Prentiss Riddle: Language

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Omniphagous English and language blowout

Badger reports on an interaction she had with some classmates on the relative vocabularies of various languages. My reply, not necessarily reality-based:

(1) I've heard the same thing you have, that English is a happy borrower, nay ransacker, of vocabulary and by being a language of world conquest for a few hundred years has sucked up a lot of words.

(2) One should nevertheless not assume that just because the Academie de la Snootologie for a particular language hasn't sanctioned words, they aren't part of the real language anyway. Spanish in particular, between the Moors on the one hand and even more contact than English with indigenous American languages on the other, could possibly give English a run for its money whatever the Academía Española says.

(3) This all depends on how you define the boundaries of a "language". Do local dialects count? Even geographically dispersed or mutually incomprehensible ones?

(4) Finally, any competent debunker of the "Eskimo Words for Snow" myth would point out that lots of languages don't even have distinct "words" as we use the term, so counting the words in those languages is like counting the toes on a fish.

Clearing out a few other language links I've been hoarding:

(Patrick Hall's Linguablogs list is down this morning. Anybody else had problems with it? Has he been updating it? I haven't checked lately.)

language 2005.04.14 link


I've just read Cela's Diccionario Secreto, a monstrous collection of words related to pija and cojones, all of which were (and to a large extent still are) excluded by the Real Academía. I think the officially promoted view of Spain and Spanish as uniquely blessed by the deity--even during the greatest periods of decadence--probably did dominate the popular imagination to a degree that inhibited the uptake of barbarisms. It's very difficult to call one way or the other, because literacy was limited to a small group until quite recently and because the church managed to keep a fairly tight rein on the publishing industry for long periods.

trevor@k’alebøl [tree cxe oreneta punkto com] • 2005.04.15
Thanks for the info, Trevor. But what about Latin America? The prescriptivists of the Real Academía aside, is there no descriptive lexicographical tradition from outside the sway of Franco and a little further from Rome?

Badger has been complaining for a while of the hodgepodge of dictionaries she has to consult in her translation work (which admittedly contains a fair share of gutter talk that would be beyond the reach of lexicography in most languages). I keep hoping she'll discover the one that's eluded her so I can buy a copy, too.

Meanwhile, in Brazil last year I had an introduction to Houaiss, a lovely dictionary of Brazilian Portuguese which would be a credit to any language.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2005.04.15
The new dictionary of my dreams is the Oxford Spanish 3rd edition. It's the best so far for Latin American spanish. I still have to consult online lists of country-specific words and will definitely be going to the BigAss University Library for country-specific dictionaries, but the 3rd edition has been quite amazing!

I have a few compilations of spanglish, caló, dirty words, and mexican slang. None of them deserve the word "dictionary."

badgerbag [lizzard cxe bookmaniac punkto net] • 2005.04.15
Thanks, Badger. And specifically what or where are those glossaries of Spanglish, caló etc.? I guess I could especially use the one on Mexican slang.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2005.04.15
Thanks for the links Prentiss. Now that I'm teaching English (using Caleb Gateggno's "The Silent Way" method), I've become much more interested in English and how we learn languages.

The method seems very much opposed to Chomsky's Universal Grammar. I still don't have my mind made up on what's the best method for teaching English.

oso [oso cxe el-oso punkto net] • 2005.04.16
Chomsky may have discovered some fundamentals about the basis of human grammar (for a fun read check out the section of David Berlinski's Black Mischief about Chomsky routing the behaviorists), but I've never heard of anybody successfully using Chomskyan universals as a blueprint for teaching language. Or am I wrong?

So what's the short and sweet version of the Silent Way? I Googled my way to one of the Silent Way websites but couldn't find the gist of it in words of one syllable.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2005.04.16
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