[conspire] NYLXS Press Release on the OLPC Project

Daniel Gimpelevich daniel at gimpelevich.san-francisco.ca.us
Thu May 1 16:27:26 PDT 2008

On Thu, 01 May 2008 16:02:17 -0700, Rick Moen wrote:

> Quoting Ruben Safir (ruben at mrbrklyn.com):
>> Actually, English is a very preciese language compared to most others,
>> but this word is especially rift with duality of meaning, as is much
>> of the Arabic language.
> English?  A (relatively) precise language?  Precise?  My, oh my.  This
> would be the English language in which one cannot even speak about "free
> software" without confusing people?  _That_ English language?
> This would be the English language in which it's impossible to use a
> third-person ungendered pronoun without sounding either fussy
> ("he/she"), illiterate ("they"), clinical ("it") or sexist ("he").
> This would be the English language that give rise to jokes about the
> rancher trying to deal with his snake infestation by sending an order
> letter:
>    "Dear sir, please send me two mongooses...."  [crosses out]
>    "Dear sir, please send me two mongeese...."  [crosses out, frowns]
>    "Dear sir, please send me one mongoose.  While you're at it, send me
>    another one."
> FWIW, I find the French language an order of magnitude more precise.
> English can be rendered precise only through extremely concentrated,
> bloody-minded effort the likes of which only obssessive-compulsive
> Anglo-Saxon culture could possibly devote to a misshapen tongue
> resulting from a violent collision between mediaeval French and lowland
> German, resulting in a union so unholy it would have been summarily
> banned in Alabama if only it hadn't predated that state by about 700
> years.

I resisted the urge to deflate that assertion myself, but since you
didn't, I now feel one to temper your celebrity roast of your own mother
tongue. I can point out that Italian is loads more precise a language than
French, and I can also lament the overbearing imprecision of Spanish. Most
languages are more precise than some other languages in some ways, while
simultaneously being less precise than those same other languages in other
ways. This is often illustrated with that old joke about there being no
word for "hello" in the Inuit language. With this in mind, one may agree
on the wisdom of not translating any important text, but instead teaching
its original language to anyone interested in reading it.

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