Friday, January 28, 2011

Oil, ink or crayons

Language nerdery:
This sentence: 가격이 너무 비싸요 is transcribed roughly "gagyuk-i nomu bisayo". 가격 (gagyuk) is "price", 이 is a particle that in this instance means "this", 너무(nomu) means "too(much)" and 비싸-(bisa-) is "expensive". 요(yo) is just a suffix to finish a sentence in the semi-polite sense.
Now what is this? A fully correct sentence without the use of a verb? Clearly the meaning is "this price is too expensive", but there is no "is" in there. Those who know their Korean would immediately answer that the base form of bisa- is 비싸다(bisada) which makes it a "verb": to be expensive.
Where am I going with this? Not sure, but it amazes me somehow because if you think about it, if you see the world as if adjectives were verbs and the words "to be" or "is" are void of meaning and useless, it's like looking through a filter; it changes things around in my head. So I don't think that a language can limit your thoughts, exactly, but it can probably adjust the course of your thoughts a bit, since they're the narrow channels we push our thoughts through before they become solid and shareable.
Why am I putting verb inside rabbit ears? Because I'm not sure I agree with that bisada is a verb. That would require pushing Korean through the narrow channels that is western linguistics, which means even more information could be lost along the way. Is it the same thing to say "green cat" as "cat being green"? The same thing saying "difficult girl" as "girl being difficult"? Is it necessary to have the opportunity for both in a language? And how many other different ways to say it are there? How many ways to think it?

To really go off the deep end here; is any single word we ever say or write or think exactly the same as another in the sense that it expresses exactly the same thought or feeling?
But that wasn't what I came to discuss. Rather, if you look at this this way, "is" seems like such a useless word really. "Is" is hardly a word at all. It needs all kinds of support to become something, just like a pronoun. Thinking about it, the Korean(and many more Eastern languages if I remember correctly) way makes much more sense.


Riklurt said...

I've thought some about this as well, and I think it comes down to this:

Some languages like to add a separate word to express something. Chinese usually does this; "to be" is just an exception where they actually don't. Otherwise they're quite fond of adding "extra" words where Western languages don't, such as the "-ma" particle for "this is a question".

Other languages like to modify an existent word to express something. This is, for instance, how most Western languages handle questions: By changing the tone of the question. "Okay." and "Okay?" are both written and pronounced differently.

Most languages have a little bit of both. The only thing that's different here is that "to be" is a word in Western languages, whereas it's a modification in Eastern ones; conversely, "this is a question" is a modification in the West, but an additional word in the East.

Yeonni said...

Would be interesting to make a language that's entirely to the point, try to make it as effective as possible. There must be some way to test, statistically or something. It wouldn't have to be unimaginative or unpoetic because of that. Just cut out all the unnecessary stuff, somewhat like they did to a small extent when Swedish removed all the conjugations or stuff.

Riklurt said...

Been done (sort of): Lojban. Look it up on wikipedia.

D said...

But what is an effective language? Is it the language which expresses ideas most precisely? Classical Arabic has a level of specificity that makes English seem like cave-man talk - the flip side being a complexity so overwhelming virtually no one can speak it (hence vernacular Arabic). Or is it the greatest semantic content in the smallest number of morphemes? That's a hard thing to optimize, it seems.

I have no real input, actually, just curious what would make a language "effective."

Yeonni said...

Well that's sort of what I'm considering too. Is it more "effective" or "expressive" to have a separate word for "is" so you can say "is *insert adjective here* or not? What I mean is, is there a time when having "is" separate from the adjective it describes is ever useful?