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How do the Chinese 'feel' a language? [Copy link] 中文

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Post time 2015-12-8 23:14:33 |Display all floors
This post was edited by Caged at 2015-12-9 08:12

I'm completely fluent in English, French, and Esperanto and somewhat less so in spoken Mandarin and  pinyin.

I've read books (including literary texts and even books of verse) in English, French, and Esperanto; and I have friends with whom I share only English, French, Espetanto, or Mandarin as our only common language.

In each of these cases, I never truly 'feel' the language itself but rather what the writer or speaker is communicating independently of the language. For instance, since I've read higher-quality poetry in English than in French or Esperanto, and I've not read much poetry in Mandarin, I'd therefore felt the beauty of the English poems more than the others; but I have read high-quality poems in French and Esperanto and felt their beauty too.

I've also read English literature of poor quality and disliked it, just as I have in French and Esperanto.

Though I've read little literature in Chinese, I've laughed and cried just as much in that language with my fiancee and my Chinese friends as I have in English, French, and Esperanto with my respective friends and family in each of these languages.

Okay, I take one thing back. I don't remember ever crying in Esperanto, but I do remember once feeling sad at news that I'd received in Esperanto. I've definitely joked and laughed many times in Esperanto though.

One poster in this forum has challenged my understanding of the link between language and feeling recently. According to him, the language itself has feeling independently of the message that one communicates in it. He'd given the examples of English and Esperanto saying that he feels English independently of the message being communicated but would be incapable of feeling anything in response to any message communicated in Esperanto.
On the one hand, I have difficulty understanding the concept of language having or not having feeling independently of the message being conveyed. For example, I can't imagine responding to a boring poem just because it is recited in English or not feeling anything when reading a moving poem or when a friend gives me good news just because it is in Esperanto. In fact, I've engaged in conversations in the past in which though I remember the content of the conversation, I can't remember in what language it took place due to the fact that my interlocutor and I shared more than one common language.

On the other hand, I accept that there may be a cultural difference that I have failed to understand. I am a French Canadian myself, but do not know the cultural background of the poster who challenged me with this new idea (which I admit to be totally foreign to my mind, which is what makes it intriguing). Is it conceivable that while a French Canadian feels the content of the message and not the language in which it is conveyed, members of other linguistic communities feel the language instead of the message one conveys through it? I have difficulty understanding it myself, so thought I'd start a thread to discuss how different people feel in relation to language. For example, do you feel the language in which a message is conveyed independently of the message itself, or do you feel the content of the message independently of the language in which it is conveyed, or both to varying degrees, and how and why?

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Post time 2015-12-9 10:55:21 |Display all floors
Now that I’ve given it more thought, I’ve been able to identify the following factors that can affect one’s emotional responses to a language:

1.        Belief,
2.        Ease of learning,
3.        Precision,
4.        Understandability,
5.        Richness of vocabulary,
6.        Literary development, and
7.        Material benefit.

I’ll elaborate for each one below:


One might identify with a particular language as his national language and so want to learn, teach, and promote it for nationalistic reasons.

A person might feel inspired to learn the language in which the sacred texts of his religion were revealed due to its importance to him to develop a scholarly understanding of such texts.

A person might feel inspired to learn a sign language as a service to the deaf, or Esperanto to promote peace and justice in the world.

Ease of learning.

I’d found Esperanto to be much more enjoyable to learn than any of the other languages I’d studied simply because it was so easy to learn. It was like a friendly challenge or game. I’ve heard Esperanto-speaking friends of mine in China say the same about Esperanto compared to English, French, and Japanese.

Additionally, whereas almost all of the best English-language pieces of literature were written by native-speaking authors, almost all of the best-written literature available in Esperanto (including La Inafana Raso which got its author nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature) were written by non-native speakers of the language. We can see this very clerly if we compare the Oxford Book of English Verse to the Esperanta Antologio, whereby one is filled by verse written by native speakers, the other by non-native speakers.

This in turn can produce an emotional response in a non-native speaker of Esperanto in raising his confidence in his ability to reach the same level should he strive to do so, while potentially discouraging non-native speakers of English in making them feel like they stand little chance of ever reaching the same level of accomplishment without much greater sacrifice.


Given the choice, I would feel more comfortable writing and signing a legal contract written in French or Esperanto than in English simply due to its greater grammatical precision so as to reduce the likelihood of legal problems later.


I’ve found that my emotional response to a message communicated in a language depended in part on the knowledge of the language that both I and my interlocutor possessed. The better we both knew the language, the more comfortable I felt in it, and the less either of us knew the language, the more frustrated I felt and the more doubtful I was of having understood the person correctly or of having made myself understood to the person. I’ve generally felt comfortable speaking in English or French with native speakers of the respective languages, but usually not with non-native speakers unless they had truly mastered the language. Though if the person is a good friend, I’ll obviously be more willing to work through the frustration.

I’ve generally felt very comfortable with Esperanto speakers simply because from my experience they generally master the language quickly.

Richness of vocabulary.

I usually enjoy well-written literature in English more than in French or Esperanto due to the comparative richness of its vocabulary. Of course well-written literature in French and Esperanto can be equally enjoyable, but it is more difficult to produce in these other languages due to the relative poverty of their vocabularies compared to that of English.

Literary development.

Though Esperanto has already developed a wide body of quality literature, it does not compare to that available in French and even less to that available in English. The literature I can enjoy in English is much greater quantitatively and somewhat greater qualitatively, generally speaking. Though the number of books available in a language or the number of Nobel Prize nominations for literature in a language are mere numbers, the enjoyment of such literature is of course an emotional response to the available literature.

Material benefit.

Material benefit is strongly influenced by policy. To take Hungary and China as examples. In Hungary, since students can choose their second language in school, they will generally weigh the effort required to learn the language to the benefit accrued from learning it. This might explain why English and German, in spite of their lack of ease of lerning, are more popular than Esperanto in spite of its comparable ease of learning: depending on the use the lerner has envisioned for it, most have concluded that the effort required to learn English is worth the benefit accrued from its successful acquisition. The fact that not all chose thoose options and opt for Esperanto instead shows that, according to their circumstances, they’ve concluded that for them, the effort required isn’t worth the potential benefit. One thing they all share in common is that they are making an opportunity-cost decision.

We find that Esperanto surpasses French though, presumably since the increased economic value of French isn’t sufficiantly great to make it worth the effort required to learn it. As a result, French stands as the fourth most popular second language in the Hungarian system.

Though opportunity-cost analysis might sound quite technical, feelings are no doubt being taken into account in the process too. After all, money aside, there is also time, time that could be better spend learnng a subject one enjoys, spending time with friends and family, etc. All of these activities entail an emotional response in the process of choosing the language.

Yet in all of these cases, never have I ever experienced emotionally feeling a language indipendently of at least one of the factors above as far as I can remember at present. There is no doubt that each of the factors above can elicit a feeling, and emotion, but that is not to be attributed to the language itself (with the exception of the ease-of-learning, precision and richness of vocabulary mentioned above I suppose due to their being intrinsic to the respective language, yet even then when another language compares to it in any of these categories, it ellicits the same emotional response, so is still not unique to any particular language).

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Post time 2015-12-9 11:11:18 |Display all floors
Another possibility that I can see is that whereas a multilingual who has learnt at least one language more methodically through a textbook or in a classroom environment will demystify language in his mind. In other words, having become aware of the language as a machine with letters, phonemese, words, and grammatical components, able to be manipulated at one's will, he no longer sees the language as some mysterious para-scientific entity. The monolingual speaker on the other hand, who is probably relatively ignorant of the grammatical components of his own language, is merely aware of the seemingly strange phenomenon that by stringing words together in an apparently random way, people magically understand him and he understands them, but of course only in the languages he knows. As a result, he subconsciously perceives his language as a blessing and others as a curse. Additionally, never having learnt a second language, might feel intimidated by them. This might explain the phenomenon of a language per se invoking an emotion in monolinguals but invocing much less of an emotional response in multilinguals. who are less fascinated in teh language per se and more in what is communicated via its medium.

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