A language fluency scale for use in this subforum

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Fraggle Rocker, Feb 21, 2011.

  1. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I was going to say that you're thinking of a apex, but the dictionary says that vertex has been co-opted to mean the same thing. How we love destroying the precision of our language.
    There is some imprecision and overlap in usage but the two words are essentially different. A valetudinarian is obsessed with his health because he is genuinely ill. A hypochondriac is more likely to simply worry about becoming ill, or to imagine that he is when he's not. Hypochondriacs scour the literature looking for the most dire diagnoses to explain their pains and other symptoms: habitual violators of Occam's Razor.

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    The internet alone has contributed greatly to etymology, as it has to many fields of study. It has become so much easier to find older uses of words.
    Inflection in linguistics means alteration of a word to serve a different grammatical purpose. "Did, done" and "does" are inflected forms of the infinitive "do." "Length" and "long" are considered separate words in Modern English, but the one derives from an inflected form of the other in Proto-Germanic, by the same mechanism that makes "twentieth" and "hundredth" still recognizabe inflected forms of "twenty" and "hundred."

    The use of "inflection" to mean "tone of voice" is not the terminology of linguistics.

    Standard Beijing Mandarin has four tones, as you point out, but they have nothing to do with grammar. All Chinese morphemes have one syllable and with few exceptions can stand alone as one-syllable words. Since there are only 400 possible one-syllable combinations of vowels and consonants in Mandarin phonetics, the four tones increase the number of distinct syllables to 1,600. That way each morpheme, on the average, has only two homonyms (in vernacular speech) instead of eleven.

    The Sichuan dialect of Mandarin has six tones and Fujian, a separate Chinese language, has twelve.
    My wife is hardly a resident of this cottage, and she sees the merit in his writing. The professors have the vocabulary and the paradigms to be able to discuss it, and this makes it easier for others to see what they're referring to. But ultimately everyone is free to decide the merits for themselves.

    Certainly people like me who think and communicate at a less exalted level can be impressed by the academics who claim to be able to figure out what Joyce's words mean at all. But our opinions are hardly included in the consensus of scholars, or of merely good readers.
    Mrs. Fraggle has spent more than thirty years trying to share "great literature" with me. I dutifully sat down with the universally acclaimed novel that was the subject of her master's thesis, García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. Halfway through, I had to concede that I had absolutely no idea what was going on. Then she gave me an American "classic," Huckleberry Finn. At least I could vaguely follow the action (what little action there was), but I still didn't understand what the story was about or why it's a "classic," and once again gave up with a headache. Finally she gave me one of the "lesser" works by Nobelist Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King, and I thought it was one of the most enjoyable books I'd ever read. Meanwhile I'll stick with Alan Dean Foster, Robin McKinley, and the Harry Potter books. I've also read some of Mark Twain's "lesser" works such as Connecticut Yankee.

    I have no trouble understanding non-fiction, but when a story goes more than one level deep it loses me.
    Considering that "good" is an almost entirely subjective measure in arts and culture--one that often changes from one era to the next--I find this statement fascinating in its arrogance.
    Is this your field of scholarship so your "doubt" has some statistical probability of being valid?
    That seems like an insult with no substance. "I didn't like that book so anyone who claims to understand it is a fool." What's to stop me from saying the same thing about Cien Años de Soledad? Probably no more than one hundred million people have read it in 38 languages, so they're outnumbered seventy-to-one by the rest of us.
    I feel the same way about Thomas Mann, William Faulkner and virtually all "serious" poets.
    All "great" literature seems obscure to me. Perhaps when putting into language the nuance and richness that these writers express and their elite cadre of readers can understand, it's unavoidable that it will seem obscure to the rest of us.
    One person's loftiness is another's pretentiousness. What one finds stirring, another finds maudlin. My wife is moved to tears by those twelve-hour Russian movies that put me to sleep. I cry during the chick flicks that make her snicker.
    Many of you, but not all of us.
    I thought you elitists scorned popularity. Isn't that how you dismiss Pink Floyd, even though their music is "better known" than Rachmaninoff's?
    And one that many people, probably a majority of Americans, don't understand.
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  3. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    Um, co-opted?

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  5. quinnsong Valued Senior Member

    I was thinking that the kids that compete in the national spelling bees probably have know an extaordinary amount of words too. I wonder how they would do on this test?
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  7. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    With that number of words you wouldn't be able to write Ulysses, with a 30,030 word lexicon, but you could comfortably write the Bible, which has a mere 12,143 different English words (King James Version).
    Stick to religion rather than literature, and you'll be OK.
  8. chimpkin C'mon, get happy! Registered Senior Member

    "The Sound And The Fury," is supposed to be Faulkner's finest work...and after I had waded through it to the end, I was actively annoyed that I was so little rewarded for having done so.
    Why it's acclaimed so...:shrug:
    OTOH, I find his short stories " A Rose For Emily," and "Barn Burning," some of the most memorable things I've ever read.
    "Rose" perhaps being one of the most deliciously funny things as well. I have a really gruesome sense of humor.
  9. NCDane Registered Senior Member

    We might have to give him a bye, if Wiki is correct in saying
    those 30,030 words include proper names, plurals and various
    verb tenses.

    Unfortunately that qualification is not properly cited, since it is
    not mentioned in the footnote.
  10. NCDane Registered Senior Member

    Thanks for the interesting information. I did not know
    the linguistic definition.

    I wonder if your wife has read Ulysses cover-to-cover,
    and if she did if it was as a course assignment, and if
    it was a course assignment does she plan to read it again
    for pleasure.

    I do not understand why you repeatedly disparage yourself.
    Leave yourself off the list of "good readers" if you must, and
    I will include myself.

    Never heard of it. Maybe there are some snips on the net
    I can take a look at.

    I read 1/2-3/4 of Huckleberry Finn my senior year in HS
    and must admit I have not been tempted to return to it.

    I enjoy Twain's essays much more than his fiction. He did
    one hilarious number on James Fenimore Cooper:

    Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses

    And another on trying to learn German:

    The Awful German Language

    And another on HRM God:

    Letters From The Earth

    I enjoyed Herzog, although I am not sure why it is a classic.

    I wonder how a lesser work is distinguished from a major work
    according to academic taste.

    I have always enjoyed historical fiction. Koestler, Fast, Wouk,
    Vidal, Renault, and George at their best are spellbinding.

    I would consider the possibility that prose quality tends to be
    inversely proportional to what in an academic context is conveyed
    by that insufferable, hoity-toity, moth-eaten, grossly overused
    and overrated word “depth”. “Depth” is systematically confused
    with value in academic appraisal of the literary arts. Joyce is what
    one might term a paradigm of "depth".

    I will take the attribute “fascinating” to exactly one level,
    as a compliment.

    The mathematical and scientific arts have no role on this point.

    Darn it. I always strive to make my insults substantial.

    Nothing is to stop you, and the significance of popularity
    is a bit of an enigma, given the sales record of such genre
    as the Bodice Novel.

    Mann I don’t know. Faulkner I read only in HS Lit, and did
    not enjoy. However, I have though of giving him another to
    see if the (many) intervening years might have made a
    difference in my appreciation of some bozart, er, beaux arts.

    I felt the same way all through school.

    However, Poetry is a different matter in general. For one
    thing it is shorter, hence easier to give another try.

    At the age of about 30 I casually perused my college text
    on the Romantic poets for the 5th time or so, and was transfixed
    out of the blue and as never before by several poems beginning
    specifically with Book V of Wordsworth’s majestic Prelude:

    When contemplation, like the night-calm felt
    Through earth and sky spreads widely, and sends deep
    Into the soul its tranquilizing power…

    It was an actual epiphany and it provided me with a sympathetic
    imagination I did not earlier possess.

    Not all for me, but much. In a different sense of the word maybe
    a lot of it deserves obscurity

    Literature is not nuclear physics, and good literature should be
    accessible to more than an elite cadre.

    Difference in taste is allowed.
  11. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    It is difficult, I would agree.
    It is deliberately difficult, because the objective is to show the whole range of human existence, history, mythology, religion, astrology etc, in the separate and intertwining wanderings of a small group of people, on one day in early 20th Century Dublin. These include an outsider, the Jew Bloom, who is like Ulysses,

    As for lofty and inspiring language: like the King James Bible you could open it at any page and find something thought provoking and lyrical.
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    We're living on opposite coasts due to my work, but next time I talk to her I'll try to remember to ask about that. I never read a book twice. The simple shit I like is too easy to remember, almost verbatim. I have several friends who rush through every Harry Potter book three or four times. I tell them if they'd just slow down the first time they would have it all in their heads.
    Because I generally only undestand and enjoy fiction that's written for the masses, and the lower percentiles at that. Many of my favorite authors like Brian Jacques and J.K. Rowling write specifically for children. Others like Dean Koontz write books that are not appropriate for children because of the content, but any twelfth-grader with decent grades could easily read them, once he looked up all the genre-specific words like "lambent."
    García Márquez is one of the most acclaimed writers of our time--by both the eggheads and the masses. We once had a cleaning lady from Colombia who had read all of his books, Shakira (one of today's most erudite yet popular songwriters before the Hollywood machine did a Céline Dion number on her and taught her to sing ditties in English) idolizes him, and he's also won a Nobel Prize. Mrs. Fraggle specializes in magical realism, the school that made Latin America the world's new literature center, and he is one of its luminaries.
    If I could answer that question I wouldn't be such a dummy about literature, but applying what I know from music, I would suggest:
    • Transcends its time. Obviously this is only an estimate at the time of its composition, but we were right about the Beatles and Pink Floyd so they're probably right about Paz, Fuentes, Vargas-Llosa and García Márquez.
    • Transcends its place. There are Pink Floyd tribute bands in India.
    • Has multiple levels, or more precisely touches the reader/listener on multiple levels.
    • Does not merely entertain but also provokes contemplation and/or evokes emotions other than enjoyment.
    Perhaps we need a better word, but depth applies to the consumer of the art, not just to the art itself. Just like some symphonies, love songs and progressive rock compositions, some novels and poems stir (some of) us at multiple levels.
    Then you came to the wrong website. Our guiding principle is that the scientific method can be used to validate or falsify any hypothesis that is derived logically from empirial observations. We can't use it to determine whether a work of art is "great" in some abstract way, but we can use it to determine whether its impact on its audience (a mix of both academics and the general public) satisfies the consensus definition of "great."
    First you tell us that the opinions of the literati and the professors are of no value, now you tell us that the opinions of the general public are of no value. You are reinforcing my suspicion that you define "great art" as something that you like.
    I had no choice but to reread a number of poems many times in college, and it didn't help. My favorite poets continue to be Lewis Caroll, Ogden Nash and Dr. Seuss.

    I can much more easily understand the poetry in the lyrics of songs, because the addition of the music touches more of the parts of this musician's brain and endocrine system. Perhaps if someone were to set a few of these "masterpieces of poetry" to music I would finally understand them.
    Yet you snort at sales figures. How then do you define the words "accessible" and "elite"? Or perhaps my real question is, what do you mean by "more"?
  13. NCDane Registered Senior Member


    I have read maybe 20 twice.


    Alas, the unclean “masses”! So unable to reach the “depth” where
    true literacy resides! The immortal soul of James Joyce smiles.

    Haven’t gotten to it yet.

    I will go along for sure only with (1). I do not think it is necessary
    for a literary work to appeal to any but native speakers. Shakespeare
    probably does not go over too well in much of the world. I would like
    to know exactly what is meant by “level” and I am not sure how to
    distinguish “entertainment” from “contemplation” and “emotions”.

    See above.

    The scientific method is so far from making inroad in evaluating
    litetrary quality that it does not interest me to consider it. If you
    think you can make a case for it other than rhetorical, go ahead.

    And let me seize on the “general public”. You might get Pink Floyd
    past the general public and into the pantheon of greatness, but are
    not going to get James Joyce past them. Not now, not a million years
    from now, not for the lifetime of the human race, and the scientific
    method is not going to help him!

    “Enigma” does not mean “having no value”, it means “puzzling”.
    Your (1) above is part of the definition, even though it contains
    a large element of subjectiveness and deferance to popularity.
    To tell the truth I am not sure how to appropriately disnetangle
    those in any sound definition.

    Seuss I am too old for. Carroll and Nash are IMO great poets,
    and I can hear the teeth gnashing in every English Lit department
    in the English-speaking world.

    Many song lyrics are great poetry. (More academic gnashing).

    Schiller’s Ode to Joy was set to music in one of Beethoven’s
    symphonies. I ran across a hardcover translation which I
    unfortunately lost, and have not been able to recover on the
    net. Here is the last stanze, as I remember it:

    Joy is drunk by all God’s creatures
    Straight from Earth’s abundant breast;
    Good and Bad, all things are Nature’s,
    And with blameless Joy are blessed.
    Joy brings mirth and wine her gladness
    Makes the universe her zone,
    From the worm who tastes Spring’s madness
    To the Angel near God’s throne.

    I think one would be hard put to assign any “depth” to that
    poem in the modern academic sense that “depth” is applied
    to James Joyce.

    See above re “enigma”.

    All such answers include an arbitrary element, but allowing for
    differences in personal taste IMO “more” should include at least
    those who earned a high school diploma without social promotion..
  14. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    So you eliminate a huge fraction of the earth's population? And that's just in our era! What about 100 years ago, when more than half of our species didn't have that certificate? Or 200 years ago, when the figure would have been more than 90%? Or any time before the invention of the printing press catalyzed universal literacy and public education, when you might go through your whole life without ever meeting anyone with a formal education?

    Is art only for the lucky, the wealthy, or the people of your own era? Most of the people who attended the plays of Shakespeare--your reference standard--in his own time were illiterate and had never attended school.
  15. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    Did someone say Carroll was a great poet?
    Lewis Carroll?
    A great children's writer, undoubtedly, but not a great poet.

    His poems were usually parodies, or nonsensical.
    Funny, but not great poetry.
  16. chimpkin C'mon, get happy! Registered Senior Member

    I think Fraggle just likes Carrol, didn't say he was great.
  17. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    No, It was NCDane.
    "Seuss I am too old for. Carroll and Nash are IMO great poets"

    By great, I think he means great as in very enjoyable.
    Or maybe not.

    In order to read Dr Seuss you have to buy a Dr Seuss book.
    He did something about a cat in a hat I believe.
    All the best known poets died before the ligature of extended copyright began. No poet will ever be famous again.
    Who buys poetry?

    Nash was clever. And funny too. He was born ages ago, meaning that you can get all his works at the click of a mouse.
    Which he doesn't mind now that he is no longer around.

    The Centipede

    I objurgate the centipede,
    A bug we do not really need.
    At sleepy-time he beats a path
    Straight to the bedroom or the bath.
    You always wallop where he's not,
    Or, if he is, he makes a spot.

    Makes a spot.heh heh. That nails it.
    But every line is funny. That's hard to do.

    Carroll was clever too. A mathematician.
    He started with a premise, and followed the logic through.
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2011
  18. NCDane Registered Senior Member

    No, I did not eliminate it. The qualifier "at least" means there may
    be many more.

    Upon more reflection I do not rule out including all who are literate,
    although the distractions of electronic media have greatly reduced
    the amount of reading done for pleasure. Before such media was
    availble even the illiterate appreciated drama as during Greek, Roman
    and Elizabethan times. I suppose even a preschool child might appreciate
    some literary works, such as by Carroll.

    The number of people who were literate and also read for pleasure
    would certainly have been much less in earlier times.

  19. NCDane Registered Senior Member

    You heard me right.

    Parody is no bar to literary greatness, and neither is simplicity.
    I would substitute the word "obscure" for "nonsensical", and
    recall my citation of The Tyger as an example of how obscure
    language in a poem may even add to its artistry.

    As for Carroll's great prose, well, my earlier metaphor should
    be good for a second round: James Joyce could not carry
    Lewis Carroll's jockstrap. As soon as the English Lit faculties
    of the world get their sh*t together, and realize it, maybe
    people will be encouraged to read again, rather than driven
    away in hordes.
  20. Hey Frag I recently who breaks your limit of what "level" non-natives can reach in a language. I don't his first name but his last name Conrad his native tongue is Polish and he reach level 10 on your scale in English and that was his third language. Shocked?
  21. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Joseph Conrad (1857–1924), born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski. He began to travel at age sixteen and eventually settled in England, becoming fluent in our language although he always spoke with a Polish accent.

    He is considered one of the most significant English-language writers--since he's another of Mrs. Fraggle's favorites I'm sure NCDane will find an excuse to belittle him. His most famous novel today is perhaps Lord Jim, because it was made into a movie starring Peter O'Toole. But his shorter work "Heart of Darkness" is universally listed as one of the greatest works in English and was liberally transformed into the film "Apocalypse Now" by shifting the time and place from the imperial era in Africa to the Vietnam War.

    My scale needs to be revised, or at least clarified. It may be reasonable if by a "word" we mean a "uniquely spelled word." That will include plurals, possessives and verb inflections, doubling the vocabularies of everyone who speaks English, and multiplying it by a much larger factor in Spanish or Russian. It also makes it possible to use a computer to count the number of words in any writer's work.
  22. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    And his The Secret Agent is also generally regarded as the first example of the spy novel. No Conrad, no James Bond...
  23. so does that man agree with me, that he is at level 10 on your scale? (btw I hope to eventually get to level 10 on your scale in Italian

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