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All the Perl that's Practical to Extract and Report

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  • Maybe this is me being ethnocentric (with a mix of naivete), but why can't we standardize on one language? Is spoken language like programming languages in that regard, where some tasks are better done in C++, some in Perl, and some in Assembly?

    I won't be so naive to suggest that English be the standard language - after all, Spanish is more widely spoken than English.

    I can sympathize with the loss of a language, but I suggest that Darwin's Rule of "Survival of the Fittest" applies. The outgoing langua

    • Recall that in Orwell's 1984, the main intellectual activity of Ingsoc was the perfection of the language NewSpeak, in which herectical ideas could neither be spoken nor thought. There is something very magical about language. It's not merely a pragmatic way to get information -- it's the cement of society itself. This extends into the animal kindom as well.

      Consider the bizarre symbotic relationship of a certain caterpillar and tree ants []. The caterpiller has "dew patches" on which the ants feed. In return,

      • Interesting points and I don't know if I'm just too simple to come around to your points or if I can't convince you of mine - perhaps we're at a stalemate.

        I would argue, though, that if we've gleamed the nuggets out of a language that's doomed to die and recorded it for posterity, then what's wrong with destroying it for a common good (unifying humanity with language)? Look at Latin - it's a dead language, but we have recordings, we have books and we have classes on learning Latin. So we've destroyed La

        • I would argue, though, that if we've gleamed the nuggets out of a language that's doomed to die and recorded it for posterity, then what's wrong with destroying it for a common good (unifying humanity with language)?
          What's wrong with that? A whole helluva lot!

          If you're approaching this problem as a native English speaker that thought in English when learning other languages that are substantially similar to English, then I don't know if I'm personally skilled enough to convey the abysmal sense of loss here. Simply borrowing words from dead languages to create new medical terms doesn't cut it and is in fact quite nearsighted.

          For example, I understand that in Japanese, there was no word for "green" until about a century ago -- it was just a shade of "blue". Doesn't that make it complicated to say something like "this mouldy cheese is rotten -- the blue mold specs are still there, but there are nasty green bits on top now"?

          Japanese also has a strong emphasis on "that thing near me" vs. "that thing near you" vs. "that thing that's not near either one of us"; classifiers for degrees of honor (thinking -sensei == teacher and -san == mr. doesn't really explain it well); Japanese also doesn't a plethora of verb tenses like Latin, and it lacks a future tense of all things (try to translate "I'm gonna do it" without being specific when in the future you intend to do it).

          But my favorite example of impedence mismatch between languages is with English and Hebrew. Think of all the different words we have for poultry in English (including "poultry"): chicken, cornish game hen, turkey, quail, cock, rooster, pea-hen, chick, phesant, duck, ... (obviously, whoever invented English had a lot of birds nearby.) In Hebrew, many of them are simply «oof» -- "bird" (or adjectives describing which bird, but the same word is used for chicken and "bird", and presumably various different forms of chicken as well). Given that state of affairs, how do you express yourself when you mean "any-random-avian-creature" vs. a chicken vs. someone you're associating with a small-thin-flying-creature vs. someone you're trying to associate with a chicken?

          At the same time, the book of Genesis starts out «b'resheet barah adonai...» -- "In the beginning, God created...". However "created" doesn't quite fit, because the verb here «barah» is quite special and conveys a sense of grandeur. In English, the sense of the creation of the universe is comparable to the sense of Larry Wall creating Perl. Not at all the same thing there.


          Now, you could chalk that up to "well, poetry between languages doesn't translate", or "if you use a few paragraphs, you can still say the same thought". The truth is that actually, you can't. Perhaps it's easy to cut corners translating between English and French, but in general, once a language is lost, a whole perspective on the world is lost, and a whole set of ideas is lost along with it.

          Reducing everything down to a single language is tantamount to Newspeak, and that association alone should really scare you.

          • Colours in various languages are a fascinating subject: anthropologists have done studies like showing patches of colours to people and asking what do they call them. Even within same cultures there are differences: we have a table cloth six people couldn't agree on whether it was blue or green, and I can guarantee it wasn't the question of the cloth not being washed :-) But, IIRC, spectra blue-green and red-orange-yellow-brown have been identified as rather fuzzy.

            Finnish examples: there is (still) no n
            • Colours in various languages are a fascinating subject

              Definitely! [] And one of my fondest memories from grad school was the book Basic Color [] Terms by Paul Kay [] and Brent Berlin -- one of the few bits of linguistics I found that was actually accessible to anyone who hadn't already spent years reading up on theoretical backstory.

              The short story is this: collect all the color-terms in a language. For each one, ask "is [this term] a kind of [this other term]?" You get things like "pink ISA red", "beige ISA