Am prompted to start this thread, by elements of the “Grammatical Gender” thread on GQ – mods, please move this one, if that seen as appropriate. I don’t think I’ve previously posted on this topic.
It will be clear that I’m no learned expert on language matters; but anyway, I was reading quite a while back, a book by a British author about his experiences during a spell of working in Malaysia. This guy was, like me, absolutely not an erudite languages scholar: however, his attempts to learn a bit of the Malay language gave rise to some reflection on his part.
He was struck by how the language seemed to him, to tackle its job mostly in a simpler way, than did English, or any other European language with which he had any acquaintance. No tenses for verbs; no alteration of word-endings according to the word’s role in the sentence; no definite or indefinite articles; and IIRC, no plurals (as with Japanese, per the “Grammatical Gender” thread). This simplicity required more figuring-out of things from context, than happens with European languages; but the author considered that so long as one had an average amount of common sense, the figuring-out-from-context was not that difficult.
He went on to ponder whether Eastern languages generally – taking Malay to broadly share traits with others (which one gathers it does, to a good extent) – are more sensible creations, than European languages of the Indo-European family; with the latter’s “baggage” of fussy and elaborate grammar, being really not necessary: in that figuring-out-from-context can take one a very long way, without requiring extreme effort?
I just wonder what people more learned about languages than the book’s author, or me, would think about the above – very-widely-generalised – idea? (I’m aware that languages are quirky things which grow slowly in unpredictable ways, with logic / good sense / efficiency not necessarily a priority; and also, that some Eastern languages are – however simple their grammar – tonal ones, which makes them hideously difficult to learn for many European-language-speakers.)