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Subject: LING: Language adequacy

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Date: Wed, 29 Jan 1997 00:48:53 -0800
From: James Rogers <>
Subject: LING: Language adequacy
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At 01:43 PM 1/28/97 -0800, Lee Daniel Crocker wrote:
>(1) The sample set of human languages is so small, and the evaluation
>period so short, that I don't think one can draw any conclusions from
>its present dominance. It just happened to be the language that was
>used my the world's major imperial power, and later by the world's
>leader in technology. To evaluate language as a technology itself, I
>think it makes more sense to look at earlier cultures where it had more
>obvious influence. Chinese comes out the winner there, and for some
>good reasons, especially the writing system. It is far more efficient
>than alphabetic systems: more words per page, fewer penstrokes per word,
>faster to read and comprehend.

Nonetheless, Chinese is a poor language for coding new concepts that are too
far outside their existing concept set. One of the big problems faced by
many Asian countries (especially less developed ones) is that most written
language is translated *through* Chinese, even if neither the original nor
the end translation were in Chinese.

An example: When books are translated from English into Vietnamese, they
are first translated into Chinese (even the Vietnamese-Americans do this!).
The problem is that Chinese translations force every English concept and
word into their symbol set, even if it has no equivalent. The Chinese
language does poor distinction, especially when nouns are involved IMO. The
translation from Chinese into Vietnamese is easy, but the result is very
poor even though the languages map onto each other pretty well. Proper
nouns are demolished. New conceptual containers are destroyed. "Software"
becomes translated as "a soft thing" (like a pillow!) and "Frame Relay"
makes no sense at all. "Frame" and "Relay" are broken apart and translated
into their more mundane definitions which apparently must make sense in
Chinese. Yet direct English-Vietnamese translations do not suffer this type
of problem. Apparently the "translate through Chinese" thing is a really
big issue in Asia right now because it is putting a lot of countries at a
disadvantage in technology fields. Even most American book publishers
translate through Chinese first. I understand there is a historical reason
why this is, but I don't know what it is.

English may not be very efficient, organized, or pretty, but it is a superb
conceptual container, mostly for the same reasons. English descriptive

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