LINGUIST List 7.865

Mon Jun 10 1996

Disc: Equality Among Languages

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. Dave Harris, equality among languages

Message 1: equality among languages

Date: Fri, 07 Jun 1996 15:29:47 EDT
From: Dave Harris <>
Subject: equality among languages
 I enjoyed reading Benji Wald's comments on this topic, although I
have to admit I had to skim through parts because it was a little on
the long side. What I want to say is probably very obvious to all and
yet I haven't actually heard anyone say it here so I'll say it
anyway. It seems to me that equality among languages does not mean
exisiting equality but rather potential equality. Any language is
automatically as good as it needs to be for whatever environment it is
used in. And any language or language variant could be adapted (I
believe) for any situation. However, as a general rule, non-standard
varieties of language are generally not, in their present state, as
good as standard varieties for discussing philosophy, logic, science,
engineering, etc. That does not mean that they could not serve just as
well or even better than standard varieties, it simply means that they
have not (yet) been applied to those topics and, therefore, are not
fine-tuned to deal with the vocabulary needed.

 This situation where a standard variety is pitted against
non-standards is directly analogous to another situation where a
language spoken in one area of the world, say Tahitian in the South
Pacific, might be difficult to use in a different geographic region,
say Lappland, where all kinds of words for 'snow' and 'reindeer' and
whatnot would have to be invented or codeswitched into the language.

 I have experienced this situation myself very often between German
and English or between Arabic and English. Certain expressions native
to one language simply don't express what you wish to say in another
so you code-switch. If your speech partner doesn't know the other
language, you make the attempt to stretch the functionality of the
language s/he does understand in order to say as precisely as you can
what it is you want to say. David Harris
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