Sunday, August 31, 2008

Random Thoughts On Heading for the Art Museum

I'm lousy with languages. For years, I imagined that the capability for maths blocked that ability, as if one could learn math or languages but not both. Simple experience in college cured me of that crutch.

I studied both French and German in school. I can understand some French, but never acquired any ability to twist my tongue so as to speak it. My accent in German, however, is good enough to be mistaken for a native--until they spot my sparse vocabulary and omission of the "datitve" case, or any of the other cases for that matter. But I'm more comfortable in German--in French speaking cities, I seemingly only can remember my numbers in German. I do better reading signs in German than in French (Russian is easier still, if you know the Greek alphabet, but it takes forever to read that way). So I prefer business or vacation trips in German-speaking lands.

Culture first, then back to my hotel to edit a document. Thankfully, editing in MS Word--I can't figure out how to get spell-check in English here on blogger.


OBloodyHell said...

> Unlike the accusative, which only changes in the masculine gender, the dative changes in all genders and in the plural. The pronouns also change correspondingly.

This is the sort of crap which has had me rejecting learning Euro-based languages for decades. "Male" pencil? "Female" door? Gimme a break. That sort of crap is flat-out stupid, and French takes it even farther by applying this lunacy to adjectives and adverbs.

Learning to read Japanese is tricky, but at least it's a rationally devised grammar, not unlike English (most of English's senseless flaws derive from its polyglot history, not from irrationality). English isn't tough to learn because of its grammar, it's tough to learn because of all the idiomatic usage, its steady flux of new words, and the vast supply of nuanced words.

I would not mind learning a new language, but I take personal issue with learning a stupidly designed language.

OBloodyHell said...

Oh, and, yeah, I've actually taken courses in Russian, French, Spanish, and Japanese, never to the point of fluency.

But Japanese was the only one which I thought worth the effort.

Carl said...

I've spent considerable time in Japan on business--and found the language surprisingly easy to speak. (I wouldn't claim anything more than "restaurant" Japanese.) There's no diphthongs or accents on syllables: everything's pronounced how it's written--written in Roman script that is; written Japanese is impossible.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

OBH - the use of the names masculine and feminine give the false idea that there's something male/female about them. They're just names, like positive and negative charge in electricity - they could have called them green-red or up-down instead. There is a hint of sexual role in the genders, as the masculine is supposed to be "strong," breaking rules and standing alone, while the feminine is "weak" and has to follow the regular rules. But even this is honored as much in the breach as in the obedience.

It's one of the reasons I object to the use of the word "gender" where we used to use "sex." Gender allows the possibility of more than two possibilities - a non-accidental political maneuver.

OBloodyHell said...

> written Japanese is impossible.

Well, Hiragana/Katakana (essentially letter-for-letter identical -- Hiragana is for native words, Katakana is for foreign words) Is really, really easy. It's just as logical and reasonable as your experience shows with the spoken Japanese. Each "letter" is a direct phoneme, and is always the same phoneme.

The toughest part about written Japanese is the continued use of Kanji (ideograms), essentially derived from the Chinese, who ran Japan until about 1200 AD. These Kanji are not really required -- all Kanji have (AFAIK) a two or three hiragana equivalent (which is often seen next to the more obscure Kanji). Most Kanji are equivalent to a single word (multiple possible translations depending on context), and are built, often, from a set of related sub-Kanji (which could theoretically clue you in as to the topic, much as the root "psycho" tells you something of a word in English)

Given the existence of the Hiragana equivalents, "Why do the Japanese continue to use Kanji?".

As I understand, there are two reasons:

1) Inertia -- much like English kontinues to use the letter "c" when virtually all of its usage is identikal to "s" or "k". You kould go through any English book, replase the "c"s with the appropriate "s" or "k", and no one would have any problem reading it. :oP

2) Status -- It is a high sign of intellect in Japan to know more Kanji. The average Japanese knows around 2000-3000 Kanji. The most knowledgeable know upwards to around 10,000 Kanji. Contrast this with the unfortunate tendency to sneer at anyone in the USA who uses "big words" and to denigrate puns (the *only* form of humor based on actual *intelligence* -- stupid people don't/can't make puns intentionally).


My main point still holds, though -- thee whole notion is stupid and pointless. There is no rational reason why a verb ought to change based on the noun it is applied to. Number/person makes a bit of sense (although I'd ack some arguments can be made against that, too), but nouns, adverbs, and adjectives "agreeing" is just absurd. It makes talking ludicrously complex to no socio-cultural benefit. The number of words in English does provide a socio-cultural benefit in the form of nuances of meaning. There is a utility in having a word for each of 200 shades of 'blue' (speculating, mind you, on the number of words for 'blue').

The same holds true for idiom. Idioms carry a gestalt with them that is, or can be, much larger than the number of words involved. They are the English equivalent of a Kanji, but even more powerful and evocative (I think).

OBloodyHell said...

Re: Idiom...

"Curiosity Killed The Cat" -- it carries with it a whole host of additional information:

1) Curiosity can be dangerous to follow.

2) Cats tend to explore, much like humans.

3) Exploration of new areas can be dangerous.

And more, I'm sure, that isn't coming to me at the moment -- all those notions in four words.

AND, add in the opportunity for humor, too, by applying the comment in an absurdist application for contrast or disassociation. With a woman named "Catherine" asking questions, for example, or when encountering a dead cat along the roadside...

English does have its downsides, but it's truly a very, very rich language. Plus, it's not French.