language

Deep thoughts on language and culture

Happy Halloween/Samhain!
Just reading an interesting article from a man in India saying that because the lower castes are not taught English, they are therefore prohibited from getting high paying jobs: http://www.indianexpress.com/story/15658.html
He writes in the article “A Middle-eastern friend was lamenting that they have been driven into an intellectual blind alley because they are stuck with medieval Arabic, which determines their mindset. (Incidentally, their plight is really bad. More books are translated into Spanish in one year than into Arabic in a couple of hundred years!). They are literally trapped in the language of real and imagined pasts. The very idea of progress becomes impossible.”
Assuming the statement above is correct, I think it brings up an interesting argument (and an entire field of anthropology): how much does language influence how we think and view the world? I don’t just mean derogatory terms like calling someone a faggot (which is bad enough in itself). I mean like everyday things. For example, in Spanish, a spoon is feminine but a knife is masculine. A road is masculine but a mountain is feminine. How does that effect how they see the world? I know in some south pacific language (maybe papua new guinea?) the word for girl translates as “little mother,” or something like that. Just a moment of anthropological introspection.
I’d be interested to hear from someone who actually knows another language (you have seen the extent of my Spanish in the above paragraph: El camino va a la montana. My madre tiene una cuchara. Tengo un cuchillo).

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One thought on “Deep thoughts on language and culture

  1. Note: This is the IM conversation my friends Chris, Tarn, and I had on the subject later, so I thought I’d add it.Chris: That is actually one of the things I find most fascinating about language; how world view can be seen in just the way words are used and sentences are constructed. Like one really interesting thing in Japanese is the abundance of words they have for “you” and “I”, whereas in English, that’s pretty much it.“I”:Watashi – neutralAtashi – femaleBoku – maleOre – male, vulgarUchi – female, I think it’s dialectical thoughWaga – really an “I” as in “We”, like, “We of the company…” (waga kaisha) etcWashi – elderly (might be archaic?)“You”:Anata – neutralOmae – neutral, can be derogatoryKisama – derogatoryTeme – derogatoryKimi – condecending, sometimes endearing(I think there’s more, I’m just not thinking of them)A further interesting aspect is that a lot of the differences in the usage of these words comes from the very societal context language is used in Japanese, i.e., there is an expectation to talk using certain words depending on who you’re talking to (if they are “above” or “below” you) and what context you’re in. Sometimes I wish I persued linguistics, just for the fascination value. Also, I would love to study more languages, but… that’s just time :/ I would like to have a more fucntional command of Mandarin and Cantonese, but as it is I only have smatterings and can’t even make many full sentences.Elizabeth: Wow! I know most languages have different verb tenses for different people as well as formal or informal, but that’s just confusing. I am never studying Japanese.Speaking of formal and informal, I think it’s cool that in Renaissance era England everyone referred to the Queen in the formal “you” since she was the head of the country and church, and she referred to everyone as “thee” because they were below her in station, however the Queen would refer to horses as “you” because the horse was considered a noble creature. Seems right to me.Tarn: Equally fascinating, pulaar has a plethora of words for ‘you’ and ‘I’ but not in the same fashion as this, where there are feelings and emotions attached. Normally, these pronouns are used in different grammatical contexts.Imiinmiinombeda/mbodo/mbida (same word/meaning but different accents)miyou singularaanaanoaadadaamaayou pluraland one indicative that I can’t seem to recall.. it might be a homonym of odononodondonmonbut again these are all objective and free of that subjective meaning (of perjorative for that matter). That’s weird. Japanese sounds fun!Chris: Wow, so basically they conjugate pronouns? (at least 1st and 2nd person) Interesting. Yeah, I need to come up with an excuse to study some other languages (not that my command of Japanese is amazingly fluent as of yet XD). I’d like to know Mandarin/Cantonese just because of my interest in the cinema from that area. Russian and German are 2 non-Asian languages that seem interesting to me for some reason. Ah, it’s all about time and prioitization ^_^Tarn: Arabic is interesting to me; it’s not a really beautiful language, at least at first, but the grammar is unique as is the conjugation of roots. In Arabic, roots are normally just a string of three consonants and how vowels are interspersed among them determines if it is a verb or a noun or adjective etc plus it’s conjugation or declintion. Plus, it’s got a great script and wicked sounds that make you gag in the back of your throat. If I had to list what languages I most wanted to learn a bit of fluency they would be Arabic, Spanish, Japanese, Zulu (or Chichwa), Lushootseed and mandarin.Chris: You just need to add Korean and you’ll have what I’ve heard (once before) are the 3 hardest spoken languages to learn (Japanese, Korean, Arabic). That’s just what I think I remember a professor or teacher claiming at one point. I don’t actually remember where I got that tidbit from, or if I’m remembering it correctly. Korean is another that I might want to learn, just because I think it would just be useful, especially in the area I live in. Tarn: I don’t know about really having a lust for learning Korean, but I do think that learning the script would be interesting. Koreans and their steel chopsticks. Steel chopsticks! Chris: I actually understand that Korean script is very logical, and might be easier to learn than the spoken language. This is supposed to be because a king, a long time ago was like, “Having a crappy writing system sucks! Scholars! Make a good writing system, now!” =PBeth: I’d heard that too, only not worded quite that way. I do remember the king wanted an easier system than Japanese and Chinese kanji, and it is actually an alphabet rather than symbols for full words.Aha, a link: http://thinkzone.wlonk.com/Language/Korean.htmKing Sejong in 1443, according to this.

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