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Does Latin lack in exactness?

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Does Latin lack in exactness?

Postby Odysseus » Thu Oct 30, 2003 2:16 am

After reading more and more Latin, it got me thinking as to the stengths and weaknesses of English compared to Latin. One of the ideas that struck me was the fact that a lot of the texts leave a lot of the passages up to individual interpretation as to exactly what the author was trying to say rather than being concrete about what one is trying to say.

Latin is certainly much more concise than English, and that's one of the things I appreciate about it, but it seems that English's stricter word order and more liberal use of prepositions and conjunctions doesn't leave as much up to interpretation.

I can see that I'll get replies to say this means you get to use your imagination more, but if a Boeng 767-400 was to be written in English or Latin, which do you think would be able to get the information across without leaving anything up to interpretation and with the least verbiage?
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Postby benissimus » Thu Oct 30, 2003 5:36 am

I think what you are missing is that most of the Latin we read is rhetoric and you are comparing that to your typical, casual English and creating an unbalanced comparison. If you look at English speeches or poetry or stories, the meanings are not very strict either, but are instead designed to play on literary devices and other emotion-provoking lingual tools.
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Postby Odysseus » Thu Oct 30, 2003 12:35 pm

benissimus wrote:I think what you are missing is that most of the Latin we read is rhetoric and you are comparing that to your typical, casual English and creating an unbalanced comparison. If you look at English speeches or poetry or stories, the meanings are not very strict either, but are instead designed to play on literary devices and other emotion-provoking lingual tools.


Yes, I'll agree with you there. I was thinking more along the lines of Virgil, Catullus, etc al, and of which texts leave a lot of the meaning up to the reader, as in English poetry and epic.

What I'd be interested to know is if we could decree with a post to a discussion board that Latin could be used for contemporary technical texts, does the language have enough flexibility to convey the detail in as much exactness as English would?
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Postby Episcopus » Thu Oct 30, 2003 8:52 pm

As a new Latin learner I find that English is a lot more precise. It has more words it seems to express a certain thing. Sed quid scio ego :shock:
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Postby benissimus » Thu Oct 30, 2003 10:32 pm

I presume that Latin is at least as precise as English and probably more, but I don't consider myself educated enough to decree such a statement. Needless to say, though, if you are a native English speaker then the concepts which are in your mind are going to be expressed more readily through English, and when you try to use Latin, you are probably assigning foreign words that don't quite match up with your thoughts as well. I think this is true, but if you were a native Latin speaker (or a fluent one), you would probably find it to be more exact. Just a theory...
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Postby Carola » Wed Nov 05, 2003 10:31 pm

I think one of the other problems is that English seems to have a lot more words than other languages (speaking only of European languages here - I don't know about, say, Chinese) as we borrow words and also create them if needed! This means we can use a lot more nuances, pitch our speech to different types of listeners and just be obscure if we want to!
As Latin was used for many hundreds of years for botanical descriptions (and still is sometimes) it is certainly capable of giving technical information. The problem arises when being used for machinery and technology that did not exist 2000 years ago - plant leaf shapes certainly did.
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Postby Odysseus » Thu Nov 06, 2003 8:18 am

Carola wrote:I think one of the other problems is that English seems to have a lot more words than other languages (speaking only of European languages here - I don't know about, say, Chinese) as we borrow words and also create them if needed! This means we can use a lot more nuances, pitch our speech to different types of listeners and just be obscure if we want to!
As Latin was used for many hundreds of years for botanical descriptions (and still is sometimes) it is certainly capable of giving technical information. The problem arises when being used for machinery and technology that did not exist 2000 years ago - plant leaf shapes certainly did.


It's a double-edged sword having such flexibility in English - it gives you plenty of rope to hang yourself if need by :)

That's a good point that I didn't realise. I wonder if you could go the German way of things and just incorporate English nouns for technical computer-network type stuff back in to Latin? The problem then becomes what declension and gender do you make them. I'm not sure what German does with gender, but the declensions are going to be tricky. Perhaps 2nd declension masculine would make it nice and simple :)

Have you got any links for such Latin botannical descriptions online? I'm sure there was technical human biological documentation too!
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Postby pheriwinkle » Fri Nov 07, 2003 10:20 pm

I think it can go either way in some people's heads.

In the middle ages, it was thought that Latin words were so great, that they had to be translated by numerous English words because they pack in so much meaning. They were often translated as "x and y" instead of just with one word. That's the way to look at it if you're a big Latin booster.

On the other side, you could say that the vocabulary of Latin is so deficient in words, that they have to press existing words in to service to fulfill specific, domain related functions.

Most linguists today, I would think, would side with the latter. If you compare Latin to Greek, you can see that Greek has a much richer vocabulary.

That being said, if you compare the Oxford Latin Dictionary to the Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon, you'll notice the Latin is much heaftier than the Greek, even though the Greek has more words in it. It takes a lot longer to explain all of the nuances and usages of the Latin words, than the more specific Greek words, which can be more concisely defined.

Unfortunately, we're speaking English right now, which is the language on Earth which has the most words in it, since English speakers have always been liberal borrowers. (Whoever asked about Chinese, Chinese has tons of words, but a lot are regional, and a lot are ancient and not used in spoken language, so it's really hard to quantify.)

As a side note--when translating from French to English, for instance, when thinking about typesetting, the rule of thumb is that you account for 10% shrinkage. I'm sure there's a similar factor for Latin and Greek, which can be divined from looking at Loeb editions.
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Postby annis » Fri Nov 07, 2003 10:46 pm

I guess I'd assert that a language is exact as a speaker needs it to be.

For a native English speaker Japanese seems wildly inexact about some things - they like to just leave out the subject of the sentence a lot, and the verbs only conjugate for tense and mood - not person. And there is in fact inexactness there. But when inexactness causes a problem - like a technical manual - you use a few more words to clarify the matter, or the person you're talking to makes you clarify.

I'll bet Roman architects and bridge builders used very exact Latin. Generals, too, are not famously tolerant of free-wheeling interpretation of their orders, even if they do get all artsy to write their memoirs.
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Postby Carola » Sun Nov 09, 2003 8:56 am

Odysseus wrote:
Have you got any links for such Latin botannical descriptions online? I'm sure there was technical human biological documentation too!


Yes, I often use http://www.winternet.com/~chuckg/dictionary.html. I sometimes write little articles on plant names for a gardening club magazine. Don't know about the human biological ones - I'm still at the state of "the foot-bone's connected to the knee-bone" and barely know any technical terms in English.
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Postby ingrid70 » Sun Nov 09, 2003 8:21 pm

Carola wrote: "the foot-bone's connected to the knee-bone"


I hope not. :lol: Must be rather hard to walk that way.

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Postby Carola » Sun Nov 09, 2003 10:15 pm

I hope not. Must be rather hard to walk that way.


Yep - that's what I meant about my knowledge of human anatomy :D All we did at school was dissect rats, so I know quite a bit about them. Unfortunately they wouldn't let us loose on people!
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