New Message (aryan invasion)

dlusthau at dlusthau at
Sun Dec 15 08:13:20 UTC 1996

>Certainly a high homonym count would be a problem, and might be a reason
>to judge a language to be inelegant or inefficient.

Would you wish to call Chinese inelegant or inefficient. In Mandarin
dialect (the official, Beijing dialect) all words are monosyllabic,
composed of roughly one hundred sounds (including tonal distinctions),
which, since the average vocabulary is substantially larger than 100 words,
means that the language is heavily homophonic. How do they cope? Context
and syntax goes a long way -- as does phrasing, and compounds (combining
words of similar meaning and using that sound combination exclusively for
one particular meaning; or creating a unique phrase) -- and occasionally
conversants take recourse to either writing the word, making the gestures
for writing the word (which can be understood since they follow a stroke
order), or reciting a well-known phrase or line containing the word in
question. All that might sound inefficient, but it doesn't seem to slow the
Chinese down.

Dan Lusthaus
Florida State University

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