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quote:
Originally posted by Richard English:

Except that Ich gehe jetzt" (I go now) does not mean the same as "I am going".


Then what does it mean? I don't mean this rhetorically; I don't know enough German to know what it means.

Keep in mind that the present progressive has a few different meanings:

1) "I am going now" - action in progress
2) "I am going next week" - future plans
3) "This week I am going to the theatre" - temporary action
4) "You're always going out drinking" - frequent action
5) "At 1:00, they're often going to the park" - habitual action at a particular point in time

I'm certain that German has ways of expressing all these meanings.
 
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Originally posted by Richard English:
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"Ich gehe" -> "Ich gehe jetzt" adds one word to express the new meaning.

"I go" -> "I am going" adds one word and changes one word, more complex surely?

Except that Ich gehe jetzt" (I go now) does not mean the same as "I am going".

But I agree that it is easy to argue that additional complexities add additional meaning in many cases; I simply do not agree that the plethora of German genders and gender modified articles and the like, add anything but complexity.


I was keeping it simple.

If I wrote, or said, in German "Ich lese gerade" That DOES NOT TRANSLATE into English as "I read directly", though that is what the individual words mean. It translates into English as "I am reading". This is the meaning that any German would understand from it. That you have started reading at some time in the past and haven't finished yet. It's just a different way of expressing exactly the same concept. With that said ninety percent of the time it would be unnecessary. Consider the following exchange.

I'd like a cup of tea.
Make it yourself, I'm reading.

In German

Ich hätte gern eine Tasse Tee.
Machen Sie sie selbst, ich lese.

Certainly you can't tell from the two words "ich lese" whethr or not they mean "I read" or "I am reading" but from the context it's absolutely clear that they must mean "I am reading" whether or not "gerade" is added.
 
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Keep in mind that the present progressive has a few different meanings:

And also:

"I am going to London to see her." Statement of intent, but with no specific details.


Richard English
 
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Originally posted by Richard English:
And also:

"I am going to London to see her." Statement of intent, but with no specific details.


That would be 2) future plans.
 
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There are others though, for example: action that is about to take place ("I am going now") and (similar to your temporary action) temporary state with an undetermined end date ("I am working in a hotel" as compared with "I work in a hotel").

I distinguish this from your temporary action because it is usually related to your state of mind and how you view your current state rather than what that current state is.)
 
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That would be 2) future plans.

Only in the sense that anything that isn't in the past is in the future.

For example:

"Are you seeing her here?"
"No. I'm going to London to see her."


Richard English
 
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Originally posted by zmježd:
Old English had grammatical gender, but only nouns and adjectives were marked.


Grammatical gender is a kind of noun classification, and modern English has a sort of noun classification. We make a distinction between human (he/she, who/that) and non-human (it, which).
 
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We make a distinction between human (he/she, who/that) and non-human (it, which).

That seems perfectly logical to me. What I find illogical is when languages make a gender distinction between various kinds of "it".


Richard English
 
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Languages aren't logical though, are they?

How is it logical to say "I eat", "You eat" but "He eats"?
What meaning would be lost if the "s" wasn't there?

How is it logical to have the present continuous formed by using the verb to be plus a form of the verb with "ing" on the end? It's completely redundant. "I eating" or "I am eat" would do the job perfectly well.

How is it logical that we shift tenses in reported speech? Why does "He said, 'I'm here.'" have to become "He said he was there" not "He said he is here."

All these things, and indeed everything else about every language, have developed more or less arbitrarily, certainly without reference to logic. Only the made up languages such as Esperanto have given any consideration to logic and even they are only marginally more logical than natural languages.
 
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Languages aren't logical though, are they?

Certainly not. But there have been many attempts to simplify languages by getting rid of some of the more unnecessary illogicalities, and getting rid of arbitrary and pointless grammatical genders would seem to me to be a prime candidate for adoption when seeking to simplify.

After all, we managed to do it with English.


Richard English
 
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I find illogical is when languages make a gender distinction between various kinds of "it".

Why? As already mentioned, grammatical gender has no connection with sex.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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I am not convinced that any grammatical feature in a language is unnecessary. I've found that most people tend to think that the language they speak is the best and most rational one in existence, while the languages that foreigners speak are weird, outlandish, and defy reason and good taste.

Take the example of case. If you speak a language with inflected case you tend to not notice it very much until somebody (usually a foreigner) puts the wrong ending on the wrong word. We anglophones tend to say that English got rid of case (or inflections in general) as though it were a disease or a box of rotting apples. But, I have noticed those same people are usually dismayed by Chinese that gets by with no inflections at all. "Oh, dear, they've gone too far" they say shaking their heads. The fact is, is that English has replaced the old grammatical system of case endings indicating the syntactic relationships between nons and verbs with one of word order. And who's to say which is more arbitrary or more difficult. While languages like Russian and Latin have more or less free word order (actually a misnomer as the order of words within a sentence still has pragmatic value), English does not enforce a strict word order, but relies on little helper words, and some patterns of inversion of phrases (as in questions, or use of passives), etc.

Also, while in some ways English can be said to have simplified its inflectional grammar, that has come at the increase of complexity in other areas of its grammar. The verbal system in English is quite complex set of auxiliary verbs, periphrasis, and particles and adverbs. And I have mentioned the difficult system of definite and indefinite articles as well as other determiners.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Originally posted by Richard English:
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Languages aren't logical though, are they?

Certainly not. But there have been many attempts to simplify languages by getting rid of some of the more unnecessary illogicalities, and getting rid of arbitrary and pointless grammatical genders would seem to me to be a prime candidate for adoption when seeking to simplify.

After all, we managed to do it with English.


Yes, but it didn't happen with English because people decided "let's make English simpler by removing some of that unnecessary gender and noun cases." It just happened. English could easily have changed in the opposite direction, and gained more cases and genders. Then you'd think it was perfectly sensible because it would be your native language.
 
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I've found that most people tend to think that the language they speak is the best and most rational one in existence, while the languages that foreigners speak are weird, outlandish, and defy reason and good taste.
Yes, I've noticed that here, too, but perhaps it's just the case because we know our language so much better.

There are aspects of other languages that I admire, and I imagine others feel this way, too. For example, I studied Spanish and Latin, and loved that Spanish was so easy to learn, relatively speaking, and that Latin was so helpful in learning vocabulary. While I didn't study French, I have always been enamored with its beauty. And then there are the great words that my husband and father-in-law taught me in Yiddish. And German! I love hearing about all those German words with concepts that we don't have, such as songs that keep going through our heads (ohrwurms).
 
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I find illogical is when languages make a gender distinction between various kinds of "it".


Why? As already mentioned, grammatical gender has no connection with sex.

Which is why I consider it illogical.


Richard English
 
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And I have mentioned the difficult system of definite and indefinite articles as well as other determiners.

I would suggest that the German system is far more difficult. We have three definite and indefinite articles, none of which have to agree with their nouns. German has many more, all of which do have to agree.


Richard English
 
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Originally posted by Richard English:
I would suggest that the German system is far more difficult. We have three definite and indefinite articles, none of which have to agree with their nouns. German has many more, all of which do have to agree.


I don't know, I've had to teach the English determiner system, and it's very complicated. What is the difference between "A lion is a strong animal", "The lion is a strong animal", and "Lions are strong animals"? Why can we use "a" as a generic reference, as in the first sentence, but also as a specific reference, as in "A lion walked into my back yard yesterday"?

quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
I love hearing about all those German words with concepts that we don't have, such as songs that keep going through our heads (ohrwurms).


Just because we don't have a word for something doesn't mean we don't have the concept. I am completely familiar with the concept of music stuck in my head, even before I had heard the word "earworm".
 
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Just because we don't have a word for something doesn't mean we don't have the concept. I am completely familiar with the concept of music stuck in my head, even before I had heard the word "earworm".

Yes, yes. And I have come to agree with you, z, and Bob on that (how could I not agree with such impressive language people?!). However, personally, I find it endearing and quite interesting when a language pinpoints a concept with one word. And the visual from ohrwurm adds to the delight!
 
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Originally posted by Kalleh:
Yes, yes. And I have come to agree with you, z, and Bob on that (how could I not agree with such impressive language people?!). However, personally, I find it endearing and quite interesting when a language pinpoints a concept with one word. And the visual from ohrwurm adds to the delight!


I can be interesting, but I'd be more surprised if there was a one-to-one correspondence in words and meaning between two languages. It seems that ohrwurm was originally literal: it meant "earwig".
 
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It seems that ohrwurm was originally literal: it meant "earwig".

I believe it still does. Many peoples, obviously including the Germans, believed that these innocent little creatures would try to burrow into one's ear - though for what purpose I cannot conceive!


Richard English
 
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It seems that ohrwurm was originally literal: it meant "earwig".

I believe it still does. Many peoples, obviously including the Germans, believed that these innocent little creatures would try to burrow into one's ear - though for what purpose I cannot conceive!


Apparently to sing songs to us that we then can't forget.
 
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Which is why the guy in that Night Gallery episode was screaming hysterically.
 
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Tonight Shu and I had dinner with a dear friend who went to high school with Shu, but who has lived in Israel, on a Kibbutz, since his college days. Moishe and his family only spoke Hebrew at home with their kids in Israel, but he was raised in the U.S. speaking English. Therefore, he is fluent in both languages. I asked him whether there are words in English that can't be adequately translated into Hebrew, and vice versa. He didn't even have to think about it...he said "Oh yes!" I brought this up right at the end of the night unfortunately and didn't have a chance for a lot of examples, except for one Hebrew word. He has promised to email me, though.

By the way, my Chinese friend still hasn't sent me any specific examples.
 
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Originally posted by Kalleh:
I asked him whether there are words in English that can't be adequately translated into Hebrew, and vice versa. He didn't even have to think about it...he said "Oh yes!" I brought this up right at the end of the night unfortunately and didn't have a chance for a lot of examples, except for one Hebrew word.


So what's the word?
 
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I asked him whether there are words in English that can't be adequately translated into Hebrew, and vice versa. He didn't even have to think about it...he said "Oh yes!"

Here we go again, although you did hedge with "adequately". It might be interesting to do (or read, if it's already been done) a study on code switching (link) in bilingual informants to see which sets of words are used in which contexts. I know of anecdotal evidence in my own home growing up. We all of us used English almost exclusively, except for my grandmother who would speak her Italian dialect with her sons. Even though, my father, uncles, and I would use a set of loanwords from the dialect, mainly food items, instead of non-existent English translations. Ironically, these days some of these words, or their Standard (Tuscan) Italian terms, have entered English as loanwords: e.g., focaccia, pesto, gnocchi. Some have not, tocco for example, which is a red meat sauce for pasta. One would think that the other Italian terms for this, such as ragu or marinara or English red meat sauce might be "adequate" translations. And they are if by translation you mean get the immediate sense across, but if you're talking about getting the homey, intimate, subjective connotations across, then no they aren't adequate. If you've never had a good pesto sauce (a basil, oil, cheese, and garlic paste or sauce for dressing various kinds of pasta), no amount of translation or explanation will suffice to transfer the knowledge and intimate, subjective feelings of the word.After you've had some, then you'll probably just use the term pesto.

Another anecdote: when I lived in Bonn, studying the local dialect, occasionally I would hear tell of regional food items, some that were only available at certain times of the year. One of these was Rievkochen, available around Chrsitmas time, and made from potatoes. Finally, the time arrived, my friends took me to a Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Fair, but that's not really an "adequate" translation, link), and we found a booth that was selling Rievkochen. We ordered and when they arrived, I exclaimed: "Oh, they're latkes (potato pancakes)!" The I explained that I had had this very food item while visiting Polish and Russian Jewish families. So, in this case I found an adequate translation for Rievkochen that I did not even know I knew. Of course, Rhenish Rievkochen aren't the same recipe as the Polish (Catholic) or Russian (Jewish) versions I had, and if latkes are anything like pesto, then every mother and cook has their own special and true recipe, but those Rievkochen tasted an awful lot like potato pancacks I'd had before in the States.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Originally posted by Richard English:
To reduce the number of possible words from which to guess (assuming the number of German words is a million) from one million to 333,000 will effectively make no difference at all to the situation.


So if I said "Ich muß das Auto mieten" and you didn't catch the word "Auto", you would have absolutely no idea at all which of the many thousands of neuter nouns I was talking about?
 
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I will venture a guess...Automobile?

[I had to go back through a lot of posts to get to the context of that question. You must have been mulling this for a long time, goofy. Wink]
 
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Originally posted by goofy:
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Originally posted by Richard English:
To reduce the number of possible words from which to guess (assuming the number of German words is a million) from one million to 333,000 will effectively make no difference at all to the situation.


So if I said "Ich muß das Auto mieten" and you didn't catch the word "Auto", you would have absolutely no idea at all which of the many thousands of neuter nouns I was talking about?
Possibly I would guess and possibly I would not. But what has this to do with the pointless, time consuming and annoying habit that the Germans have of giving their nouns a gender?

Das Auto; Der Wagen. What difference would it make if they were Der Auto or Das Wagen? In English we have no different article for car and automobile; does that give rise to any confusion? Why do the Germans have to say "the autombile, it is large but "the car, he is large"?

Gender in language is 100% unnecessary, 100% pointless and 100% confusing. Get rid of it, say I.


Richard English
 
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Possibly I would guess and possibly I would not. But what has this to do with the pointless, time consuming and annoying habit that the Germans have of giving their nouns a gender?


Because it provides a clue as to the identity of the word that you missed!
 
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I think I'd have to work with it to see the point of gender and language. I did learn Spanish, but gender didn't seem that important, to me, in understanding it. It's an easy language, though.
 
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Originally posted by goofy:
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Originally posted by Richard English:
Possibly I would guess and possibly I would not. But what has this to do with the pointless, time consuming and annoying habit that the Germans have of giving their nouns a gender?


Because it provides a clue as to the identity of the word that you missed!


But that is exactly the point I was making. Yes, if there a million German words, having three separate genders, this means that (assuming an even spread across the total) the chance of guessing an unknown word is one in 333,333 instead of one in a million. Is that reduction in odds worth the complexity of arbitrary gender allocation?

English has no genders; it also probably has three or four times as many words as German. Is word identification as massive problem here? It's surely far less of a problem than having to remember whether the words for German cars are masculine, feminine or neutral (or even all three).

If someone can come up with a good reason why "Das auto" (the car) is neuter whereas "Der Wagen" (the car) is masculine - when both words refer to exactly the same item - then I might accept that there is a point to linguistic genders.


Richard English
 
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There are also several instances where an inanimate object is assigned a different gender depending on the language. For example, "Bridge" in Spanish and German: see here.

Apparently native speakers will usually know without thinking whether a noun is masculine/feminine/neuter, whereas even the most fluent of non-native speakers have to consciously learn such things.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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But that is exactly the point I was making. Yes, if there a million German words, having three separate genders, this means that (assuming an even spread across the total) the chance of guessing an unknown word is one in 333,333 instead of one in a million. Is that reduction in odds worth the complexity of arbitrary gender allocation?


And the point I was making is that the odds are much better than 1 in 333,333 because you have context. When I say "Ich muß das _____ mieten" you don't have to guess among the thousands of German neuter nouns, the context narrows it down to only a few.
 
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There are also several instances where an inanimate object is assigned a different gender depending on the language. For example, "Bridge" in Spanish and German: see here.


This article links to Guy Deutscher's article for NY Times where he says

quote:
When speakers were asked to grade various objects on a range of characteristics, Spanish speakers deemed bridges, clocks and violins to have more “manly properties” like strength, but Germans tended to think of them as more slender or elegant. With objects like mountains or chairs, which are “he” in German but “she” in Spanish, the effect was reversed... Of course, all this does not mean that speakers of Spanish or French or German fail to understand that inanimate objects do not really have biological sex — a German woman rarely mistakes her husband for a hat, and Spanish men are not known to confuse a bed with what might be lying in it. Nonetheless, once gender connotations have been imposed on impressionable young minds, they lead those with a gendered mother tongue to see the inanimate world through lenses tinted with associations and emotional responses that English speakers — stuck in their monochrome desert of “its” — are entirely oblivious to. Did the opposite genders of “bridge” in German and Spanish, for example, have an effect on the design of bridges in Spain and Germany? Do the emotional maps imposed by a gender system have higher-level behavioral consequences for our everyday life? Do they shape tastes, fashions, habits and preferences in the societies concerned? At the current state of our knowledge about the brain, this is not something that can be easily measured in a psychology lab. But it would be surprising if they didn’t.


These are interesting questions, but I would be surprised it turned out that grammar had higher-level behavioural consequences. Mark Liberman notes that in one such study examining the effects of language on perception, the effects can be easily reversed (paragraph 31).
Liberman has more to say about this sort of thing.

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Interesting. I had posted about that article here.
 
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And the point I was making is that the odds are much better than 1 in 333,333 because you have context. When I say "Ich muß das _____ mieten" you don't have to guess among the thousands of German neuter nouns, the context narrows it down to only a few.

But the context gives the same clues as to meaning regardless of the gender of the noun. All I was saying was that although, mathematically, three genders reduces to a third the number of possible nouns - this is in reality of very little use.

It is quite illogical and pointless to have gender in nouns - but then so is it illogical and pointless to have several different spellings for identically sounded words - so we English speakers cannot really accuse Germans of having an illogical language when our own is just as illogical - but in a different way.


Richard English
 
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so is it illogical and pointless to have several different spellings for identically sounded words

I don't see why, Richard. To take just one example, "their" and "they're" are sounded identically, but I don't see any point in changing one or both of their spellings so they're the same. I can't think of an example at the moment, but occasionally it is positively useful to have different words spelt differently; although there might be some room for confusion in spoken English, especially if the word is taken out of context, spelling them differently prevents that in written English.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Originally posted by Richard English:
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And the point I was making is that the odds are much better than 1 in 333,333 because you have context. When I say "Ich muß das _____ mieten" you don't have to guess among the thousands of German neuter nouns, the context narrows it down to only a few.

But the context gives the same clues as to meaning regardless of the gender of the noun. All I was saying was that although, mathematically, three genders reduces to a third the number of possible nouns - this is in reality of very little use.


You haven't explained why. Ich lese das _____. You know the noun is neuter, so right away you know I'm not talking about the newspaper. I admit that my theory that grammatical gender helps by adding redundancy is just speculation. But you must admit that in some cases, the gender would help.

But more importantly:

quote:
Originally posted by Richard English:
It is quite illogical and pointless to have gender in nouns


Maybe it's illogical, but that's neither here nor there, since there is no reason why we should expect language to be logical. But pointless? It clearly isn't pointless, because without it, you can't speak German.
 
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Maybe it's illogical, but that's neither here nor there, since there is no reason why we should expect language to be logical. But pointless? It clearly isn't pointless, because without it, you can't speak German.

Not correctly as Germans would expect, but perfectly understandably.

If Das Auto, Der Man and Die Madchen were to become Das Auto, Das Man and Das Madchen, the words would lose nothing in intelligibility. In English we don't use a different article for car, man and girl - they are all 'the' and the lack of grammatical gender makes zero difference to the clarity of the language.

I believe that earlier forms of English did have grammical gender and we just got rid of it - and a good thing too! I'll bet you'll not find many people who would like to see a return of grammatical gender in English.


Richard English
 
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Originally posted by Richard English:

If Das Auto, Der Man and Die Madchen were to become Das Auto, Das Man and Das Madchen, the words would lose nothing in intelligibility. In English we don't use a different article for car, man and girl - they are all 'the' and the lack of grammatical gender makes zero difference to the clarity of the language.

I disagree that speaking German while ignoring a fundamental grammatical rule would make zero difference to clarity.
 
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I've discussed what might be considered an analogous situation in Chinese with some of my English speaking Chinese friends.

Chinese has counting words so that, describing it crudely, you don't say "He has three sisters" you say "He has three <counting word for people> sisters".

(forgive the lack of pinyin diacriticals, I don't know how to reproduce them and they aren't really relevant to this discussion anyway)

ge is used when talking about people
ben for books (any kind)
liang for vehicles
jia for organisations
zhang for flat paper items such as tickets

There are more than fifty of these and in Chinese grammar you must include them. A noun cannot directly follow a number. The measure word has to come between.

Now arguably this is a completely non productive feature of the language, just as grammatical gender is arguably a non productive feature of German.

What possible difference could it make to omit the "ge" in "Wa you san ge erzi." - I have three <counting word for people> sons."

I suggested that people would still understand me if I left it out because it adds nothing at all to the meaning of the sentence. Repeatedly I have been told that leaving out the counting word means that most people will find the sentence unintelligible without it and it seems to be the case.

Order "Liang pijiu" (Two beers) and I get blank looks. Order "Liang ping pijiu" and two bottles of beer appear miraculously on the bar. The counting word has to be present for understanding to take place. In this case there is an English analogy because I might want "Liang guan pijiu" (cans) or "Liang bei pijiu" (cups) but it extends across the whole language. Nouns and numbers HAVE to be separated by counting words or the sentence is meaningless.

Which brings me back to grammatical gender. It may make little sense to an outside observer BUT it is part of the grammatical structure of the language and as such is part of the whole bag of necessary things to make sentences properly intelligible.

I have no doubt that you could devise a language based on German that didn't include Genders, cases or any number of other features but it wouldn't be German.

A minimalist language could probably be devised that had the fewest grammatical forms and the smallest vocabulary but to what end?

In English why do we have separate phrases for Good Morning, Good Evening and Good Afternoon. I can see what time of day it is. You might as well just say Good and have done with it. The rest of the information is already known and therefore redundant.

Redundancy is a feature of language.

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Articles (the and a/an in English) are common features of many languages, but are absent in many others, such as Chinese. Japanese, Hindi, Russian, and Latin. Native speakers of those languages without them tend to have problems understanding their use, in the same way that English speakers have problems with gender in languages that use them.

Would English be less understandable if articles were somehow removed? I don't think so - other languages manage quite well without them. Would it still be English? Not as we know it. In fact, many people feel that in the future English will be overtaken by Chinglish; because of the Chinese influence, there are no articles in that language.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Die Madchen

The gender of das Mädchen is neuter, not feminine.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Originally posted by zmježd:
Die Madchen

The gender of das Mädchen is neuter, not feminine.


Of course it is. Diminutives, -chen and -lein words, always are.
 
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Of course it is. Diminutives, -chen and -lein words, always are.

Yes, it is, and yes they are. I was merely correcting another post, so that folks don't get confused by erroneous grammar.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Originally posted by BobHale:
quote:
Originally posted by zmježd:
Die Madchen

The gender of das Mädchen is neuter, not feminine.


Of course it is. Diminutives, -chen and -lein words, always are.
Which just goes to show how stupid are grammatical genders. How come a small girl is neuter when a larger girl is feminine? And how unsurprising that I managed to get the gender wrong? Grammatical genders serve no purpose and serve merely to confuse the uninformed. German without genders would still be German that is immediately understandable by all German speakers.


Richard English
 
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Originally posted by Richard English:
quote:
Originally posted by BobHale:
quote:
Originally posted by zmježd:
Die Madchen

The gender of das Mädchen is neuter, not feminine.


Of course it is. Diminutives, -chen and -lein words, always are.
Which just goes to show how stupid are grammatical genders. How come a small girl is neuter when a larger girl is feminine? And how unsurprising that I managed to get the gender wrong? Grammatical genders serve no purpose and serve merely to confuse the uninformed. German without genders would still be German that is immediately understandable by all German speakers.


Did you read my post about Chinese. Missing out the measure words SHOULDN'T affect intelligibility but it does. Most Chinese speakers simply don't get what you are talking about if you omit them. My few words of Chinese are so poorly pronounced that they don't understand me anyway but people with far better Chinese than mine assure me that this is the case and experience bears them out.
Using the wrong measure word, which is really no different from using the wrong definite article in German renders the sentences as nonsensical as "I would like to buy a jelly beer and three packets of windmill crisps."
 
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Hello Bob,

Somettimes, although I know how it all works, I am amazed by modern technology. Here am I, an Englishman in Canada, talking to another Englishman in China, on a bulletin board based in the USA; Our grandparents wouldn't even have imagined the concept!

What do you mean by "measure words"? Are they articles?


Richard English
 
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Have a look at the post above.
In Chinese a noun cannot directly follow a number.
You don't say

"Three tables"

You say

"Three <measure word for furniture> tables"

You don't say "They have three children"

You say

"They have three <measure word for people> children."

there are more than fifty of them and leaving them out or using the wrong one renders the sentence unintelligible.

Rather as if you asked for "three pints of bread and a loaf of tea." - only extended to every noun in the language.

You can read more than you could possibly want to know here.

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I guess it bears repeating: grammatical gender and natural or biological gender don't have much to do with one another. The three grammatical genders one finds in many IE languages started out as two genders: animate (later masculine and feminine) and inanimate (later neuter and feminine). Some languages, like the Bantu family) have upwards of 13 genders (more often called noun classes). Gender was a grammatical category before the squeamish started using it as a euphemism for biological sex. And, finally, when native speakers of a language are asked to assign gender to nonce words or loanwords, they usually assign the same grammatical gender as other native speakers.

And as others have said, grammatical features that don't exist in one's own language are usually viewed as unnecessary or down-right crazy by folks. I have had lengthy conversations with Russian speakers about English's article system and how unnecessary and crazy (illogical) it is. Russian's verbal aspect system makes my head hurt when I try to "understand" it.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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