Many people learning a second language have a lot of opinions on their second language relative to their first language. They love to say things like "oh, my second language is easier than my first," or the opposite, "my first language is easier than my second language." They also like to say that one language clearly has more words than the other.
Every time someone says something like this, god smites down a family of precious baby squirrels.
TIME TO DISPEL THE MYTHS!
Myth 1: Language A is harder to learn than Language B.
Fact: There is no such thing as a "hard" or "easy" language. It's RELATIVE. Relativity! Please!! The ease or difficulty that a person has learning a second language depends on the language that they already speak. If you are a native Spanish speaker, Portuguese will be easier for you than Chinese. So English is not "harder" or "easier" than Portuguese. So if you are teaching a language and your student says something like the myth above, give them an example that shows that it's relative. Pretty please.
Myth 2: Language A has more words than Language B.
Fact: Kind of. There is some relatively new linguistic research about a concept called verb framing. I sat through a really interesting guest lecture once in a bilingualism class in college that felt kind of sudden (what's this guy talking about? Where'd he come from?). Turns out he was Dan Slobin, the guy to come up with this theory, and that I was super lucky to hear him talk about it first-hand.
Anyway, I loved his idea because he basically said that there are 2 kinds of languages: satellite-framed languages and verb-framed languages. These two kinds of languages treat verbs in different ways. Satellite-framed languages (like English) create separate verbs or phrasal verbs to show physical information, while verb-framed languages (like Portuguese) rely on adverbs or just a more general definition of a verb to show the same information.
Mr. Slobin was fluent in Spanish, not Portuguese. So one of his many examples were the English words "walk," "stroll," and "pace," vs. the Spanish (and practically Portuguese) word "pasear." He says that verb-framed language speakers will say (or write) "pasear pensativo" or "pasear preocupado" to give the idea of "pace", because "pasear" alone is more general.
Get it? So Satellite-framed languages (English) have more verbs and phrasal verbs (verbs + prepositions), while verb-framed languages have more adverbs and expressions that get attached to a few general verbs.
But neither language necessarily has MORE words. They just have more of different kinds of words. (The guy actually did a whole bunch of research COUNTING types of words that different languages used in literature. He found that English had almost twice as many verbs used in literature than Spanish did, while Spanish literature used far more expressions (things like "andar con cuidado" for "creep"). He repeated the counting tests with other languages and the results were consistent.)
In his presentation, the guy showed a lot of literature translations from English into other languages. An example was between English and French.
The original English sentence was: "I crept around the house."
The literal translation into French was "I made a circuit of the house."
I often don't know translations for very specific English verbs and phrasal verbs.
Is that because Portuguese verbs aren't as specific as English verbs? My Portuguese vocabulary is about 1/20 the size of my English vocabulary, so it's more likely that it's just my own knowledge of Portuguese that's lacking.
The real question is if there can be completely accurate translations. Is there really a verb, or a verb + adverb, or a verb + expression, that will get the exact meanings of those verbs above, and vise versa? Are there perfect English verbs for the Portuguese verb/adverb/expression combos?
What do you guys think? Does this info resonate with any language learning or translations that you've experienced? Any words or expressions in your native language (or second language!) that you think are very hard to translate? Anyone disagree?
I have way too much free time and I need some academic stimulation. Please humor me.