Is Python the Esperanto of programming languages?

Isaac To kkto at
Mon Mar 24 04:35:28 CET 2003

>>>>> "Steven" == Steven Taschuk <staschuk at> writes:

    Isaac> It is far from an inflection, however.  In particular, every noun
    Isaac> has one (or, if there are a few different "life" of the noun, a
    Isaac> few) "measure word", and you cannot mix them up---just like you
    Isaac> cannot say "catch down a meeting".

This is perhaps too confusing, and partially wrong after I think about it
more deeply.  I'm sorry for that.  See below.

    Steven> I was thinking of it as (in the speculative far-future version
    Steven> of Mandarin) an inflection of the number word, not the noun.  If
    Steven> memory serves, the measure word sticks with the number; for
    Steven> "three big books" you'd use "three <measure word> big book",
    Steven> right?

    Steven> Regardless, it's an instance of agreement in Mandarin; nouns
    Steven> having the same measure word can be considered to form a gender.
    Steven> So Mandarin is not *entirely* free of these things, sadly.

It has the same significance as "bowl" in "a bowl of rice" and "piece" in "a
piece of paper" in the English.  Likewise, normally you cannot say "a bowl
of paper" or "a piece of rice", so some matching is required in English as
well.  But that is probably not part of syntax: if you find some scenario in
which some collection of rice is best termed as "piece" rather than "dish"
or "bowl", or a collection of paper that is best considered as a "dish",
then using "a piece of rice" or "a dish of paper" is fine and usually more
appropriate.  That is just the same in Chinese.

I find it very hard to think the "bowl", "dish" or "piece" to be matching
"genders" of "rice" and "paper".  But there is some difference: in Chinese
you need it in all nouns, not just uncountable nouns when used in countable
context, and not only when you want to be explicit.  You can imagine this by
thinking that in Chinese you have to say "three <foo1> of books", or "how
many <foo2> of fish do you have?", or even "that <foo3> of cake is
delicious".  (It does not really "stick" to numbers---it is used far more

[One interesting observation: in English, if we say "I ate three birthday
cakes today", it is understood as "three whole birthday cakes", although it
is quite inconceivable that one can eat three cakes in a day.  To be correct
one has to say "I ate three slices of birthday cakes today", which becomes
exactly the same structure as Chinese.  More interestingly, in English the
above sentence implies that you ate three slices of three different cakes,
and if you don't mean that you have to say "I ate three slices of the
birthday cake today", and there is no way to leave it unspecified---even
though the listener won't notice the difference anyway most of the time.  In
Chinese you don't need to commit unless you want.  If you do want, you can
say the former case like "I ate three slice of different birthday cake"
(numbers dropped on purpose to show the effect).]

But yes, Chinese is not entirely free of matching.  But at least you can
argue that it serves a purpose that is needed anyway, only extended that
much further than necessary.


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