Maltese Time is Just Like English Time

I checked with my local semitic language speaker and together we went through all of the english words for time (during, since, yesterday, soon, later) that we could think of and found an exact correlation in maltese for each one. Bang goes that theory.

It wasn’t a waste of time, however, as it prompted a discussion with Dylan about how translation between languages isn’t just a simple matter of word substitution. Some words in french like chez, for example, need a whole bunch of english words to say the same thing.

By a lucky coincidence, a blog about this very topic showed up this morning.

Speakers of different languages must attend to and encode strikingly different aspects of the world in order to use their language properly (Sapir 1921; Slobin 1996). For example, to say that “the elephant ate the peanuts” in English, we must include tense–the fact that the event happened in the past. In Mandarin, indicating when the event occurred would be optional and couldn’t be included in the verb. In Russian, the verb would need to include tense, whether the peanut-eater was male or female (though only in the past tense), and whether said peanut-eater ate all of the peanuts or just a portion of them. In Turkish, one would specify whether the event being reported was witnessed or hearsay. Do these quirks of language affect the way their speakers think about the world? Do English, Mandarin, Russian, and Turkish speakers end up thinking about the world differently simply because they speak different languages?

Georgina is always throwing around words like ittellaghhomli (you make my temper flare up) whenever english lacks the right concept. The blogger claims that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has been discredited but isn’t it a little odd that mediterranean languages have so many words for getting angry?

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Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

One thought on “Maltese Time is Just Like English Time”

  1. On a related note: I was reading digg, and there was a post on how Google is having trouble finding talent in India. Lo and behold, someone mentions that maybe it has to do with the mother tongue.

    “In english we have probably one of the lowest word counts in world languages. So from our very birth we are taught indirectly to form sentences using words that have many different meanings but putting them together in creative ways. So from age one until we die we are constantly creating new ways to say the same thing with different words.

    In Indian and many of the Asian languages, they are very high context languages, meaning that there are many many more words than in english. So there is most often only one way to say something, and you might have 5 different words to express different ways of saying the same one word in english. So from their birth they are taught structure which is very good when you need to be book smart, but it doesn’t help you when you need to creatively use those book smarts.”

    See http://digg.com/tech_news/Lack_of_Talented_People_in_India_Says_Google , then comment by zigamorph for more context.

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