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Do you want a French "little" or a Dutch "little"? :))

From:Christophe Grandsire <christophe.grandsire@...>
Date:Monday, June 3, 2002, 14:13

During my ongoing e-mail conversation with Hanuman Chang, at one moment came
the subject of the difference between a French "little" and a Dutch "little",
and we thought it might be an interesting subject to bring to the list (or
rather, Chang told about his "devilish influence" in making me bring a
potentially flammable subject in these times when some auxlang tendencies have
been seen in the different threads of the Conlang list :)) . Although I don't
need his influence for that ;))) ).

I'll sum up my experience which explains the title. I often help my friend when
he prepares cooking (for those who don't know, my friend is Dutch, I'm French,
and we live in the Netherlands together :)) ). But our big problem of
communication in that case is the use of classifiers. And the problem is big:
if a French cook asked me to put "a little" butter in a pan, I would put just
enough to make the pan slightly greasy, and I find that normal. On the other
hand, when Jan asks me to put "a little" butter in the pan, he expects me to
put about 50g of butter, so that the whole thing bathes into water!!! And I've
witnessed that he is not special in this case, and that at least Southern Dutch
people have the same conception of "little" as his, a conception which is about
5 times as big as mine!!

That's how I discovered that even quantifiers don't semantically overlap
between languages (probably quite a problem for IALists I think, unless you
oblige your language to always give an exact quantity and not only an
indication :)) ), and that the actual value of quantifiers depend on the
language (sometimes on the person who speaks it too, but the language
dependence is strong). And as in the case of cooking, a misunderstanding can be
deadly :)) . To solve the problem between my friend and me, I always ask him if
he means a French "little" or a "Dutch" little, so that I don't make a mistake
and the whole thing doesn't burn to ashes :)) .

So to bring back the subject to conlang matters, I've been wondering how you
people thought about the quantifiers in your conlangs, and if you actually
thought of those problems of presupposed value of a "little" in your conlangs.
It may be a nice thing on which adding some cultural specifications, that
wouldn't appear clearly at first but would be very important for the actual
understanding of the language.

Still, I don't think many people thought of that. We tend to take quantifiers
for granted, without realising that even they aren't semantically universal.

Just some food for thoughts :)) .


Take your life as a movie: do not let anybody else play the leading role.


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