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Are Some Languages Better than Others?$
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R. M. W. Dixon

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198766810

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198766810.001.0001

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The limits of a language

The limits of a language

Chapter:
(p.173) Chapter 8 The limits of a language
Source:
Are Some Languages Better than Others?
Author(s):

R. M. W. Dixon

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198766810.003.0008

Each language has its areas of complexity. We find eight genders in one, fifteen cases in another, five past and three future tenses in another. Why should not every language include all of these? The only limits on a language are in fact the limitations of its users. The human mind is not boundless in its abilities. It can only deal with and process a certain amount of data. No brain could handle more than a fraction of the grammatical detail summed up across all languages. Each language has just a selection of the total array of grammatical systems found world-wide. The second part of this chapter examines the claim that anything which can be said in one language can be rendered—in an intelligible and reasonably straightforward manner—into another. Examples are quoted to show that this is not true. The final section examines the extent to which one person can achieve fluency in several languages.

Keywords:   grammatical systems, cognition, human brain, vocabulary. mood, causatives, multilingualism, Dyirbal

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