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Comments

J

You could just as well look at it: aren't we unlucky that English has so many words for X that we have to select one particular sense that the original might conjure up in a native speaker and affix it to a single English word, in the process cutting away all of the beautiful denotations and connotations of the original? Some other translation students working in another language may be patting themselves on the back that in the process of translating from English to the smaller vocabulary of their mother tongue, poetry always becomes deeper and richer, gaining new meanings.

It's all nonsense. On the other hand, I don't think I've ever met or read anybody, certainly anybody with literary leanings, who doesn't find their native tongue admirable. I might prefer your classmates to phrase it, isn't it fun about tranlating into English that X, rather than isn't English a superior language for translations because of X, but I can't really fault them for liking it.

GarGyrrl

My lasting regret about not learning Russian better was that I can't really read much Russian poetry in the original language. Russian is fantastic in that any word can go ANYWHERE in the sentence for the purposes of rhyme, meter, emphasis...whatever. Now that to me is a dream for a poet--complete flexibility (and what a nightmare for translators!).

And yet I've frequently heard Russian slammed by linguists as "primitive" and "harsh" because it doesn't have a set sentence structure (there is a normal guideline, but nothing carved in stone), or because it doesn't have a current tense equivalent to "be" (which is unneccessary because Russian has a whole other tense for things that aren't--call it a fantasy tense, if you will), or because it has a funkified "unoriginal" alphabet "stolen" from the Greeks because the "primitive" Russians never developed writing on their own.

Blah blah blah whatever.

Prentiss Riddle

Several inconsistent thoughts:

(1) I've heard the same thing you have, that English is a happy borrower, nay ransacker, of vocabulary and by being a language of world conquest for a few hundred years has sucked up a lot of words.

(2) One should nevertheless not assume that just because the Academie de la Snootologie for a particular language hasn't sanctioned words, they aren't part of the real language anyway. Spanish, in particular, between the Moors on the one hand and even more contact than English with indigenous American languages on the other, could possibly give English a run for its money whatever the Academía Española says.

(3) This all depends on how you define the boundaries of a "language". Do local dialects count? Even geographically dispersed or mutually incomprehensible ones?

(4) Finally, any competent debunker of the "Eskimo Words for Snow" myth would point out that lots of languages don't even have distinct "words" as we use the term, so counting the words in those languages is like counting the toes on a fish.

Prentiss Riddle

I see that I got your initial point backwards. Oh, well.

I'll also add that I've read that, whatever the overall vocabulary of a given language from the point of view of a lexicographer, the actual vocabulary of any given individual remains within more constrained bounds that don't vary much across languages.

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