Human evolution; our complex speech mechanism;English (Introduction)

by dhw, Monday, April 22, 2019, 09:26 (344 days ago) @ David Turell

DAVID: English is considered very complex:

QUOTE: "Some computational linguists have, however, used data in the World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS) to explore which languages might be considered the “weirdest”. This was not just a value judgement: they systematically compared the information in the WALS website for 239 languages from different parts of the world.
"Their aim was to find out which languages had the largest number of features that differed most from other languages. In this survey, English came in 33rd position out of 239 languages. So it was definitely “weirder” than over 80% of the other languages in the survey.

This must be one of the “weirdest” projects ever to be awarded a research grant. They forgot to mention that English is therefore less “weird” than under 20% of other languages, which of course proves…exactly what? And why is this “weird”? The largest number of different features is the largest number of different features.

DAVID: Only humans use the invented 7,000+ languages that exist. Different in kind, no question. We each have the capacity to learn all we wish. As for 'weird English', it conveys meanings in words more exactly than almost all other languages with over 550,000 words and counting.

Yes, that is very true: only humans use human languages. And I agree that bacterial, insect, fish, bird, animal languages are different in kind from human language. I’m sorry to say that I don’t know enough of the 7000+ human languages to confirm that English conveys more meanings than 80% of them. However, having spent a lifetime speaking, writing, studying and lecturing on the English language, I can confirm that it is constantly evolving and provides a wonderfully complex system with a vast potential for expression. Out of respect for my European friends, I must also confirm that the same can be said of French, German and Spanish. I shall now apply for a grant to further my research into the weirdest uses of research grants.

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