Upon contemplating my homework for the Bad Class I am suddenly thinking with great annoyance of something said in class last week...or was it the week before? The class was agreeing that some languages just had more words than others and were "richer". Guess which language everyone thought was particularly rich?
I protested in vain. Fuckwits. "But English is made up of this coming together of cultures, of latin and anglo saxon and french..." "But this is true of other languages as well. You just know the history of your own language better." "Yes, but.... look at this Gr33k dictionary, and then think of the OED." .... That does not prove anything. I snarled something about the Oxford Gr33k dictionary but then realized everyone in the class was laughing their heads off, as the (small) dictionary the girl was holding up was actually titled "The Oxford Gr33k Dictionary." But that is not my point! You know what I mean! They kept laughing, as if my pants had just fallen off!
My point is more that cultures coming together, or trade dominance, or war, or imperialism, or willingness to incorporate neologisms... aaaaa! What about Japan, think of china, and don't even languages like French that have strict academies and don't want neologisms, have spoken langauges that are different, and regional variations, etc... A non productive conversation since none of us had any hard facts or had thought about it, but since when does that stop that class from being secure in its Knowing? "And it stands to reason that one of t hose, um, languages where things stick, together?" said the prof. "Agglutinative?" "Yeah, that. That they would have less words." "No, the opposite!" I squawk in vain, i swear to god. How I wished for the phallus of reasonable discourse to appear like magic in my brain and whisper the Persuasive Arguments to me... I wished hard for the Master's Tools for a few minutes there.
Might one assume, as I do, that Russian has a similar discourse about why it's a superior language for Art in all its richness than any of the languages in the countries it sucked up into its empire, and ditto for china? And who knows what Japan says? In fluffy U.S. magazine articles about the rapid rate of change and fluidity of japanese I always read an anxiety about this same idea of "cultural superiority" and economics.
But even then I am not assuming at all that English or Russian or Chinese has "more words" or is "richer" or more fluid and adapatable than some patagonian language that went extinct last century. How is it that people find this a comfortable assumption, a common sense assumption?
Along with this I was suddenly pondering people's idea about "fluency" and the surprise of some "native spanish speaker" when confronted with my having translated a poem full of obscure words. "Oh. I don't know that word" they say as if surprised and suspicious that there would be a word in "their" language that they don't know. And "native english" speakers assuming that some Other language has this finite set of words in it that all its speakers know.
somehow it's just that the "which language has 'more' words" question or discussion seems pointless and questionable. What does that mean? Why are people talking about it?
In this case, it was because someone had the idea that translating stuff into English was somehow more interesting than into some unspecified other language, because in the source language (i think in this case, greek, which I don't know a damn thing about) you had one word for some concept, and in English you could translate it with about 20 other possible words. Since she didn't know the source language either, and was basing her statement off looking stuff up in a dictionary meant for english speakers, I don't see how she could claim this!!!!! But it led to this general head-nodding around the classroom that English was somehow a better literary language than others and aren't we lucky!
I'm about to log into the class BB and see what people have to say about that one chapter of "H3teroglossia in the Novel". Oh boy, can't WAIT. *gritting teeth*