Is Python the Esperanto of programming languages?

Steven Taschuk staschuk at telusplanet.net
Fri Mar 21 06:45:57 CET 2003


Quoth Greg Ewing (using news.cis.dfn.de):
  [...]
> I don't know much about Chinese, but from what I've heard
> it's largely lacking things like genders, singular/plural
> distinctions, agreements, etc. [...]

It is generally true that (Mandarin) Chinese lacks such things,
with some qualifications.

1: There is a word (men) which can be used after a pronoun to make
it plural.  (I have heard that some younger speakers have started
using this pluralizer on other words as well.)  If memory serves,
there's a different word (xie) which can be used to pluralize
"this" and "that".

2: There is one respect in which nouns could be considered to have
"gender".  Phrases such as "three books" are three words long in
Mandarin: "three <foo> books".  The <foo> is a word chosen
according to the noun involved; it adds no information.  The set
of such words is fairly small (a couple dozen or so, I think); my
teacher called them "measure words".  This could be described as
analogous to agreement between adjectives and nouns in inflecting
languages; it is conceivable that they could become suffixes on
the number word in some far-future version of Mandarin, which
would thereby become more of an inflecting language.

There may be more exceptions of which I know nothing; I've not
studied the language in a while and was never fluent.

> [...] If that's true, it would
> seem to be a lot less redundant than most European languages.
> Yet Chinese people seem to use it quite successfully as
> a natural language.
> 
> So is redundancy (at the grammatical level, at least) so
> necessary in a natural language after all?

Clearly *some* redundancy is necessary, for error detection and
correction purposes.  But yes, languages do vary in how much
redundancy they provide.  (They also vary in speaking speed; it
would be interesting if these were correlated.)

In Mandarin it is also often acceptable to omit a pronoun when it
can be guessed from context.  Inflecting languages often do this
too; for such languages it is sometimes explained that the
inflection of the verb implies the pronoun.  That explanation
doesn't work for Mandarin, of course.

-- 
Steven Taschuk             "The world will end if you get this wrong."
staschuk at telusplanet.net     -- "Typesetting Mathematics -- User's Guide",
                                 Brian Kernighan and Lorrinda Cherry





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