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Adelphos
10-30-2008, 12:38 PM
Oldest Hebrew text ever found now predates DSS by 1000 years --

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1032929.html

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/us_israel_archaeology

On a slightly different take, does anyone know if Chinese is CONSIDERED to be a more COMPLEX language than Hebrew? Or where Chinese fits generally into the scale of COMPLEX languages?

Michael Hanel
10-30-2008, 12:49 PM
On a slightly different take, does anyone know if Chinese is CONSIDERED to be a more COMPLEX language than Hebrew? Or where Chinese fits generally into the scale of COMPLEX languages?

How would you even begin to decide what complex means? Chinese is definitely a very different type of language, but I've always heard that English is, perhaps not the most complex, but hardest to learn. Judging by the work of my Latin students, English speakers all of them, I would say they prove that statement is true. ;)

Adelphos
10-30-2008, 01:09 PM
How would you even begin to decide what complex means? Chinese is definitely a very different type of language, but I've always heard that English is, perhaps not the most complex, but hardest to learn. Judging by the work of my Latin students, English speakers all of them, I would say they prove that statement is true. ;)

I don't know fully how they determine complex, only that studies have been done on the various complexities of languages.

In that vein, it has been stated that language has gone from the complex to the less complex, that is, that language has devolved rather than evolved, at least with respect to complexity.

As far as English being the hardest language to learn, I believe that is purely myth. I've heard that all my life as well, but my experience has been the exact opposite. I've traveled over much of the world, and English is spoken very well by a great diversity of people in most places, especially in urban areas.

Note, I am not asserting that one can get by strictly in English everywhere; I'm merely stating that in a great many countries, English is spoken by a great many people. True, English is taught there, but so are foreign languages taught here in the US, and I doubt anyone would assert that Americans are as skilled in languages as are most other peoples. That is, you will certainly find FAR more people who are at least bilingual in Europe than you will in America. And so on.

I certainly think English is easier to learn than most of the other popular languages, and I also think it's easier to learn than Latin.

Adelphos
10-30-2008, 02:35 PM
Here are just three links to explore this issue. A Google search will of course turn up many more. The last link is an example of Chinese that partly motivated my question --

http://www.answersingenesis.org/tj/v14/i2/languages.asp

http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/faq/linguistics.asp

http://www.answersingenesis.org/Docs/388.asp

David Kummerow
10-30-2008, 08:19 PM
Language change is a continual process. Constructions are simplified, but other more complex constructions are introduced to provide clarity. In other words, there is a functional tension in language between efficiency (saying things simply and without expending superfluous energy) and complexity (being clear and overt so that the utterance is understood). How this works itself out varies from language to language, with complexity in one area allowing for more simplicity in another (eg Nunggubuyu has a proliferation of third-person verbal inflections -- 10-11 categories in total -- but nearly a complete absense of coreferential subject marking of imbedded clauses [limited to the construction involving the verb "to want"]). When I was learning Greek I was told that the case system was complex, but slightly less complex than Latin. Nowhere near true: complexity are examples like West Greenlandic (8 cases), Lak (19 cases), Kayardild (20 cases), and Hungarian (possibly as many as 21 cases).

Regards,
David.

Adelphos
10-30-2008, 09:06 PM
...When I was learning Greek I was told that the case system was complex, but slightly less complex than Latin. Nowhere near true:..

The three examples I'm familiar with, i.e, that I can see and trace, are English, German, and Greek, as one can see a marked lesseing of comlexity in those three languages, i.e., English and German from the 15th century to present, and Greek from the end of the nineteenth/beginning twentieth century to present.

Greek is interesting in that almost all of its significant changes have occurred in the past 75-100 years. Until then, it was very much like NT Greek, with of course some medieval influences. For example, the dative has diminished significantly in modern/colloquial Greek, i.e., spoken Greek, (except in literary circles and some news media), which is just one example of the lessening of complexity.

Of course, I'm measuring complexity the way it was measured in the article and others like it in the first link I gave above.

It seems that Chinese, which I know nothing about, is relatively complex and goes back to a fairly remote period, i.e., probably very close to Babel. And of course, I accept the Genesis account of the confusion of tongues.

I was just curious if anyone knew how Chinese and Hebrew compared in that respect.

David Kummerow
10-30-2008, 09:52 PM
I guess you don't agree that complexity may be reintroduced into a language, ie that there is a somewhat cyclic process where complexity is reduced and then complexity may be intruduced again (periphrasis). Such a view though of language is not correct; see eg:

Haspelmath, Martin. 2000. “Periphrasis.” Pages 653-664 in Morphologie: Ein internationales Handbuch zur Flexion und Wortbildung. Edited by Geert Booij, Christian Lehmann, and Joachim Mugdan. Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft 17/1. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter.

Haspelmath, Martin. 2000. “The Relevance of Extravagance: A Reply to Bart Geurts.” Linguistics 38: 789-798.

That is, the simplicity/complexity issue is neither a static one nor one that proceeds always in the direction of simplicity, as the competing functional motivations of efficiency and clarity continue to exist independent of whether a language is viewed as "simple" or "complex".

Regards,
David.

Adelphos
10-30-2008, 10:10 PM
I guess you don't agree that complexity may be reintroduced into a language...

Actually, that is not the case. As the article I referenced states, complexity can be reintroduced but it is the product of intelligence and design, not random fluctuation, and in the main the language over time becomes less and less complex. Of course, the term complex can be nuanced in a variety of ways, so one must be sure he is comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges.

I don't, however, equate specificity with complexity, although the two may have some overlapping functions.

Since Chinese is pictorial in nature, I'm guessing that it has more complexity than languages younger than it, but it nevertheless is also a descendant of some language, and of course the spoken and written forms may also be different, more or less like cunieform perhaps, but either way, until Babel there was only one language. As I say, though, the spoken and written forms before Babel may not be the same.

It will be interesting to see if they can identify the newly found inscriptions in Israel with a true Hebrew -- or proto-Canaanite, as they call it -- dialect/language, and then see how that relates to the overall issue.

David Kummerow
10-30-2008, 10:22 PM
Yes, orthographic representation is certainly a different issue. Orthographically, Chinese is complex for sure. Phonetically/phonologically/morphologically/syntactically/etc. are each different issues.

Even orthographic representation, though, may vary over time. Hebrew went from a purely consonantal representation, to using consonantal representation of vowels at the end of words, to using consonantal representation of medial vowels, to a full-fledged orthographic representation of vowels, accentuation, and metrical structure. Now in modern times we're mostly back to something in between, with occasional explicit vowel representation in cases of ambiguity.

Regards,
David.

Adelphos
10-30-2008, 10:28 PM
...Hebrew went from a purely consonantal representation, to using consonantal representation of vowels at the end of words, to using consonantal representation of medial vowels, to a full-fledged orthographic representation of vowels, accentuation, and metrical structure. Now in modern times we're mostly back to something in between, with occasional explicit vowel representation in cases of ambiguity.

I'm gonna take a wild guess and conclude that you don't side with the Karaites who, I've read, believe that the vowel points go back to Ezra and even Moses! ;)

David Kummerow
10-31-2008, 02:25 AM
I'm gonna take a wild guess and conclude that you don't side with the Karaites who, I've read, believe that the vowel points go back to Ezra and even Moses! ;)
Your very much correct.

In terms of orthographic representation, it is to the best of my knowledge a Masoretic invention. In terms of phonemes, the vowel inventory at that stage of the language may well be slightly different than at the time of Ezra or Moses (ie a seven-quality inventory vis-a-vis five).

Regards,
David.