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Nina ( -
Posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2004 - 02:00 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Dia Duit gach (aon) duine ! (I think that's right for hello everybody?)
I found something in my Sociology book by Henslin that might interest everyone about language....

Language and Perception: the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

In the 1930s, tow anthropploligists, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf, became intrigued when they noted that the Hopi Indians of the southwestern United States had no words to distinguish among the past, the present, and the future. English, in contrast, as well as German, French, Spanish, and other languages, distinguishes carefully among these three time frames. From this observation, Sapir and Whorf concluded that the commonsense idea that words are merely labels that people attach to things is wrong. Language, they concluded, had embedded within it ways of looking at the world. Thus thinking and perception are not only expressed through language, but also shaped by language. When we learn a language, we learn not only words, but also particular ways of thinking and perception.
The implications of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis are far-reaching. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis reverses common sense: It indicates that rather than objects and events forcing themselves onto oru consciousness, it is our language that determines our consciousness, and hence our perception, ob objects and events. Sociologist Eviatar Zeruavel(1991) gives a good example. Hebrew, his native language, does not have separate words for jam and jelly. They are classified the same, and only when Zerubavel learned English could he "see" this difference, which is "obvious" to native English speakers. Similarly, if you learn to classify students as Jocks, Goth, Stoners, Skaters, and Preps, you will perceive students in an entirely different way from someone who does no know these classifications.
Although Sapir and Whorf's observation that the Hopi do not have tenses was incorrect, they stumbled onto a major truth about social life. Learning a language means not only learning words but also acquiring the perceptions embedded in that language. In other words, language both reflects and shapes cultural experiences. The racial-ethnic terms that our culture provides, for example, influence how we see both ourselves and others.

So, another reason perhaps for the Irish to keep Irish is to keep an "Irish" perception.(Now how far or deep this is I don't know.) Any thoughts on this? Agree? Disagree? Yes, I am a language nerd and a reason I'm learning Irish is not so I can think of another way to say cup but to me connected to a people, a culture, and a land that goes along with the language.(Plus it just sounds cool)

I remember seeing a book on words for which there is no equivalent in the English language(not that the circumstance is beyond comprehension, but they reflect the culture of that society) and I was wondering if there any such Irish words that anyone could tell me. Go raibh maith ‘ad in advance!

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Tomas P ( -
Posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2004 - 06:47 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Nina. What a marvellous article you wrote about language learning. I thoroughly enjoyed it. If I can be of any assistance might I make a few suggestions about translating Irish words and phrases which do not have a literal equivalent in English? Whenever I translate from Irish into English I try to avoid word for word translations and try to translate meanings instead. For example, take the Irish expression " a leitheid ", (there should be a fada on the second e). The basic meaning of this phrase is " such a thing", but it can be rendered into English in many different ways depending on the context. Here are some examples: "A leitheid de la" = What a day! (said by someone coming home after a hard day's work). "A leitheid de phlump" = What a bang! (describing a noise that you heard). "A leitheid d'aisteoir" = Some actor! (said sarcastically). Bhuel a leitheid! = Well I'll be darn'd! (Said upon hearing some unexpected shocking piece of news). "A leitheid" = Cool! or Way cool! (pleasant surprise). "A leitheid" can also be used in non-exclamatory sentences, i.e. "An bhfaca tu riamh a leitheid?" Did you ever see such a thing? Nior chuala me riamh a leitheid = I never heard such a thing. Conas is feidir leat a leitheid a dheanamh? = How can you do that? Ni duirt me riamh a leitheid = I never said such a thing. Ni duirt me a leitheid = I didn't say that.
I hope these few comments may be of some use to you. I am sure that there are a lot of people out there who could supply more examples that would help us all to improve our Irish.

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Gearóid ( -
Posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2004 - 11:25 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Nice story Nina. And very true I think.

A Thomas , a leitheid focal !!! is maith liom !! Ta sé iontach usáideach. Feidhmfidh mé é ceart go leor.

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Gearóid ( -
Posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2004 - 11:26 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Nice story Nina. And very true I think.

A Thomas , a leitheid focal !!! is maith liom !! Ta sé iontach usáideach. Feidhmfidh mé ceart go leor é.

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Jonas ( -
Posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2004 - 05:48 am:   Edit Post Print Post

A nice story, but not true at all. There are a number of common "myths" you stumble upon from time to time concerning languages. One such myth that almost everyone has heard is that escimoes have a very much larger number of words for snow than other langugaes. It sounds interesting and logical but it is wrong none-the-less. Another almost equally common story is this one, that people cannot differ between things unless they have different words for them.

To illustrate how wrong this is, consider languages such as Finnish, Hungarian, Estonian, Karelian etc. None of them make any distinction between "he" and "she". Would anyone seriously suggest that monolingual speakers of these languages cannot tell the difference between men and women?? German does not have a word for "to pretend", that does not mean that the concept is unknown. The list could be made much longer.

It is true that it is harder to express an idea if you don't have the exact words, but that is something completely difference from not being able to tell the difference between things. It is much easier to express the idea of habitual action in Irish than in English but the concept is equally clear to English speakers.

Whenever you hear a story that sounds too good (or interesting) to be true, chances are it is. Don't accept such stories without even trying to question them.

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gearóid ( -
Posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2004 - 09:48 am:   Edit Post Print Post

Actually I still think the basic premise of the article is correct. You are of course right when you point out the examples you gave and in fact I had a chuckle thinking about how difficult and fraught with potential for embarrising mistakes the proccess of procreation would be in a people unable to distinguish between the genders :) However I think that it must reflect upon certain attitudes and forms of mentalising that these people have ( or at least had at some point in their history ), wether in the case mentioned it was becuase they held both sexes in equal worth or that one gender thought so little of the other that they didnt think them worthy of their own form of address I have no idea, and most probably it was niether of these but whatever it was was expressed through their grammar . I dont think it is a literal cause and effect arguement that is being made , but one cannot deny that the way we are told things can have a direct bearing on how we percieve them . Noam Chomsky deals with this on several levels , about how we are given and how we disseminate information from News programmes , government announcements etc and of course the femminists on the 70s and 80s pointed out to us how language can be used as a very effective way to mantain certain attitudes in a very unconcious way. so there is some truth in what the article is trying to say ,perhaps they were a bit dramamtic in their presentation. Perhaps they dont have a word for 'subtlety in their mother tongue :) :)

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Fear na mBróg ( -
Posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2004 - 12:15 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

As for Escimos, I believe "white" is the word for which they have 50 or so words. It makes sense too: "What colour's the snow?" "White" doesn't convey much.

As for different ways of thinking in different languages: one perculiar thing I've found myself doing lately is defining things via:

Tá sé mar [noun]
Beidh sé mar [noun]

For instance, for "You're not my friend!", I would say "Níl tú mar chara díom!". It's only lately that I've started saying that second-naturely. Also, I've found myself using pretty much all the ways of defining things, depending on what I want to convey.

Is madra é.
Lá breá atá ann.
Tá sé mar chara de na múinteoirí.
Feirmeoir is ea é.

It's strange. If I were asked to explain why and when I use which, I'd struggle, but when my speech is flowing they just seem to pop out.


Another thing: over time I've gotten perfectly used to:

Taitníonn sé liom = I like it ("taitin" can mean "shine")
fear gorm = a black man (gorm?)
buí ón ngréin = burnt from the sun (buí?)

And I also like using adjectives to express my opinion:

Is aoibhinn liom subh.

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Nina ( -
Posted on Thursday, July 29, 2004 - 11:53 am:   Edit Post Print Post

Dia Duit arís!
Well Tomas I never did take it the way it looks you thought I did and I agree with gearóid though for words that could be synonyms I think I could see it; :-) I can't imagine if they replaced the jam and jelly example "after they learned he and she in English the people were finally able to figure it out" in the book; it would be rather funny. I would never take it to such extremes. I could see with words/concepts that are very similar, synonyms really, however. The concept might not catch your attention as much unless it was specified. The words it actually led me to think of were words of concepts we encounter but just don't have a word for it specifically or its understand but its just not made into a word, sometimes because of culture.
In the book I mentioned They Have a Word for It I couldn't find any Irish words and the closest I could find was a Scottish word.

To hesitate in recognizing a person or thing (verb)

We all have found ourselves, at least one, in the embarassing position of talking to somebody who has been introduced before but whose name temporarily escapes all attempts at recall. If you recover quickly enough to avoid terminal embarrassment and remember the name of the fellow partygoer or business acquaintance, you have comitted an act common enough for the Scottish people to have coined a word for it: They would say that you tartled(TAR-tul). In fact, if you want to distract attention from your moment of hesitation and perhaps steer the conversation toward untranslatable words(and away from your social gaffe), just say:"Sorry about my temporary tartle!" Of course, you can always use the word as a bit of a gleeful prod when someone does it to you:"Don't worry about it, old boy-we all tartle at one time or another!"

Anybody know Irish along the same line with no direct English equivalent?

Go raibh maith ‘ad arís!

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Nina ( -
Posted on Thursday, July 29, 2004 - 12:06 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Oops! I meant Jonas not Thomas! Sorry I'm a bit ditzy today. As for everyone elses responses, I'm afraid I'm still too much at the beginning to probably appreciate them like I could. I tend to go the slow and as insanely thorough as possible in each lesson before moving on:-')

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