My skepticism about chinese language

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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#21  Postby katja z » May 17, 2011 8:39 am

@ nunnington: Oh, comparative linguistics of non-Indo-European languages has certainly been linked to Protestant missionary activity, for instance in Amazonia and in parts of Africa. There's a lot of ambiguity there, as this has strongly contributed to the process of the standardisation and the development of written language in some cases (I can't speak for the Americas but this is certainly true of a number of African languages, e.g. Yoruba), but of course with strings attached ... But that's a whole different can of worms to what the OP is talking about.

nunnington wrote:Reminds me of teaching Linguistics 101, please sir, is it true that the Hopi don't have tense, and therefore can't talk about time? Language X doesn't have a word for blue, so does that mean that they can't see blue? And Cockney often uses the historic present, so Cockerknees find the past a very hard concept to grasp. I'm going round the johnny 'orner, innit, guv, when I see this geezer standing, and I thinks, mmm, he looks like an advocate of strong Sapir-Whorf. Cor blimey.

:lol: :thumbup:
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#22  Postby katja z » May 17, 2011 8:46 am

mawanli wrote:
I want to say you are luky to use a language which has tense. Without tense, american can not be the most developed country.
Tense developed the minds of people whose mother language is english. If you are born in a country no tanse here, you will find how interesting in your talk there are three aspects of time every day.


Portuguese has more tenses than English, are the minds of the Portuguese more developed than the minds of native English speakers? And English has more tenses than my mother tongue, Slovenian, is my mind less developed? Oh hang on, it must have developed when I learned English, and even more so when I learned Portuguese ...

One serious question for you, and I really want you to think hard about this one: If, as you say, grammatical tense in language is causally linked to (technological?) development, and given that the Chinese language (apparently) does not have tenses, how do you explain that, historically, China used to be one of the most developed parts of the world? Over to you.
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#23  Postby nunnington » May 17, 2011 8:57 am

It's interesting that Chomsky used to say that language is stimulus-free, which was part of his bashing of Skinnerian behaviourism. But I think it pertains to this discussion as well, in a kind of reverse way. As katja z says, if a language has two tenses or ten, does this pertain to how we can think about time? Of course, Chomsky perhaps erred too much towards making language a kind of purely formal mathematical system, disconnected from communication and meaning. But hell, it was fun at the time. I still have some of my old TG books.
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#24  Postby jamest » May 17, 2011 10:07 am

mawanli, from what you have said it seems as though it would be impossible for Chinese people to plan ahead or even reminisce about the past. Yet, surely nostalgia [for the past] and desire [for something in the future] are significant aspects of any person's mind, Chinese or not, so that regardless of the limitations of the Chinese language one is not prevented from thinking about the past or the future.

It's the mind which forges language, not vice versa. One has the capacity to think about concepts even if there are no contemporary words for those concepts. What happens then is that these new concepts are often incorporated into the language. Philosophers/mathematicians/scientists have been doing this for thousands of years. If it were true that one's mind was constrained to think within the parameters of a known language, then new conceptions/ideas would have been impossible and mankind would still be swinging in the trees.
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#25  Postby katja z » May 17, 2011 10:39 am

jamest wrote:
It's the mind which forges language, not vice versa. One has the capacity to think about concepts even if there are no contemporary words for those concepts.


It's not an either/or thing, but a two-way process. My mind was "forged" in social interaction, which is largely linguistic. It is this that allows me to participate in future language development, including by coming up with concepts of my own, and with new means of expressing them linguistically.

If it were true that one's mind was constrained to think within the parameters of a known language, then new conceptions/ideas would have been impossible and mankind would still be swinging in the trees.


True. Well, as long as you don't take the swinging in trees bit literally. ;)
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#26  Postby nunnington » May 17, 2011 11:22 am

The partial disconnect between syntax and meaning is shown nicely in the English present tense, which can convey the past (I open the door, and who's there, only the bleeding ex), the present of course, the future (I enlist tomorrow), and those 'eternal' statements which are common (I teach linguistics, time flows in one direction, happiness is a warm penis). In 'I enlist tomorrow', it's 'tomorrow' which is the time marker, showing that the verb need not carry this at all. If I can paraphrase Chomsky, tense is surface structure, concealing a variety of deep structures. Hurrah, I haven't said that for a long time!

The semantics of tense is perfect for a nice fat Ph. D. and no doubt they have been pouring out of MIT, and elsewhere.
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#27  Postby katja z » May 17, 2011 11:31 am

:lol: Ah, but where should I look for these deep structures and where do they come from? No, don't answer that one, not in this thread anyway ... :shifty:
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#28  Postby nunnington » May 17, 2011 11:44 am

katja z wrote::lol: Ah, but where should I look for these deep structures and where do they come from? No, don't answer that one, not in this thread anyway ... :shifty:


Mentalese, innit? But where does that come from?
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#29  Postby jamest » May 17, 2011 11:45 am

katja z wrote:
jamest wrote:
It's the mind which forges language, not vice versa. One has the capacity to think about concepts even if there are no contemporary words for those concepts.


It's not an either/or thing, but a two-way process. My mind was "forged" in social interaction, which is largely linguistic. It is this that allows me to participate in future language development, including by coming up with concepts of my own, and with new means of expressing them linguistically.

I would say that the capacity to receive/understand language via social interaction tells us something about the framework of an individual's mind in which all of this happens. That is, I must have the capacity to think/learn before I learn anything. It is this stand-alone capacity/ability which facilitates/determines what can be learnt. Further, it is this capacity which determines how - and to what extent - I can be influenced by what I learn. In other words, I think that it is the underlying traits of the mind/brain which ultimately determine everything that happens to an individual during social interaction.

I'm not saying that language doesn't influence us, but it's not sovereign over us. We have the capacity to reinvent language just as much as we have the capacity to reinvent politics. One could say, for instance, that liberal democracy hugely impacts upon the way that we live our lives, but this social construct is not sovereign over those that live those lives. Ask Marx and Engels, for instance, about whether they were eternally damned to live the capitalist life.

If it were true that one's mind was constrained to think within the parameters of a known language, then new conceptions/ideas would have been impossible and mankind would still be swinging in the trees.


True. Well, as long as you don't take the swinging in trees bit literally. ;)

I was being serious. It's difficult to see how humanity could have progressed any further than the apes without his ability to constantly think of new ideas/concepts and to incorporate such conceptions into an ever-expanding vocabulary.
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#30  Postby katja z » May 17, 2011 11:50 am

I understand that and mostly agree with your point (although you really should have said "than the other apes"), but I was referring to the fact that hominid ancestors had stopped swinging in trees way before linguistic communication (probably) developed.

Edited for some clarifications and for grammar :doh:
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#31  Postby katja z » May 17, 2011 11:55 am

nunnington wrote:
katja z wrote::lol: Ah, but where should I look for these deep structures and where do they come from? No, don't answer that one, not in this thread anyway ... :shifty:


Mentalese, innit? But where does that come from?


Must ... resist ... :silenced:






:lol:
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#32  Postby jamest » May 17, 2011 11:55 am

katja z wrote:I understand that and mostly agree with your point (although you really should have said "than the other apes"), but I was referring to the fact that hominid ancestors had stopped swinging in trees way before linguistic communication (probably) developed.

I wouldn't bet my house on that. I have a hunch that physical evolution coincided with mental evolution.
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#33  Postby mawanli » May 17, 2011 12:17 pm

jamest wrote:mawanli, from what you have said it seems as though it would be impossible for Chinese people to plan ahead or even reminisce about the past. Yet, surely nostalgia [for the past] and desire [for something in the future] are significant aspects of any person's mind, Chinese or not, so that regardless of the limitations of the Chinese language one is not prevented from thinking about the past or the future.

It's the mind which forges language, not vice versa. One has the capacity to think about concepts even if there are no contemporary words for those concepts. What happens then is that these new concepts are often incorporated into the language. Philosophers/mathematicians/scientists have been doing this for thousands of years. If it were true that one's mind was constrained to think within the parameters of a known language, then new conceptions/ideas would have been impossible and mankind would still be swinging in the trees.


Mind and language, like egg and chicken, I donnot know which has appeared firstly.
So, if I want to know the start where the difference between english and chinese has come into reality, I have found it is impossible. And there is no doubt that the question is about diversity or survival of the fittest.
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#34  Postby nunnington » May 17, 2011 12:21 pm

katja z wrote:
nunnington wrote:
katja z wrote::lol: Ah, but where should I look for these deep structures and where do they come from? No, don't answer that one, not in this thread anyway ... :shifty:


Mentalese, innit? But where does that come from?


Must ... resist ... :silenced:






:lol:


Actually, in a formal grammar, I don't think there is any directionality at all, since it is a kind of mathematical array. But then, if my memory is still reliable, everybody at MIT got into mentalism, and it became de rigeur that grammar had psychological reality, and oh lordy lordy, deep structures were more like thoughts, hence Jerry Fodor's mentalese, or what is elegantly known as the Language of Thought. I don't know the current state of play with all this now, but I think Chomsky dropped the idea of deep structure completely, and also dropped the idea that deep structure related to meaning. I remember seeing him speak at UCL - and there were huge queues round the block to see him - and he said provocatively that language cannot be related to communication, which was great fun. And I suppose, nonsense.
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#35  Postby jamest » May 17, 2011 12:29 pm

mawanli wrote:
jamest wrote:mawanli, from what you have said it seems as though it would be impossible for Chinese people to plan ahead or even reminisce about the past. Yet, surely nostalgia [for the past] and desire [for something in the future] are significant aspects of any person's mind, Chinese or not, so that regardless of the limitations of the Chinese language one is not prevented from thinking about the past or the future.

It's the mind which forges language, not vice versa. One has the capacity to think about concepts even if there are no contemporary words for those concepts. What happens then is that these new concepts are often incorporated into the language. Philosophers/mathematicians/scientists have been doing this for thousands of years. If it were true that one's mind was constrained to think within the parameters of a known language, then new conceptions/ideas would have been impossible and mankind would still be swinging in the trees.


Mind and language, like egg and chicken, I donnot know which has appeared firstly.

The formulation of a language requires that a mind exist before a language can be constructed. Languages don't create minds. It's not a chicken and egg situation at all.
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#36  Postby katja z » May 17, 2011 12:29 pm

mawanli wrote:
Mind and language, like egg and chicken, I donnot know which has appeared firstly.
So, if I want to know the start where the difference between english and chinese has come into reality, I have found it is impossible. And there is no doubt that the question is about diversity or survival of the fittest.


Survival of the fittest what? You can certainly talk about selection of linguistic traits in language evolution, as long as you are clear that this is not the same thing as natural selection. Cultural evolution =/= biological evolution. At this point, I'm not quite certain that you aren't confusing the two.
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#37  Postby epepke » May 17, 2011 12:38 pm

mawanli wrote:So, if I want to know the start where the difference between english and chinese has come into reality, I have found it is impossible. And there is no doubt that the question is about diversity or survival of the fittest.


The problem with doing things this was is that language itself (at least spoken languages) is almost certainly much older than any language or even any language family that developed today.
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#38  Postby UndercoverElephant » May 17, 2011 11:31 pm

mawanli wrote:
The first,chinese people believe two not one, no one can live under such belief that there are two elements pushing the world ahead.


You mean this:

Image

?

Makes perfect sense to me...but has nothing to do with the Chinese language.
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#39  Postby mawanli » May 18, 2011 1:27 am

UndercoverElephant wrote:
mawanli wrote:
The first,chinese people believe two not one, no one can live under such belief that there are two elements pushing the world ahead.


You mean this:

Image

?

Makes perfect sense to me...but has nothing to do with the Chinese language.


Yes,the graph is about something that i have mentioned.
I think the religion reflects a mistake, which I have said here, and sometimes a big mistake will create the evil result.
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Re: My skepticism about chinese language

#40  Postby epepke » May 18, 2011 3:26 pm

nunnington wrote:Actually, in a formal grammar, I don't think there is any directionality at all, since it is a kind of mathematical array. But then, if my memory is still reliable, everybody at MIT got into mentalism, and it became de rigeur that grammar had psychological reality, and oh lordy lordy, deep structures were more like thoughts, hence Jerry Fodor's mentalese, or what is elegantly known as the Language of Thought. I don't know the current state of play with all this now, but I think Chomsky dropped the idea of deep structure completely, and also dropped the idea that deep structure related to meaning. I remember seeing him speak at UCL - and there were huge queues round the block to see him - and he said provocatively that language cannot be related to communication, which was great fun. And I suppose, nonsense.


I've always been a fan of deep case grammars (a la Fillmore) and HPSG to represent them (though I think the HPSG people have gotten a bit, shall we say, elaborate.) I'm not so convinced by the Language of Thought hypothesis. It seems to me that is of the class of ideas that sounds good in general, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Of course, these tools may just have been the best I could find for what I was trying to do, which was language-based user interfaces. In a computer, the problem of internal representation of knowledge has already been solved (with any luck), and it's a matter of translating it to and from a human language. So I viewed language generation and understanding as an algorithmic process, with a conversational context. This seems to me to work well to describe some fairly common things about language, such as when pronouns are used. For example:

1) Fred opened the door, and a bucket of water fell on his head.
2) A bucket of water fell on his head, and Fred opened the door.

are both fine syntactically, but in terms of conveying meaning, they're rather different.

Anyway, our friend mawanli has caused me to wonder if deep cases and HPSG would be good for Chinese, or if something else might be better.
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