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Taken from Zvakanaka's thread:
quote:
So these aren't exactly just words, but they're interesting phrases which don't translate directly into English:

Ukushaywa ngumoya = (lit.) 'To be hit by the wind/spirit' And is equivalent to something along the lines of 'to take the air' or to go out for a stroll.

Ukuphathwa ubuthongo = (lit.) 'To be carried by/afflicted with drowsiness' equivalent to 'sleepy'.
[Addendum: I found a great online Zulu-English dictionary from 1905, digitized at Google Books (link).]

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I recently started studying Japanese at work (I work for a Japanese software company). One of the other students in our class taught me an interesting idiomatic phrase: 空気を読めない kuuki o yomenai which literally means 'S/he cannot read the air', but means that somebody is not understanding (or following) what you've said, or that person is clueless. The noun kuuki is composed of two kanji meaning 'empty' and 'air', and the verb yomu 'to read' + -enai 'cannot' (informal). In the positive, kuuki o yomu it means 'to read between the lines' or 'sense the mood'.

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Thanks for starting this thread, zmjezd (sorry for lack of diacritics).

Something I really like in a lot of African languages (but I think a lot of languages around the world have similar things) are the standard greetings and responses. In Shona, from Zimbabwe, the way you ask 'how are you?' depends on the time of day (again, not uncommon), so for example in the morning you might ask 'Mamuka sei?' ( lit. How did you wake?) to which the appropriate response is just 'Ndamuka mamukawo' which means 'I woke if you woke,' and then the original interlocuter would say 'ndamuka' (I woke). In Zulu the usual responses to 'How are you?' (Unjani?) are either 'I'm here' (Ngikhona) or 'I'm still alive' (Ngisaphila).

I really like the simplicity of this. I mean, they've become social grooming utterances that one simply says automatically, much like how in English we often say 'I'm fine' whether or not that's actually how we are. But I like the idea of it being enough to simply be alive, to simply have woken up in the morning. Just to give thanks for life itself.

Does anybody else know of cool greetings in other languages?

Oh, and the best online Zulu dictionary site I've found is http://www.isizulu.net/ if anyone's interested.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Zvakanaka:
I really like the simplicity of this. I mean, they've become social grooming utterances that one simply says automatically, much like how in English we often say 'I'm fine' whether or not that's actually how we are...


I believe the definition of a hypochondriac is: someone who, when you ask him "How are you?", tells you.
 
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here's two from the Filipino language.

There are certain words that can't be directly translated into english and some i think are pretty interesting.

Asa- one simple Filipino word that means 'you can try but don't think you'll get anywhere' and is commonly used as a form of provocation to a person the speaker particularly dislikes.

Sigurista- A person who particualarly ensures that everything will go as planned. This kind of person will not initiate a particular action unless he is 100% sure that the desired results would be obtained.

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Well, how I missed this is beyond me, and it's probably too late. As often happens, sometimes our newbies disappear. However, in case you haven't, here is how I think goofy and zmj would answer this: As long as the two words can be translated, though with more than one word, that is considered being translated.

What I've wondered, though, is if there are words or concepts that can't even be put into words in other languages. For example, what if there is another emotion out there in another culture that we don't know about because it has never been adequately translated?
 
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Originally posted by Kalleh:
What I've wondered, though, is if there are words or concepts that can't even be put into words in other languages. For example, what if there is another emotion out there in another culture that we don't know about because it has never been adequately translated?


There's no evidence for it. I remember my introductory linguistics textbook saying something like "A concept that can be expressed in one language can be expressed in all languages." We just haven't found a language that can express concepts that can't be expressed in other languages.
 
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Well maybe my question isn't a linguistic one then. However, I am wondering if there are emotions, for example, that are more relevant to certain cultures. "Epicaricacy" was a word in Greek (arguably in English, too), and "Schadenfreude" is similarly used in German. But perhaps many societies don't have a word for it because they don't talk about that concept. Yes, they could translate the word into their language, but one would think if it were an important concept in their language that it would have a word.

Perhaps I am not making sense. However, I find this an interesting discussion because it incorporates cultural, as well as linguistic, differences.
 
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No, I think you're making sense. It's possible that some words are created or borrowed only when enough people need to talk about that concept.

On the other hand, it's a mistake think that the words or lack of words in a language reveal something fundamental about the culture.

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goofy, why is it a mistake? And I know we've talked about Eskimo words for snow here, and they have on Language Log, and, for the case of simplicity, it's false that they have any more concepts for snow than we do. However, it makes sense that they would, doesn't it? Think of how very different their weather is. I've always wondered why linguists sneer at that thought, and, secretly, I've wondered if the linguists (yes, I know, there are some really erudite ones who say this!) are correct about that. I'll never know for sure, but I've wondered if I went to Alaska, learned the Eskimo language, if I'd see some different kinds of snowy days and find words that are subtly different than anything here.

I truly don't mean to be cantankerous by bringing up subjects that have supposedly been put to bed, but I've always been a little skeptical about that discussion...even though I am quite the amateur questioning bigwigs!
 
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Originally posted by Kalleh:
goofy, why is it a mistake? And I know we've talked about Eskimo words for snow here, and they have on Language Log, and, for the case of simplicity, it's false that they have any more concepts for snow than we do. However, it makes sense that they would, doesn't it?


No, it has nothing to do with concepts. Who knows how many concepts anyone has for anything? The fact is that Eskimo languages don't have an unusually large number of words for snow. But since we can't compare words across English and Eskimo languages, let's pretend that a group of English speakers lived in the arctic for a long period of time. Would they use a lot of different words for snow? Maybe, and in fact English has a good number of words for snow. Or maybe not, because language is more than a bunch of words, we can use words in combination instead of single words. For instance we don't have a single word for freezing rain, new-fallen snow, or the fake antique plastic seal on a pretentious whisky bottle, but that doesn't mean we can't talk about it.

But this is rather trivial, isn't it? Of course you're going to use language to talk about the things that you want to talk about.

My point is that the fact that a language has a certain word doesn't necessarily tell us anything insightful about the culture. For instance someone says the Gaelic word sgriob "reveals a lot about Gaelic ways and priorities". Someone else says that the fact that Mohawk has one word that means both "righteous" and "beautiful" tells us something philosophical about Mohawk culture. Both of these claims are mistakes.

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I think that the fact the people keep insisting that language use tells us a lot about culture, tells as a lot about people.

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I beleive that some aspects of language can tell us a lot about a particular culture - as can aspects of many other facts about a group or country.

The more facts you have the better chance you have of understanding a culture.

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I think that the fact the people keep insisting that language use tells us a lot about culture, tells as a lot about people.
Well, I'll drop my skepticism because it clearly doesn't go over well with people who are very knowledgeable about language, and I don't want to create bad feelings.

However, having said that, I think it's okay for us to have different view points and to agree to disagree. I cannot imagine that every linguist or language expert on earth has the same opinion on this.
 
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Originally posted by Kalleh:
Well, I'll drop my skepticism because it clearly doesn't go over well with people who are very knowledgeable about language, and I don't want to create bad feelings.

However, having said that, I think it's okay for us to have different view points and to agree to disagree. I cannot imagine that every linguist or language expert on earth has the same opinion on this.


No bad feelings here, Kalleh. I certainly don't mind that you disagree. My opinion comes from the fact that as far as I know there is very little evidence to support a tight language-culture connection theory. If there are linguists who disagree, I'd like to know about them.

However, there is evidence supporting some sort of connection between language and perception. For instance:
quote:
The term "Categorical Perception" (CP) names people's propensity to make finer discriminations at the boundaries between categories than at their interiors. It is well established that differences between languages in the boundaries of color terms induce corresponding differences in categorical perception in their speakers. For example, if a language A , like Greek or Russian, makes a simple lexical distinction between light blue and dark blue and language B, like English or Japanese, does not, speakers of A will reliably make finer discriminations at the boundary between light and dark blue than at the interiors of these categories and speakers of language B will not do this.
 
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I'd have to agree with goofy, Kalleh. Go with your gut, but I don't see much evidence for the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis either. As for language and culture, most good ethnography takes into account the language of the culture under investigation. I would say that culture is transmitted by language, but about which (chicken or egg) shapes the other, I am still undecided.


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That fits in with something I understand about the ancient Greeks. They didn't think of colours, only hues. That explains Homer's use of "wine-dark sea" and his description of the sky as "bronze".


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They didn't think of colours, only hues.

I've never heard of this, arnie. Do you have a citation?


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Not really. Frown It was mentioned on QI, which I appreciate doesn't cite any sources, and is aimed at entertainment, not education.

Out of curiosity, I Googled "wine-dark sea" and found this blog post, which in turn leads (via the comments) to this post.


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I read the docs at both links, arnie, but I would have to disagree with them both. The first one states that Homer only had four color words: black, white, red, and yellow-green, but the second one admits that Homer also had blue used for lapis lazuli and Hector's hair. The second post also states that there were parts of the color spectrum that the ancient Greeks did not perceive. Berlin and Kay's 1968 book is cited. I have read it and the second author has misunderstood the premise of that book. It's not that if people don't have the word for blue in their language that they doi not perceive the colors we call blue, but that they do not have a word for it. Take the previous link, where Kay discusses Russian having two words for what we call blue as they have words for light blue and dark blue, whereas in English we have to resort to modifier's like light and dark with blue. It's not that we don't see the difference between light and dark blue, it's that in English we have to use two words in place of one. When Berlin and Kay did their famous study, they had people who spoke various languages show what they meant by black or red, and depending on the number of words they had for colors (which had some morphological criteria like single word), they would group colors which we have a separate word for in with a single color word. That's why the Greek for yellow-green is used to describe honey. I goiogled around, too, after posting, and I found refernces to a Lazarus Geiger who wrote on the use of color-words in the Rig-Veda in the mid 19th century. He seems to have been the one who came up with the idea that "primitive" peoples could not perceive certain colors because they did not have words for those colors. The problem I (and others) have with the Berlin and Kay book is with some of those criteria I mentioned above. So they say that they did not count words that were for objects that prototypically were of a certain color, yet they count orange in English. I took a semantics class that Paul Kay co-taught and I asked him about that, but he never really gave us a satisfying answer.


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Originally posted by zmježd:
The problem I (and others) have with the Berlin and Kay book is with some of those criteria I mentioned above. So they say that they did not count words that were for objects that prototypically were of a certain color, yet they count orange in English. I took a semantics class that Paul Kay co-taught and I asked him about that, but he never really gave us a satisfying answer.


zmježd, could you elaborate?
 
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The second post also states that there were parts of the color spectrum that the ancient Greeks did not perceive ... a Lazarus Geiger who wrote on the use of color-words in the Rig-Veda in the mid 19th century. He seems to have been the one who came up with the idea that "primitive" peoples could not perceive certain colors because they did not have words for those colors.
Stephen Fry in QI also mentioned that idea (although without naming sources, of course) and ridiculed it. He also, after the whole thing had been pooh-poohed by the contestants, said that modern Welsh also lacks a specific word for blue. How true that is, I have no idea.


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glas is "blue, green". bliw is "blue", probably a borrowing from English.
 
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I would say that culture is transmitted by language, but about which (chicken or egg) shapes the other, I am still undecided.
But am I not questioning whether it is culture that shapes language? If you are undecided, we are closer in this than I thought.
quote:
If there are linguists who disagree, I'd like to know about them.
Linguists must be much different from medical scientists then because one can find opposing opinions in almost any question that arises.

Arnie, I thought both those links were excellent. While z might not agree with them, they still provided a lot of food for thought. I found this paragraph supportive of color, at least, being a cultural phenomenon:
quote:
Homer's odd color description usage was a cultural phenomenon and not simply color blindness on his part, Pindar describes the dew as chloros, in Euripides chloros describes blood and tears (5). Empedocles, one of the earliest Ancient Greek color theorists, described color as falling into four areas, light or white, black or dark, red and yellow; Xenophanes described the rainbow as having three bands of color: purple, green/yellow, and red (6). These colors are fairly consistent with the four colors used by Homer in his color description, this leads us to the conclusion that all Ancient Greeks saw color only in the premise of Empedocles' colors, in some way they lacked the ability to perceive the whole color spectrum.
 
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That explains Homer's use of "wine-dark sea" and his description of the sky as "bronze".

I thought those kinds of modifiers were used by the bards to make the words fit the dactylic hexameter form (my source is a series of lectures by Elizabeth Van Diver).
 
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could you elaborate?

From Berlin & Kay (1969):
quote:
Every language has an infinitely large number of expressions that denote the sensation of color. Note, for example, the following English expressions: (a) crimson, (b) scarlet, (c) blond, (d) blue-green, (e) bluish, (f) lemon-colored, (g) salmon-colored, (h) the color of rust on my aunt's old Chevrolet. But psychologists, linguists, and anthropologists have long operated with a concept of basic color term, or basic color word, which excludes forms such as (a0 – (h) and includes forms like black, white, red, and green. However, the expression basic color term does not have a unique operational definition. W eused the following proceudre for the determination of basic color terms. Ideally, each basic color term should exhibit the following four characteristics:

(i) It is monoleximic; that is, ioits meaning is not predictable from the meaning of its parts. This cirterion elimnates examples (e) – (h) and perhaps also (d).

(ii) Its signification is not included in that of any other color term. This criterion eliminates examples (a) and (b), which are both kinds of red for most speakers of English.

(iii) Its application must not be restricted to a narrow class of objects. This criterion elimnates example (c) which may be predicated only of hair, complexion, and furniture.

(iv) It must be psychologically salient for informants. Indices of psychological salience include, among others, (1) a tendency to occur at the beginning of of elicited lists of color terms, (2) stability of reference, across informants and across terms, and (3) occurrence in the ideolects of all informants. This criterion eliminates all the examples (a) – (h).

These criteria (i) – (iv) suffice in nearly all cases to determine the basic color terms in any given language. The few doubtful cases that arise are handled by the following subsidiary criteria:

(v) The doubtful form should have the same distributional potential as the previously established basic terms. For example, in English, allowing the suffix -ish, for example, reddish, whitish, and greenish are English words, *aquaish and *chartreus(e)ish are not.

(vi) Basic color terms that are also the name of an object characteristically having that color are suspect, for example, gold, silver, and ash. This subsidiary criterion would exclude orange in English, if it were a doubtful case on the basic criteria (i–iv).

(vii) Recent foreign loanwords may be suspect.

(viii) In cases where lexemic status is difficult to assess [seecriterion (1), morphological complexity is given some weightas a secondary criterion. The English term blue-green might be eliminated by this criterion. (Pages 5–7.)
So, I suppose my initial reaction, three decades ago, was partially a problem with their waffling with the qualifier basic. It's still an important study and work and fascinating.

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Why is it that we men tend towards basic colors, whereas women differentiate more precisely?
 
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Why is it that we men tend towards basic colors, whereas women differentiate more precisely?

Cultural.


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There was an article in the Chicago Tribune today that highlighted a U of C's (In the midwest U of C is Chicago, not Califoria) linguist's work to save rare languages, particularly Greenlandic. Several of her comments related to the importance of culture as it relates to language, and vice versa.
quote:
Grenoble smiles through the hardships because she believes that language is much more than words -- it's our culture, our history. It's what connects people to one another, and if it's lost, a society is truly threatened.

"When the language is in trouble there are all kinds of other things in trouble, so that's the canary in the coal mine," she said.
and
quote:
Grenoble said climate change, especially in the arctic, is affecting language, albeit indirectly. Globalization, population relocation and increasing English dominance are other factors.
and
quote:
"And if you disturb native lifestyle, then language gets disrupted."
We're going to contact her and invite her to Wordcraft. I'd love to take a course from her, but that probably won't happen. She probably only teaches in the graduate program, if she teaches at all.

At any rate, do you agree with this goofy? If so, then we're on the same page. However, to me, it would support Inuit having more words for snow (even though they don't) than other cultures, wouldn't it?
 
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Originally posted by Kalleh:
At any rate, do you agree with this goofy?


It seems to me that she's saying that if the language is threatened, that's a sign that the culture is also threatened. I'd agree with that. But I don't see how that's connected with the number of words for concepts the language has.

quote:
Originally posted by zmježd:
So, I suppose my initial reaction, three decades ago, was partially a problem with their waffling with the qualifier basic. It's still an important study and work and fascinating.


Thanks, zmježd. I have the same reaction you did.
 
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goofy, we weren't talking about numbers of words here, were we? I thought we were talking about the influence of culture on language. I don't care a bit about how many words for snow the Eskimos have. However, to me, the interesting fact is that their culture, obviously with much more snow than ours, has affected the words they use for snow. I think this is precisely what this UC linguist is saying. For example, her comment that climate change affects language surely supports this.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
goofy, we weren't talking about numbers of words here, were we?


I thought we were, because you wrote
quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
However, to me, it would support Inuit having more words for snow (even though they don't) than other cultures, wouldn't it?


But I don't think Grenoble's comments have anything to do with that.

quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
I thought we were talking about the influence of culture on language. I don't care a bit about how many words for snow the Eskimos have. However, to me, the interesting fact is that their culture, obviously with much more snow than ours, has affected the words they use for snow. I think this is precisely what this UC linguist is saying. For example, her comment that climate change affects language surely supports this.


I don't think so. I think all she's saying is that climate change is disturbing the speakers' lifestyle, and when their lifestyle is threatened, so is their language. I don't see anything about the weather directly influencing the words they use for snow.

quote:
Originally posted by the Chicago Tribune:
"What we're seeing is a nexus of changes where you're getting climate change and warming that's disturbing native lifestyle," she said.
"And if you disturb native lifestyle, then language gets disrupted."
 
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I am not counting words here; just talking about the influence of culture on words and language. I don't think there are more words for snow in Inuit than in English. I got that. However, I do think the use of words is different, based on their culture.

quote:
I don't think so. I think all she's saying is that climate change is disturbing the speakers' lifestyle, and when their lifestyle is threatened, so is their language. I don't see anything about the weather directly influencing the words they use for snow.
We'll have to agree to disagree on what Grenoble was saying, I guess. Here's the Tribune quote I was referring to:
quote:
Grenoble said climate change, especially in the arctic, is affecting language, albeit indirectly. Globalization, population relocation and increasing English dominance are other factors. (emphasis mine)
I plan to contact her to see if she'll join us. Who knows; the worst she can say is "no."
 
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I finally got a chance to read the article on Grenoble. It was a lovely read. It seems to me that Grenoble was saying that climactic and economic changes were affecting the [Greenlandic] culture, and that in turn was affecting the language. (In a way, it's comparable with the three and a half centuries when Danish was the official language of Greenland; I'm sure that had an impact, too.) In the small village, most of the townspeople had gone off hunting caribou. I wonder if the vocabulary of hunting has changed over the years, since neolithic spears and knives have been replaced by rifles and steel knives? And was that a bad change? Olsen bemoans the young girls wanting jobs that will take them away from their village. I'm sure they'll end up learning other languages as a result of that, too. This reminds me of the rooms thread above. I'm sure there are many native speakers of English who have no idea what a harrow, a parlor, or an awl is, and English is no worse off for it, but then English is not really an endangered language (pace Truss, her supporters, and the like ilk). I think the best we can hope for is a meticulous recording of all languages in grammars and dictionaries (and digitized audio files).


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I think I am on the same page here with both goofy and z (and probably Grenoble). I surely see no problem at all with languages changing because of neolithic spears being replaced by rifles or parlors by living rooms, and I agree that English is not endangered.

One thing I've not understood, though, is there seems to be such an emotional response (my perspective, I agree) by some linguists when people say that Inuit has more words for snow than we do. (I am not saying that it does, mind you!) Clearly that subject has started many a rant!
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
One thing I've not understood, though, is there seems to be such an emotional response (my perspective, I agree) by some linguists when people say that Inuit has more words for snow than we do. (I am not saying that it does, mind you!) Clearly that subject has started many a rant!


It's like if someone who claimed to know about biology claimed that whales were fish. Then this story spreads until lots of people are saying that whales are fish because they read it somewhere. It's not going to hurt anyone, but biologists might get upset that myths are being spread about their field of study. Linguists would like to see people understand the facts about language, rather than believe myths about it.

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[T]here seems to be such an emotional response (my perspective, I agree) by some linguists when people say that Inuit has more words for snow than we do.

Well, linguists are only human, too. Many professionals and amateurs alike get pretty steamed up about how people outside of their fields of expertise (mis)use their terminology. In a perfectly rationale world, one could see beyond somebody calling spelling grammar or Budweiser beer, but we are emotional animals. Most linguists I know are perturbed by people trying to catalog words in a language. It's just that after you've counted the vocables for frozen water from the sky in language X, don't tell me that proves something about how Xers perceive the world. It's just that many linguists think that amateurs (in the etymological sense of the word) of language might want to read up on what they [linguists] have been doing for the past 200 years. Imagine you're a nurse at a cocktail party, and somebody tells you how much they love medicine, and then launch into how crystal theory can cure cancer? Well, you get the idea.


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I suppose. However, I just don't see this as comparable to whales being seen as fish or to crystals curing cancer. I'll drop it though.

And, by the way, don't think linguists are alone in having others acting as "experts." I see it all the time, including on this board, with medicine. Sometimes they're right, and sometimes they're not. Indeed, I just read something that's wrong and that gave me a little chuckle.

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Picture of Richard English
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And, by the way, don't think linguists are alone in having others acting as "experts." I see it all the time, including on this board, with medicine. Sometimes they're right, and sometimes they're not. Indeed, I just read something that's wrong and that gave me a little chuckle.

Of course, the internet has made all of us experts - or at least experts insofar as we all have access to massive numbers of facts that we can now marshall to support our arguments.

As one who has always loved and gathered facts, this creates mixed emotions in me. I like it that I can now find out information of just about anything, quickly and easily, without having to spend hours of research in the library. But I find it slighly sad, in a selfish way, that I can no longer demonstrate my knowledge - at least on boards such as this - since all who use the internet have access to incomparably more information than I could ever garner in a dozen lifetimes. Of course, unless and until people can access the internet during a normal pub or party conversation, I can still show off by dropping in some bon mot about a little-known historical factWink


Richard English
 
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Originally posted by Kalleh:
And, by the way, don't think linguists are alone in having others acting as "experts."


No, of course not. But is there any other field where students are taught misinformation as fact, so that even when they are presented with the facts, they can't accept them?

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