrit) are more expressive than others with poor(English) or no inflectional morphology(Chinese)

Daniel:
I can't speak for everyone, but as a generalization I would say absolutely not. While theories of linguistic complexity vary in certain details, it is a general consensus that all languages share the same level of functional expressiveness, though some might vary in rate-- so one language might express one idea faster than another (in fewer sounds or other units), but either language could express that idea. Discussions of linguistic relativity may relate to some of this, where, for example, grammatically obligatory markers of evidentiality may make the speaker more aware of such information and certainly more likely to express it in a shorter utterance.

However, as an overall effect of morphological typology, there's no reason to think there would be any correlation at all because languages cycle through word and affix level marking of these factors; Chinese might have exactly the same morphemes in exactly the same order as Latin and spoken exactly as fast, but just that in Latin they're part of the words, and so forth.


In the past there did exist very racist and ignorant claims that Latin and Greek (etc) were much better than so-called "primitive" languages, but these claims were simply wrong-- other languages are different, but not worse, certainly not in expressiveness. If judged against an assumed perfect model of Latin, sure, they seem to lack some things, but if judged objectively, Latin also lacks some things, and in the end basically everything balances out.

MalFet:
Sanskrit's alright, but I find Latin terribly inexpressive. Aside from a few token phrases, I don't know how to say anything in it!

Daniel:
@MalFet :D
(Although I'd say the opposite, despite my Latin being very rusty at the moment.)



Just to add a general comment to my last post, I think the confusion about this comes from assuming that one language can express the ideas of another language as efficiently/fluently as that language-- of course not. It'll never be easier to speak Greek using English or Navajo, but the opposite is of course true as well. (That's why, in general, translation is an art not a science.)

Guijarro:
I don't really understand the reason of the first posting in this thread. Does the author believe that coded material is the ONLY way we humans have to express thoughts, attitudes, impressions, and so on? In that sense, and only in that restricted sense, does the question have some meaning for me, although I immediately react to the implications such a "traditional" view develops.

I think humans have the power to express almost anything they want using all sorts of possible means at their disposal, one of them being, of course, their coded linguistic tool. These linguistic tools are only helping tools, and it is immaterial whether they are more or less morphologically complex or whatever. They all do the same work.

Speaking only about terminology, to believe that because in English you have coded terms for afternoon, evening and night, whereas we only have two terms, tarde and noche, we, therefore, may not express the "evening" situation is not really true. We use other elements to point to exactly the same time-span when need be. Not everything has to be coded to be expressed.

On the other hand, it is true that sometimes, the exact interpretation of a given expression depends on a series of factors, some of them very weakly manifest, but important all the same.

Take a caption in one of the French comic-stripes of ASTÈRIX. At one point, in the French version, when Astérix sees the Romans coming, he calls out (in French):

"XXII, les romains!"

This sentence is translated exactly in the Spanish version as:

¡XXII, los romanos!

But it has no meaning whatsoever in that new version, although the same coded material is presented. In France (but not in other francophone countries), when you see the road-police which travels in motorbikes in couples, the argot expression to watch out is (I have no idea why): Vingt deux, les flics!.

The Astèrix exclamation (with its Roman numbering) drives the French immediately to that representation, producing all sorts of connoted meanings which are totally lost in the Spanish version. Is this, then, a proof that translations are impossible? Well, if you are super-touchy, you might arrive to that conclusion. But you can approach the message by using an altogether different expression (¡Coño! ¡La pasma romana!, could be one), although you are never going to produce the same communicative effect in the readers.

That's what interpretations (and translations are interpretations) do all the time. They change the meaning of the messages, although these changes are not terribly important and the gist of the messages is preserved.

What I wanted to stress with the example is that no matter how similar the coded messages seem to be, the meaning they convey needs a lot more than just decoding them. Ergo, the coded material is not fundamental when we try to find out the expressive faculty of human communication.

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