Puerto Ricans Have Relatively Few Words for Snow

Irish has no standalone words for “yes” and “no”. To give an affirmative response to a question you repeat the verb, and to give a negative response you repeat the verb with a negation particle. Much the same situation obtains in Chinese. This may be why the Irish and Chinese are both so squirrely about answering direct questions.

French grammar divides all nouns into “masculine” and “feminine” genders, as does Arabic, which explains why the French and the Saudis have such famously similar attitudes towards sex.

Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese etc. are tonal languages–variations in vocal pitch are used to distinguish between vocabulary items. This is also true of Bantu languages. This may be a reason why the music of China and sub-Saharan Africa sounds so much alike.

Portuguese has a subjunctive mood, so the notion of hypothetical action is represented as a verb ending, woven into the very fabric of Portuguese words. Contrast this with English, which to impart the same quality of irrealis to a clause must prepend a whole other helping verb like “may” or “might”. Is it any wonder that Brazilians are so much better than Australians at reasoning about hypothetical situations?

German has a lot of harsh consonants. It employs regimented speech elements that sound like machine parts grinding away with well-engineered if somewhat forbidding precision. Italian, on the other hand, has a lot of fluid, expressive, romantic vowel sounds. This may be part of the reason why Germans are so rigid and Italians are so emotional.

Where a white American English speaker would say “He works at the post office” many black American English speakers would say “He be working at the post office”, the extraneous, unconjugated helping verb “be” adding nothing to the essential meaning. Their insistence on using more words than necessary is an indication that blacks are less intelligent than whites.

Where a white American English speaker would say “She is tall” many black American English speakers would say, “She tall”, omitting “is”, the sentence’s grammatical keystone. Their insistence on using fewer words than necessary is an indication that blacks are less intelligent than whites.

The Chinese writing system is not an alphabet in which a small set of letters is mapped to discrete speech sounds which must then be strung together like beads in order to have meaning. Chinese employs a rich vocabulary of many thousands of written characters, each one representing a fully-formed concept. A single character may express an extremely abstract idea, and its meaning may play off that of other characters in endlessly subtle ways. This writing system gives rise to a world view which is holistic rather than atomizing, which is why traditional Chinese medicine treats the human body as an organic whole instead of adopting western allopathic medicine’s approach of breaking it down into a set of specific disease symptoms that must be treated by specific drugs, and also why even second-generation Chinese-Americans are notoriously bad at math.

English has no single word for a short legless garment a woman wears about her waist while playing tennis, which is why if you say the phrase “tennis skirt” to an English speaker, they will have no idea what you are talking about.

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1 Response to Puerto Ricans Have Relatively Few Words for Snow

  1. Pingback: Whorf and Whoop | Corner Cases

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