PinkShinyRose wrote:I don't think large vocabulary is a positive thing. There is not much difference between what languages can express, but redundant vocabulary, as opposed to redundant meaning in texts, should make it less likely a text can be interpreted with only half a dictionary (if 'neither' and 'nor' are instead both represented by 'not' it would be more likely the words meaning can be inferred from context).
It depends. A larger vocabulary carries more potential than a smaller one. The more ideas you've defined, the more ideas you can express. I prefer the subtle differences between, say, dusk, sunset, evening, nightfall, twilight, gloaming, eventide. They would not be great distinctions for future scholars. But if language is properly an efficient exchange of cold syllogisms, I'd rather take a vow of silence. I think the redundancy here is justified.
Besides, who's to say that other languages -- take Spanish for having 4 words for "the" -- don't have more redundant vocabulary?
I'm not sure about the body of literature: the language is very young, the number of literate native speakers is favourable, but Spanish is older and has more native speakers. Hindi, Arabic and Portuguese are older and have only slightly fewer speakers (although the case for Hindi is vague as some Indian literature is probably in English). Modern standard Chinese is young and has relatively low literacy rates so it's probably slightly lower on total literature.
Oh, yes. English Literature does have phases from England and America. Perhaps neither is the equal of Russian or French high literature, but between them a remarkable variety of literature exists. To my knowledge, there's not a great deal of, say, Portuguese Science Fiction, or Hindi murder mysteries. (I would love to be corrected.) Arabic is a good contender. But they're missing a lot of works English has picked up by translation.
I don't see how current number of speakers has any use beyond the literary body size when assuming collapse of civilisation.
I imagine that a larger society, like English society, would have more to preserve than a smaller one, like Portuguese.
Influential texts have translations in all major and medium sized and most minor languages to the point they're even translated to Dutch. Obscure texts are usually only available in their native language, but usually less relevant in these situations. I guess you can say something about intermediate importance texts but they tend to be translated to all major and most medium sized languages (including those mentioned for literature body).
Maybe it's only a marginal concern after all. But there are very few modern books that don't get English translations. Would the future miss much Spanish literature if you gave them English? I imagine they'd miss more English works than Spanish works if you could only give them one.
The only thing I would say favours English is the body of scientific literature, but increasing numbers of articles are published in standard Chinese so that advantage may not last long. I guess the question is whether fall of civilisation is imminent.
I'm going to switch tack and try defending Chinese now. (It is my second language.)
-Ancient Chinese texts compose a large portion of ancient texts still available to us. (And they are not so hard to read if you understand modern Chinese. Rather like reading Shakespeare.) Many of these texts are of a kind hard to find in native languages. (English does not have a big translated body of, say, what Mesopotamian literature remains to us.)
-Chinese carries a growing body of science and math papers.
-Chinese, as a language of import for thousands of years, might be the best candidate for a language for humans to be understood by. If we were trying to tell the future what living in the last millennium was like, Chinese may be the best language for doing so.
It occurs to me that alphabetical languages, like English, may have another upper hand by being alphabetical. I suspect English would be much easier to learn than many other languages.
"The inward skies of man will accompany him across any void upon which he ventures and will be with him to the end of time." -- Loren Eiseley