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Paradigms Regained

October 28, 1990

Reviewer Fred Holley missed the error in Bill Bryson's remark in "The Mother Tongue" (Sept. 30) that English has "the richest vocabulary, and most diverse shadings of meaning, of any language." Obviously, only the familiar Indo-European language family was considered. At least one important non-Indo-European language is as rich as English: Chinese.

Poets may have been enriching our language since Shakespeare's era, but they've been doing the same thing in China for thousands of years. Their language now has a glossary of about 75,000 words, comparable to English.

In addition, Chinese is a highly adaptable tongue that can precisely define the new kinds of relationships that evolve between objects or concepts as civilization advances. Any noun, verb or adjective can be used as the basis for a new "connecting word." We English speakers must rely on a couple of dozen general-purpose prepositions and conjunctions.

Furthermore, for words to be used effectively, the grammatical structure of a language is crucial, and by this measure, Chinese is far superior. English is hobbled by Stone Age paradigms like singular/plural, present/past/future, and the now-dreaded masculine/feminine. Chinese, long free of these constraints, readily embraces the new paradigms of quantum mechanics, information technology and behavioral psychology.

I expect to find a Eurocentric attitude toward language in the Eastern press, whose readers still believe the North Atlantic is the center of world culture. It's embarrassing to encounter it in the leading daily of a city that calls itself "the capital of the Pacific Rim."

GENE FELLNER

SOUTH PASADENA

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