Is Python the Esperanto of programming languages?

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

Quoth Greg Ewing (using
> 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     -- "Typesetting Mathematics -- User's Guide",
                                 Brian Kernighan and Lorrinda Cherry

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