December 11, 2010

More Mandatory Finnish Content

Taksin Nuoret writes:
Ever since December 2001, when the results of the first PISA survey were made public, the Finnish educational system has received a lot of international attention. Foreign delegations are flocking to Finland, in the hope of discovering Finland's secrets.

The explanation widely accepted is that the Finnish educational system is better. For example, the following aspects have been pointed out:
  • Schools routinely provide tutoring for weak students.
  • Each school has a social worker ("koulukuraattori").
  • Substitute teachers are often provided when the teacher is ill.

Damn, why didn't anybody in the U.S. ever think of having substitute teachers? 

Anyway, Nuoret goes on to make the argument that perhaps Finnish is an easier language for kids to learn in than many other languages. He notes that Estonians, the other Finno-Ugric-speaking country, also do better than expected on PISA, and that Swedish-speakers in Finland do a little worse than Finnish-speakers on the PISA, even though Swedish-speakers have larger stock portfolios.

Arguments that one language is better than another for thinking about something have been around a long time. For example, maybe the poor reading performance in Latin American countries has something to do with the how it normally takes more letters and syllables to say something in Spanish than in English, as you can see by noting bilingual signs and the like. Puerto Ricans make up for the extra syllables in spoken Spanish by talking faster, but perhaps it's hard to read faster. I don't know.

We don't seem to have made much progress over the many years I've been listening to language theories like these at figuring out how to evaluate them. I like Nuoret's argument because he at least comes up with two pieces of evidence from the PISA results. That's only two pieces of data, however.  Yet that's still about twice the average amount of data presented in these types of discussions of whether one language is more efficient for thinking than another language.

87 comments:

Anonymous said...

A good case can be made that English is the best language to think in, with the peer competitors being the major power languages. I agree this is the best alternate hypothesis, suggesting that languages like English win by sheer numbers rather than cognitive optimization. Perhaps a world with 1 or 2 billion finnish speakers would be much more productive.

Hopefully Anonymous

http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com

Anonymous said...

I have studied Latin, French, Chinese, Thai, and Japanese I am extremely skeptical that any language is advantageous for thinking.
However, some languages are easier to learn to read and that may help children who aren't too smart.
English is not easy to learn to read, because the spelling was largely fixed a thousand years ago, but for some reason, the pronunciation of the letters drifted away from the Latin values.

Jukka said...

Several scientists have commented on the good PISA results (compared to say Sweden) saying it is due to low number of immigrants in Finland.

I do not have any text in english but at least Finnish mainstream newspapers published German etc. scientists saying such things.

Anonymous said...

Reading Nuoret's essay, he may be on to something. He says that the meaning of words in Finnish is more transparent due to their regular derivation. For ex. epilepsy is "fall-disease" in Finnish. Thus kids can learn science more easily. The same is true for many scientific terms in Japanese. Pneumonia (which means nothing in English) is 肺炎 (lung-inflammation) in Japanese. Many physics and chemistry terms are quite transparent to a Japanese child who has learned 2000 kanji.

Anonymous said...

How do English-speaking Finns in the Upper Midwest do? Is the secret to the success of the Finnish education system "have Finnish students"?

--Anonymous Coward

Henry Canaday said...

Wouldn’t those apparently convenient characteristics of Finnish -- tight correspondence between sound and spelling, broad use of native derivatives and avoidance of Latin, Greek or other exotic stems and affixes -- be consistent with the language of a people and land that had not inducted many foreigners or had a great deal of contact with foreigners?

The advantage of this language isolation seems to run counter to our usual expectation that contact with outsiders breeds a smarter culture. But maybe importing ideas and tools is good for a culture, but importing people or words can be different.

One test: Hungarians, at the crossroads of central Europe, also speak Finno-Ugric. Does Hungarian have the same simplicity and clarity as Finnish and Estonian?

Anonymous said...

WNs: Esperanto sucks.

Fred: No it doesn't.

WNs: Yes it does.

Truth: What difference does it make if you crackers aren't having any children in the first place?

Anonymous said...

"Schools routinely provide tutoring for weak students."

I think this is a good idea myself. Some kids that fall behind might not be as smart as their classmates, but they still want to be able to master the material. This would at least give them a chance at one-on-one instruction if they are having problems in one subject without holding the whole class up with their questions (that they may be ashamed to ask in front of their peers for being seen as "slow", etc).


Im sure I'll have some rocks thrown at me for that opinion though. For the most part, I think, like most of the hbd-realists, that the Finns do well because they are smart and generally well-behaved. In short, because they are Finnish.

Indy said...

I find that the best way to think about this issue is probably to step away from human complexity for a moment and focus initially on the continuing evolution of computer programming languages. I think most programmers would agree that different language structures fit different programmers and different projects better than others.

It's not just about speed or ease or personality quirk - there's a certain inherent tri-part (language structure-program function-software architect thinking stlye) level of compatibility. Those who are "fluent" in multiple programming languages are often able to know, very early on, which one is best suited to the task.

Now, is it so difficult to believe that it's at the very least plausible that there's a human cognitive ability analogue to all this with human language?

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty skeptical on the influence of language on mental ability in general, but one aspect that might make a difference is that the Finnish alphabet is just about the most phonetic/regular in the world, with one letter for each sound, double letters for long sounds, etc., so that once a kid learns all the letters and gets a bit of practice, it's almost impossible to mis-spell anything ever again.

Contrast this to the chaotic English spelling rules, so that English speakers (at least those in my generation) have "spelling tests" year after year in school, and even "spelling bees", which would be completely non-sensical in Finland.

This regularity in spelling would at a minimum allow more classroom time to be devoted to other, more challenging subjects.

I think the Estonian alphabet is equally phonetic. But then so is Turkish, and Turkish kids don't seem to have done all that great overall in the PISA test.

So it seems to me that, aside from the language itself, a relatively simple spelling system that matches up one-to-one to the sounds of the alphabet makes teaching "the first two r's" easier, but may not have a major effect overall on academic performance.

At the other extreme, though, a situation of diglossia, as in Arabic, wherein everyone speaks a local dialect all day but has to learn a very different variety of the language for academic use, probably has a lasting negative impact on overall academic performance.

Canadian Cincinnatus said...

As an Estonian Canadian who just came back from an extended trip to Estonia I can say that the PISA results made a big splash with the Estonian media.

As somebody who is fluent in both Estonian (which is very similar to Finnish) and English, I am not sure I buy the argument that it is easier to reason in a Finno-Ugric language. I certainly have not noticed this. What I have noticed, and what has been much remarked, is that Estonian is a much more difficult language to learn than English, with many more declensions and conjugations). Perhaps having to learn all these extra grammatical nuances plays a part.

One local told me that he had heard that the Estonian results were artificially boosted because they over-represented the elite public schools and under-represented the run-of-the-mill schools (let alone schools for the Russian minority). If this is true than the PISA results are not completely representative for Estonia across the board.

On the other hand, I think there is something to be said for inequality in education. Take science and math. In our modern world, who really needs to know science well? Only the 10-20% of the students who go on to become scientist, engineers and medical professionals. The rest only need a decent overview to understand what is going on in science. In other words, it is only really important that the top students get an excellent grounding in science and math. The egalitarian No Child Left Behind policy of the US (and Canada) wastes precious educational resources on people who don't really need to be well grounded in science and holds back those who are gifted.

I think this has long been the secret of the Japanese and German school systems. They are not egalitarian. The students who are gifted in science and math get intensive training and those who are not academically inclined go into a comprehensive and excellent apprenticeship program. Everybody benefits. And test scores benefit because the non-academically inclined are out of school early.

In North America we don't run our schools this way because we are simultaneously too egalitarian and too elitist: too egalitarian for the aforementioned reasons and too elitist because we have a snobbish disdain for non-academic pursuits (i.e. apprenticeships being popularly considered to be programs for dummies).

Canadian Cincinnatus said...

As an Estonian Canadian who just came back from an extended trip to Estonia I can say that the PISA results made a big splash with the Estonian media.

As somebody who is fluent in both Estonian (which is very similar to Finnish) and English, I am not sure I buy the argument that it is easier to reason in a Finno-Ugric language. I certainly have not noticed this. What I have noticed, and what has been much remarked, is that Estonian is a much more difficult language to learn than English, with many more declensions and conjugations). Perhaps having to learn all these extra grammatical nuances plays a part.

One local told me that he had heard that the Estonian results were artificially boosted because they over-represented the elite public schools and under-represented the run-of-the-mill schools (let alone schools for the Russian minority). If this is true than the PISA results are not completely representative for Estonia across the board.

Polistra said...

Spanish and Finnish both have highly consistent and easy-to-learn spelling systems, and both use roughly twice as many syllables as English for the same sentence. So any difference in reading ability between these two languages must be caused by something besides the structure of the language.

Truth said...

Hey, I hear you're a virtual GOD in Liechtenstein also!

Anonymous said...

The Chinese lack a phonetic language. Do they think in chicken scratch, or Pinyin? And just how does the OECD translate a test into 150 different languages and make the reading sections equally challenging?

But never mind that: I'm hoping the White Left in America eventually figures out from the latest PISA scores that they are going to lose their prosperous crunchy lifestyles in the US if they continue their crusade to debase our population with simple minded so-called indigenous people from Latin America. Once the Chinese have picked our country clean of its intellectual property and industry, they will stop buying our worthless government bonds, backed up by the good faith and credit of day laborers, drug mules, Mariachi singers, and unwed teen mothers.

Then its no light rail for you, Picabo and Dakota.

The Asian of Reason said...

Well, Mandarin Chinese, being an ideographic language, is one of the hardest languages to learn in terms of reading and writing. Yet despite this "handicap", the Chinese do...rather well, no? And Spanish one of the easiest languages in the world to learn, sorry.

What's interesting is that even though Finland does well in the PISA, it does horrible in IQ 3sd+ competitions such as the IMO.

http://www.imo-official.org/year_country_r.aspx?year=2010

Finland, which fielded an all white team placed behind Ivory Coast, which fielded an all black team. So while average education may be superb in Finland, they clearly are not doing so well training their most gifted kids.

TH said...

The argument that the meaning of Finnish words is more transparent to native speakers than is the case with e.g. English or Swedish is a plausible one. As the author says, "the number of roots needed to reach comparable vocabulary is lower in Finnish than in, say, English, Spanish, French or Italian". In American movies and tv shows, there are often jokes about someone not knowing the meaning of some "big word". These jokes are difficult to translate into Finnish, because in most cases the meaning of the corresponding Finnish word is apparent to everybody.

However, contrary to what s/he says, Estonians did not perform particularly stellarly on the latest PISA tests. However, about 25 percent of Estonians are Russian-speakers who probably get much lower scores than Estonian-speakers.

The idea that longer words make a language more difficult is not plausible at least in the case of Finnish, which can have, and frequently has, very long words indeed.

One argument advanced as an explanation of the poorer performance on the PISA tests of Swedish-speakers in Finland is that many of them are from bilingual families (at least in Southern Finland, the majority of Swedish-speakers nowadays marry Finnish-speakers). This, however, does not explain why the Åland Islands, which is the most purely Swedish region in Finland, with very few bilingual families, is at the bottom of Finnish test scores.

There's evidence for the better performance of Finnish-speakers from some other studies as well. In a 2008 study of math skills of twelve-year-olds (in Finnish), Finnish-speakers outscored Swedish-speakers by 0.32 SDs in Numbers, Arithmetic, and Algebra, and by 0.22 SDs in Geometry, whereas there was no difference between the two groups in the Information Processing, Statistics, and Probability subtest.

The criticism that differences in PISA mathematics and science tests may, to some extent, be explained by differences in literacy is a valid one. Some Finnish mathematicians have criticized the PISA tests as giving a very inaccurate portrayal of the math skills of Finnish students.

michael farris said...

If you're looking for a linguist to debunk the idea that Finnish is easier to think in then you can count on me.

Finnish does have one of the most transparent orthographies (spelling systems) in the world just as English has one of the most dysfunctional, but writing is not language.

the efficiencey of Finnish spelling does mean that
a) less time has to be spent teaching children to read
b) teaching them to read is also teaching them the standard language and pronunciation (so that writing and speaking reinforce each other - not the case in English)
c) certain kinds of learning disabilities are less liable to appear.

I did once read about research on Finnish and Swedish speakers that was interesting (and may have mentioned before). Accident rates were compared in Finnish speaking and Swedish speaking factories in Finnland and the rates were consistently higher in the Finnish speakin factories. The authors surmised that it might be related how spatial locations are expressed in Finnish though a) the Swedish sample size was a lot smaller so the result might be something related to that and b) I don't know if they controlled for alcohol consumption (Finnish speakers consumer higher amounts than Swedes thought I'm not sure how Swedish speaking Finns slot in there).

Anonymous said...

So, based on the Shanghai PISA results, Chinese must also be a more efficient language to think in!

There you go. If we could only teach those Mestizo illegal immigrants Mandarin and Finnish they would all become geniuses.

Problem solved. Can I has my $100M now?

Anonymous said...

Huh. In the USSR, there was a stereotype that Estonians are kinda simple and dull. Mainly because they talked veeeeerrrry sllooowwly.

Anonymous said...

I also here it claimed that Northeast Asians are smart, especially in terms of spatial reasoning, because their languages are so DIFFICULT to learn. What it boils down to is that the elites do not really know why the Finns do well.

Lucinda said...

The other Finno-Ugric country is Hungary. That's where the "ugric" comes from.

DanJ said...

Much as I would like to think the excellent test results of our Finnish pupils are a product of our superior IQ or general blonde-ness, I think the real reasons are simpler.

a) Finland has risen from a dirt-poor backwater to a mostly successful industrial nation through education. Everybody agrees on that and want to see it continued.

b) Teachers in Finland are not well paid, but do have a high social status. University programs for training teachers are very competitive.

c) Our teachers get a lot more respect in the classroom than teachers in other Nordic countries.

d) Finland is a small nation of 5 million and fairly homogenous, in ethnical background and shared values.

e) Schools are audited to a rigid set of standards by the governing authority.

f) School bureaucracy is slow and schools do not get to latch on to every silly new educational idea before it fades away.


Incidentally, you are free to privately school or home-school your children if you like. There is some standardized testing that you must comply with. It is, however, very rare.

As for thinking in different languages, Finnish is a great language for work and technical stuff. It is precise and short and has a structure that helps you be logical about your work. This is just my personal view as a Finnish/Swedish bilingual, not the prevailing science.

These were interesting Finnish exposés, as any good Finn I am equally thrilled and embarrassed by all this attention, and must ask that it soon ends. Thanks Steve!

David Davenport said...

Hmm, a Japanese person once told me that it's hard to translate English language metaphors into Japanese.

I don't know whether a relative scarcity of Ingspeak metaphors helps or hurts clear thinking.

//////////////////////

I'm all for English language spelling simplification.

"Change the way words are spelled?" you ask.

May I remind everyone that many words have not always been spelled the way they are now, in either American or British English, so why not change 'em again?

Anonymous said...

The post suggests that extremely regular spelling is the advantage for students with Finno-ugric native languages, not that they are easier to learn.

In fact, the Finno-ugric family (Hungarian, Estonian, Finnish) is widely considered to be the very hardest set of languages in the world to learn, surpassing even Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Korean.

And as far as regular spelling goes, Spanish has spelling just as regular as Finnish. That doesn't seem to be doing much for Spanish speakers. English is as irregular as any language and the English speaking nations were among the first to have near universal literacy.

I'm going to stick with the obvious. Finns and Estonians are smarter than most other people for the same reason Koreans and Ashkenazim are: genetics.

Anonymous said...

You would think that a simple experiment or two could settle this language-thinking debate.

We have PET scans and other imaging devices that work dynamically. They can measure the glucose uptake of one's brain while it is thinking.

So let's have a someone solve a puzzle while thinking in Finnish and then in Swedish or Spanish. The language that burned the least glucose would be the most efficient.

Why speculate? Better just measure.

Albertosaurus

corvinus said...

Arguments that one language is better than another for thinking about something have been around a long time. For example, maybe the poor reading performance in Latin American countries has something to do with the how it normally takes more letters and syllables to say something in Spanish than in English, as you can see by noting bilingual signs and the like. Puerto Ricans make up for the extra syllables in spoken Spanish by talking faster, but perhaps it's hard to read faster. I don't know.

The same is true for German. I'm sorry, but I still think the problem is racial.

Theo said...

> perhaps Finnish is an easier language for
> kids to learn in than many other languages.

Finnish has a much more complex morphology than most, particularly European languages, has 15 grammatical cases (German: 4; English: none anymore), and is an http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agglutinative_language like Basque, Japanese, Korean, Turkish, many Tibeto-Burman languages, and Quechua. Nuoret essentially argues that one morphological peculiarity, the easy formation of new words by composition and derivation should be helpful for beginners. However, that's exactly the case with German, too, where you can whip up monsters like Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän in second (and we do, particularly in science and bureaucracy). Mark Twain made fun of that some time ago and wished for German to become extinct for being too difficult.

> maybe the poor reading performance in Latin American
> countries has something to do with the how it normally
> takes more letters and syllables to say something in
> Spanish than in English

Average German text length is longer than in English (French texts should be longer, too), yet Germans had no problems with reading or science so far, neither do the French.

Finnish immigration politics would be considered "racist" by other EEU countries, which should help the education system; hardly Arabs, Turks (think German PISA catastrophe), Mexicans, nor Blacks. Remember: Arab And Turkish labour immigration to the EEC consists almost only of unskilled or poorly skilled workers.


demographics of Finland
http://www.stat.fi/tup/suoluk/suoluk_vaesto_en.html

total: 5351427 (31.12.2009)

foreigners: 143256 (2008, 2,67% of the total above, only a tiny faction of Somalia, Iraq, Turkey mostly Russia, Estonia, Sweden etc)

asylum seekers etc: 34 380 (1973-2009, 0,64% of the total above)

Finnish citizenships granted: 3 413 (2009)

muslims: no numbers (must be a tiny subset of Religion/other: 1,3
cf also http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?frd/cstdy:@field%28DOCID+fi0054%29
Finnish Muslims have had difficulty maintaining all the institutions needed by a social group because of their small number)


btw: my last comment (on German issues, V. Weiss) didn't get posted for no good reason. It's your call, sure, yet I'm not so happy about that.

Rex Little said...

Does Spanish actually require more syllables than English? Or is it that the Spanish content of bilingual signs is written by people who aren't fluent enough in Spanish to find the most terse version of the concept they're trying to express?

Rob said...

Hmm, where's my Occam's razor - oh, there it is...now, let's see - Finland has better education results because it's full of Finns. How's that?

Warning: don't use this implement if you're in MSM, government employment, etc. It could end up slicing your career to shreds.

TH said...

Some New Zealand PISA results:

Reading test:

* Students identifying as Pākehā/European, who comprised 71 percent of all students, achieved an average reading score of 541 score points in reading literacy. Students identifying as Asian (14%) scored 522 points, which was still significantly above the OECD mean (493).
* Those students identifying as Māori (19%) and Pasifika (10%) scored 478 score points and 448 score points, respectively. This was below the OECD mean
.

Math test:

* Students who identified as belonging to Pākehā/ European (537) or Asian ethnic groups (529) performed strongly in mathematical literacy, achieving a score above the OECD average.
* The mean mathematical literacy score for students who identified as Māori (476) or Pasifika (446) was lower than the OECD mean (496)
.

Science test:

* Students identifying as Pākehā/European (mean score 555) had, on average, a very strong performance in scientific literacy. Students identifying as Asian (530) also performed strongly, achieving a mean score significantly above the OECD average.
* The mean performance of Māori (487) or Pasifika (448) students was lower than the OECD mean (501)
.

The performance of white New Zealanders was very similar to that of the Finns. This would tend to disprove the thesis that it is some special features of the Finnish language that cause the superior performance of Finnish schoolchildren compared to other European nations.

(The preferred term for whites in the New Zealand Ministry of Education report is Pākehā, which seems like a case of political correctness gone wild. Or do white New Zealanders refer to each other as Pākehā?)

josh said...

Perhaps the name "WikiLeaks" is a bit ill chosen,and thats why it attracts the feminist harridans. It sounds like a problem an older woman might have to wear a pad in her underpants for.Maybe something a bit more,er,dynamic. Like,I dont know,InYaFaceBitch! or ShitWeBeTellinYa! Something with a bit of pizazz? WikiLeaks? Very beta.White male supplicating beta. Oh,btw,Peyton Hills is nearing 1,000 yards. He is white...

Anonymous said...

Compare, for example:

* [Finnish] 'kaatumatauti' ('kaatua' = 'to fall', 'tauti' = 'disease')

and:

* [English] 'epilepsy'

A Finnish speaker who hears 'kaatumatauti' for the first time understands the word. An English speaker who hears 'epilepsy' for the first time probably doesn't (if he or she does not know Greek). (Note that 'epilepsia' is also used in modern Finnish.)
...
"At any rate, the results suggest that Finnish elementary school children benefit significantly from utilizing morphology in determining word meanings."


I am skeptical as this is the same in Hungarian (related to Finnish as the blogger points out) --- and the Hungarians don't seem to show the same results.

porszívó = "dust sucker" = vacuum cleaner

repülőgép = "flying machine" = airplane

cselgancs = "fake trip" = judo

cukorbetegség = "sugar sickness" = diabetes

etc etc

-Varangy

Anonymous said...

I happen to speak Romanian. Romanian orthography and indeed vocabulary were reformed root and branch very recently - the modern Romanian orthography is only about 100 years old and is almost perfectly phonetic. (There are a few situations where one must use context to help with pronunciation - for instance, sometimes a final 'i' is voiced and sometimes it palatizes the previous consonant.)

As a multilingual foreigner-cum-patriotic American, I find language essentialism naive, just as many other commenters have already noted. Over 200 years ago, Rivarol said, "Ce qui n'est pas clair n'est pas français." Was he right then but wrong now? I don't find French literary theory particularly clear, after all.

At minimum, it seems as though there are many more parsimonious explanations for Finland's high average in international academic batteries.

Baloo said...

This notion, that different languages cause people to think differently, is called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I once even did a cartoon on the subject.

Truth said...

"Truth: What difference does it make if you crackers aren't having any children in the first place?"

I'm a little confused, was that my contribution or yours?

Anonymous said...

"Reading Nuoret's essay, he may be on to something. He says that the meaning of words in Finnish is more transparent due to their regular derivation. For ex. epilepsy is "fall-disease" in Finnish. Thus kids can learn science more easily."

English got most of its abstract vocabulary - the kind of words that Anglo-Saxon farmers and soldiers wouldn't have had a use for - from Greek and Latin books. That was only natural. However, since the Renaissance many European nations have had periodic language purity campaigns during which bookish Greek and Latin words were replaced with local equivalents. For some reason English never went through such a purity movement, so most of its abstract vocabulary is still etymologically obscure to most of its speakers.

German examples of delatinization are fun because their meaning is sometimes transparent not just to Germans, but to English speakers too: the Universe is Weltall (world-all), dictionary is Woerterbuch (words-book), immigration is Einwanderung (in-wandering), impotent is machtlos (might-less), gluttony is Voellerei (full-ery), suicide is Selbstmord (self-murder), library is Buecherei (bookery), page (a word English got from Latin) is Seite (side), etc.

I think Chinese and Icelandic have moved the furthest in that direction, Chinese not solely for nationalistic reasons. European words are simply too hard for the Chinese to pronounce, so for example instead of hopelessly mangling the Latin-derived word "computer" they came up with their equivalent, which in Chinese means lightining-brain (lightning here stands for electricity, so it's really electric brain). The telephone is lightning-talk, etc.

"Contrast this to the chaotic English spelling rules..."

The pronunciation of every language is in constant flux. The only way to keep a language's spelling sensible through the centuries is through periodic state-led spelling reforms during which spelling is allowed to catch up with pronunciation. Russian, for example, has had two major spelling reforms (1708 and 1918) and many minor ones (the last one in 1956). German had a minor spelling reform just a few years ago. English never had anything of the sort, which explains its irregular, illogical spelling. Most of the world's major languages are governed by state-sponsored or state-run bodies like the Academie Francaise, Real Academia Espanola, etc. English has always been allowed to run wild in that sense. It's an exception to the European model of doing things.

Anon said...

"the efficiencey of Finnish spelling does mean that
a) less time has to be spent teaching children to read"

The hardest language on Earth to teach a child to read is, of course, Chinese. Now look at those Shanghai kids.

"This, however, does not explain why the Åland Islands, which is the most purely Swedish region in Finland, with very few bilingual families, is at the bottom of Finnish test scores."

Did the Åland Islands score lower than other provincial Finnish regions? In most countries there is a big city/countryside gap in IQ. Perhaps all the smart Ålanders have already moved to Helsinki and other big Finnish towns.

"Finnish has a much more complex morphology than most, particularly European languages, has 15 grammatical cases (German: 4; English: none anymore)"

The 's ending denotes a grammatical case (the genitive). Besides that and the nominative English has preserved vestiges of a third grammatical case, the dative, which are now only seen in some pronouns. "He" is nominative, "his" is genitive, "him" is dative (also accusative, but I think the -m ending was originally dative). Same with who, whose, whom.

"However, about 25 percent of Estonians are Russian-speakers who probably get much lower scores than Estonian-speakers."

I think that the mean IQ of ethnic Russians is likely to be very close to 100. The Russian Federation, which ethnically is slightly less than 80% Russian, has scored at 96 or 97 in the studies I've seen. The 20% of the population that is not Russian is mostly comprised of Turkic-speaking Tatars and Bashkirs, the peoples of the North Caucasus, native Siberians and recent migrants from Central Asian -stans. Every one of these groups tends to do less well economically than ethnic Russians. I think it's reasonable to assume that the mean IQ of the non-Russian population of Russia is roughly 90. I think Georgia had a mean in the high 80s in that Rindermann paper. Russia's North Caucasus region would likely score close to Georgia. I remember Lynn listing the Arctic peoples at 91. If the Russian nationwide mean is 97, the ethnic minorities comprise 20% and score at roughly IQ 90, then ethnic Russians would be very close to 100.

peter A said...

Well, for what it's worth, Chinese requires far fewer syllables than most languages to express most thoughts. For example the English - "if you don't see it, you'll regret it!" (8 syllables) is "bu kan houhui!" in Chinese (4 syllables). Spanish would be "Si no lo ves, lo lamentaras!" - 9 syllables.

corvinus said...

And Spanish one of the easiest languages in the world to learn, sorry.

One reason, I suspect, that Esperanto, Ido, and especially Interlingua (which is basically an attempt to create a grammatically-regular modern Vulgar Latin) were such flops is because Spanish is a decent enough substitute that people gravitate to that instead. Italian and Portuguese have much more irregularity in their verb conjugations and mangle their words' spellings more from the original Latin than Spanish does. French, of course, needs no introduction.

With the discussion about how Finnish and Chinese are so hard to learn, and Spanish so easy, maybe the difficult languages exercise the children's brains more than the easy ones, leading to higher IQs.

Theo said...

@peter A
- ... Well, for what it's worth, Chinese requires far fewer syllables than most languages to express most thoughts. For example the English - "if you don't see it, you'll regret it!" (8 syllables) is "bu kan houhui!" in Chinese (4 syllables). Spanish would be "Si no lo ves, lo lamentaras!" - 9 syllables...

German: wenn du es nicht siehst, wirst du es bereuen. 11 syllables... We must be slow learners.

@Anon
- ... The 's ending denotes a grammatical case (the genitive). Besides that and the nominative English has preserved vestiges of a third grammatical case, the dative...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_case:
- Modern English has largely abandoned the inflectional case system of Indo-European in favor of analytic constructions.

I think we're splitting hairs here. Greek, German, or the Balto-Slavic languages preserve a system of declension patterns that got lost in modern English.

Anonymous said...

Latin American students do poorly academically because they are brain-damaged from malnutrition and don't have access to any kind of proper school. Simple as that. Maybe if American corporations with the full support of the U.S government didn't rape and exploit the continent even worse than Pizarro did taking away all the production and resources of these bastard countries, and not reinvesting any of the profits there, the problem would be solved.

It is amazing the self-delusion of Anglo white Americans. They believe that whole World lives in burgeois societies with impartial rule of law, so in their minds if the children of other countries are doing poorly academically orthe groown-ups not being as productive individually as they are, then it is because they are innately dumb or morally flawed. The World doesen't work that way. Most people in most societies in the World are handicapped in ways you cannot even fathom. From having to obey dictators that will kill you if you have any ideas that disagree with the regimen, to warlords that will kill and steal everything you have if you decide to be a productive burgeois entrepeuner, to myriads of obligations toward extended families as well as ancient traditions that severely limit your individual choices, most people in the World cannot live their full potential. Think of the Chinese who have a reputation fro intelligence since classical antiquity, who yet don't hav emany original ideas because their extended family obligations and tradiitions severely limit individual expression. There are millions of people in this World living with the same degree of personal freedom as slaves from the times of Marcus Crassus. Then, there is the issue of success. You need to put that in context. In the Anglo burgeois individualistic society, success means becoming rich through productive enterprise or through your talents. There are societies where productive enterprise is not only not a measure of success, but a sign of wimpiness. In many societies the productive are the exploited and being successful means being a member of the warrior class that exploits them. There are societies where little boys are taught the art of psychological intimidation and trained to steal and kill because that is what being successful means to them. The productive are suckers that are born to toil for them. Objectivists, they are not. This was common even among European peoples for a long time. Tacitus especifically said that the Germanic warriors considered it shameful for a man to win through sweat what could be earned with blood. In many societies, being successfuul means serving society and not achieving individual success. Think Mongol Khans who would openly distribute stolen wealth and his success was measured by how rich he made his people and not himself. The World is much, much more complicated than you Anglos believe it is. You live in a bubble and your society is very odd by World standards.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little confused, was that my contribution or yours?

It's called parody, sport.

TH said...

Did the Åland Islands score lower than other provincial Finnish regions? In most countries there is a big city/countryside gap in IQ. Perhaps all the smart Ålanders have already moved to Helsinki and other big Finnish towns.

Few Ålanders move to Mainland Finland, because they generally cannot speak Finnish. Many move to Sweden, but I think fewer Ålanders move out than is the case with similarly rural regions on the Mainland (Åland is one of the wealthiest regions in the country).

I couldn't find regional results for the newest PISA, but in the 2006 round the regional mean scores were very similar in all Mainland regions. When compared to mainlanders, Ålanders were behind by about -.2 SDs in Science, -.15 SDs in Math, and -.45 SDs in Literacy.

"However, about 25 percent of Estonians are Russian-speakers who probably get much lower scores than Estonian-speakers."

I think that the mean IQ of ethnic Russians is likely to be very close to 100
.

That may be, but I'd be surprised if native Estonians did not outscore minority Russians. It would be interesting to see data on this.

David Davenport said...

Well, for what it's worth, Chinese requires far fewer syllables than most languages to express most thoughts.

Chinese also has far fewer synonyms than English, from what I've heard.

Fewer Chinese synonyms may explain some funny Chinese to English translations, since some supposedly synonymous words or phrases really aren't.

In modern English, One cay say "Get out," or one can say, Egress via the exit."

The two sentences have different connotations. How would you express those differences in Chinese?

Anonymous said...

Finns are also brave and skilled when it comes to a fight. They taught the USSR a nasty lesson in the Winter War. Hail Simo Hayha!

Anonymous said...

Theo said... "Nuoret essentially argues that one morphological peculiarity, the easy formation of new words by composition and derivation should be helpful for beginners."

yeah, i caught that, too.

so, the finns (kippis!) did well on the PISA tests because finnish is an agglutinative language.

ah ha! THAT explains why the ugandans and blackfoot indians also did so well!!

hbdchick (~_^)

Anon said...

"Latin American students do poorly academically because they are brain-damaged from malnutrition and don't have access to any kind of proper school."

Oh, come on. There was lots of malnutrition in eastern and central Europe after WWII. How come the Germans, Poles and Russians who were born in 1945-1947 aren't behaving like third-worlders? And the underclass in the US is actually obese. Yet it scores abysmally on IQ tests.

"They believe that whole World lives in burgeois societies with impartial rule of law..."

How do you think bourgeois societies came about? *I* think that they were created by intelligent people. But you apparently think that intelligence cannot arise in societies that aren't bourgeois to begin with. In other words, you think that only unintelligent people could have created bourgeois societies and the rule of law from scratch. This logically follows from what you've implied above. Now, why do you think some unintelligent people WERE able to create bourgeois societies and others weren't?

"Most people in most societies in the World are handicapped in ways you cannot even fathom. "

Again, according to you, how did the un-handicapped societies remove their handicaps? I say "through innate intelligence". Do you have an alternative hypothesis?

"as well as ancient traditions that severely limit your individual choices"

Europeans have ancient traditions too. The Athenians had a democracy a 100 generations ago. Why do you think some ancient traditions tend towards law and order, while others do not?

Sideways said...

I've wondered how badly this effects Indonesians, who have, as far as I can tell, maybe one monosyllabic word in their entire language (ya, for yes, but that might also be a recent loan word like the few others they use). It's a simple language, but a pain in the ass to speak and write. And they don't speak as quickly as Spanish speakers tend to.

Indonesian text tends to take around 50% more space to say the same thing as English, and that's probably low.

Anonymous said...

Finland probably has less of an underclass than other European countries, so maybe that's why they have fewer low achieving students without being academic superstars.

Our nation’s Latino students perform at about the same level as the national average in nations like Turkey and Dubai.

African-American students are on par with the national averages in non-OECD countries such as Serbia and Bulgaria.


That's not bad. Maybe our school system is actually doing somethign right, if we can get African-Americans to do as well as Bulgarians and Serbians.

polymathblogger said...

Obviously how hard a language is to learn depends on how close it is to a language you speak fluently already.

There are probably slight influences on thought patterns based on which language is your mother tongue, and being fluent in several languages probably makes you a little smarter. (On the other hand, if you speak a language but not fluently, you can't speak and write as intelligently in that language as in the ones you are fluent in.)

Since thinking doesn't involve spelling, which is the main problem with English, English is an excellent language to think in because it doesn't have a lot of irrelevant baggage that other languages have (complex conjugations, genders attached to most nouns, etc.).

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said:

The World is much, much more complicated than you Anglos believe it is. You live in a bubble and your society is very odd by World standards.


And yet, so many non-Anglos want to get into the US. Seems that lots of non-Anglos want to live in that very odd bubble.

Anonymous said...

peter A said:

Well, for what it's worth, Chinese requires far fewer syllables than most languages to express most thoughts. For example the English - "if you don't see it, you'll regret it!" (8 syllables) is "bu kan houhui!" in Chinese (4 syllables). Spanish would be "Si no lo ves, lo lamentaras!" - 9 syllables.


Well, but muy count "you'll" is two syllables. So that makes 9 for English and Spanish I guess.

As to Chinese, some would use "ru2 guo3" at the beginning of that sentence, and I am pretty sure they would say "hui4 hou4hui3" for the remainder. They might also add "ni3" before "bu2 kan4" (bu4 changes to bu2 before another fourth tone syllable). They might also add "ba" or "ya" on the end to soften the tone of what they are saying.

So, the syllable count can approximate English.

Of course, Chinese does require planning in order to say most things, because all the adjectives describing a noun must occur before the noun. As in:

"This is my mother yesterday purchased cake" or "My mother yesterday purchased cake (is) delicious" (I put the copula in parens there because Chinese does not use the copula in such sentences, it uses stative verbs.)

Anonymous said...

pollymathblogger said:

Since thinking doesn't involve spelling, which is the main problem with English, English is an excellent language to think in because it doesn't have a lot of irrelevant baggage that other languages have (complex conjugations, genders attached to most nouns, etc.).


Hmmm, since Chinese does not have gendered pronouns, gendered nouns, verb tenses, conjugation, or declension, it must be an even more excellent language to think in.

Thus, if we teach Chinese to all those Mestizos we can turn them into geniuses.

I can haz $100M now?

Baloo said...

Corvinus, my experience is that Esperanto and most such artificial languages are a LOT easier to learn than Spanish or any natural language, because they were designed to be that way. Spanish has that rep among anglophones because, I believe, the spelling is much more phonemic than French and other languages anglophones are likely to study, and the pronunciation is also easier than most other likely-studied languages. And, for some historical reason that eludes me, Spanish seems to have more obvious cognates in English than French does, even. Having said all that, the verb tenses and godawful pronoun system are maddening.

So, Spanish is probably the easiest major language for English speakers to learn, but Esperanto is still a lot easier.

Anonymous said...

Note the small SD in Finland (80 vs 90 or 100 for most countries). You can increase your average by bringing up the bottom of the distribution -- i.e., having special tutors for kids who fall behind. At the high end Finland (pct. at Level 6 PISA) is nothing special.

Anonymous said...

We Anglos live in a bubble? If only.

Baloo said...

Oh, as for the time thing, it's indeed true that it takes a long time to say stuff in Japanese. Their words are long. This would certainly contradict the notion that terseness makes thinking easier.

I do think that language influences thought, but I'm sure in more subtle ways than a general 'making thinking easier.'

Anonymous said...

Latin American students are "brain damaged"? Whew, that's one good reason not to bring them in. Who needs a bunch of brain damaged immigrants flooding in? The author of that comment seems to think everyone visiting this blog is an "Anglo", which is laughable and makes me think he himself is one of the cognitively challenged.

Bantam said...

In the long term Finns might be handicapped by their lack of vibrant diversitude, which gives their Swede neighbors such merriment.

Truth said...

"It's called parody, sport."

I got that, but the question is; are you saying you don't agree?

BTW: The second line of your second hyperlink is classic!

Gc said...

"Schools routinely provide tutoring for weak students."

I did this tutoring in Finland. We all hated studying Swedish, which still is forced in Finland, hopefully not very long. At the beginning of the Swedish class some assistant teacher comes to the class door and says those and those come with her. It was little bit embrassing (even for me). Then the whole class was with some assistant teacher in some remote empty class with her or even with her assistant (some high school graduate maybe) in 2-3 students groups. You really had to pay attention and work all the time.

Anonymous said...

Most of these posts confuse several issues:
1. Is the language easy for school children to learn?
2. Is the language easy for foreigners to learn?

#2 is irrelevant.

1. Does the language have regular orthography?
2. Does the language have transparent morphology?

Finnish has both and #2 is important for children learning science and other subjects

Again, using Japanese, "catalyst" which is opaque to an American child is 触媒 shokubai (touch-mediate) to a Japanese. Diabetes is 糖尿病 (sugar-urine-disease). Like Finnish, these have to be easier to learn. It doesn't mean it's easier to think in these languages, but it does suggest that children have lower hurdles to jump in acquiring technical knowledge.

As for the guy who heard English metaphors are hard to express in Japanese; rest assured Japanese is chock-a-block full of metaphors, although they may not align perfectly with English.

Stopped Clock said...

If Spanish is harder to think in because it has more syllables, then Russian and Japanese would be worse. But we don't see chronic problems with people from these countries.

spacehabitats said...

People who live in Finland have to be smart enough to
A) produce and store enough food to last through the winter.
B) build shelters that will retain heat and not collapse in a blizzard.

These tasks were daunting enough that Finnish women figured out that it might be to their (and their offspring's advantage) to have a man around the house.

All of this led to a culture that valued geek males and "fatherhood", leading to higher IQ's and academic achievement for many generations.

Oh, and the Finns also had the wisdom to settle in a country that didn't share a land border with Mexico.

TH said...

Note the small SD in Finland (80 vs 90 or 100 for most countries). You can increase your average by bringing up the bottom of the distribution -- i.e., having special tutors for kids who fall behind. At the high end Finland (pct. at Level 6 PISA) is nothing special.

Bringing up the bottom of the distribution is undoubtedly one of the reasons for the higher mean scores of Finland and other nations/regions (Shanghai, S Korea, and Hongkong had smaller SDs than Finland). However, it is not true that Finland was "nothing special" at the highest levels of performance. In the reading test, the highest Level 6 was reached by one percent of all students participating, while in Finland it was two percent. Most top-performing countries had one or two percent at Level 6 (Singapore and New Zealand had three percent), while most countries in the study had zero or one percent (these are of course rounded numbers). Moreover, the second highest Level 5 was the 87th percentile in Finland, while it was the 93rd percentile for all countries combined.

Anonymous said...

My grandfather's family was Finnish and I could never twist my tongue around the few words he tried to teach me. I have a first cousin who spent a year in Finland as an exchange student and now speaks it fluently enough to trick natives and also speaks Estonian. I don't know if it's any easier or harder to learn than any other foreign language.

The Finnish-Americans I grew up with were no better or worse at school than anyone else. Most went to college, state universities mainly, and a few became professors or lawyers, while most became farmers or business leaders. A couple were drunks, one ended up in the state pen. Most were completely average.

One interesting thing is that the Finnish immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century had a reputation for fighting, sometimes with knives, and for hard drinking. I think a lot of that was overblown and other groups could get pretty rowdy as well, but my grandmother's family tried to warn her off my Finnish grandfather because of the reputation of the community. There was also some discrimination against Finns in the early years because some people thought they were Mongolian and not quite white. You do see some Eurasian looks in some of the Finnish descendants, kind of like the Russians, but I think some of it is probably the Sami influence.

Bonus Gift said...

Hungarian sounds a good deal like Finnish, and Estonian is very close to it, both in sound and form (i.e., linguistically they are similar). If it was the case that language was a key to this then Hungarians and Estonians would display similar results, ceteris paribus. The populations' relative homogeneity (i.e., lack of diversity) and educational system are likely to provide some of the answer to Steve's puzzle.
Regarding the education system, and possibly ironically, Finland some years ago adopted East Germany's kindergarten and related basic education system while Estonia and Hungary adopted more of the Russian/pure Soviet method (although now I'm not sure either uses it since the breakup of the Soviet Union). In short, it tends to be beneficial toward laying a decent foundation for the children of working parents that might not be able to (or willing to) help little Jukko or Aino. This I also suspect is at least part of the reason why the Finns have slightly overtaken the Swedish Finns as well. In short, Swedish Finns tended to be more economically well off than Finnish Finns and the school system has largely neutralized whatever learning environment advantage they had. Of course, the Swedish Finns have subsidized this, but such is ‘spreading the wealth around’.

Captain Jack Aubrey said...

"they will stop buying our worthless government bonds, backed up by the good faith and credit of day laborers, drug mules, Mariachi singers, and unwed teen mothers.

FTW!

All this talk about English spelling and pronunciation reminds me of the scene in Eddie Izzard's "Dress to Kill."

James Kabala said...

"For some reason English never went through such a purity movement"

There have been attempts:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Saxon_linguistic_purism

http://anglish.wikia.com/wiki/Technical_Words

Michael Hunt said...

Damn, why didn't anybody in the U.S. ever think of having substitute teachers?

Come on Steve, let's be fair. In most cases substitute teachers in the US are just babysitters.

Anonymous: "spelling bees", which would be completely non-sensical in Finland

The same is said for Italian.

Anonymous said...

Anyway, that Saami family only look Native American (to me) because of their tents. Their faces are European, if a bit odd looking. I've heard Joni Mitchell has some Saami blood; I suppose there's a resemblance.

jody said...

most of the psychology work i am familiar with suggested that the sapir-whorf hypothesis was not true. at best, it had a small effect in highly specific situations, but no general effect on all thinking. i last checked this over 10 years ago but i doubt much new evidence has come around to support sapir-whorf since then. this is an important topic in robotics, and psychology has mountains of excellent, highly useful data contributing directly to the question.

i used to be almost fluent in german, and the reason i stopped learning and practicing is due to genders for noun articles. they occupied FAR too much space in my head for my taste. learning the "gender" of every object on earth, just to speak and write correctly? with ZERO extra, additional information conveyed by the gender article? the simple articles in english, a an the, convey EXACTLY the same information as the german 3 gender system, with NO additional memorization or conjugation required. germans invent lots of new stuff, and now are stuck with this clumsy system where they gotta decide, out of thin air, what the "gender" of some newly developed inanimate technology object is, and then every german speaker has to agree on it, too. in fact, this was the primary way germans distinguished class among other, by seeing how many genders the other guy got wrong when talking. "Oh, that guy has no idea what the gender of a transmission is, LOL, what a trashy low class cretin."

spanish only has 2 genders, even that is archaic and stupid. a an the, period. as simple as it gets.

of course the flip side is german has few irregular verbs, and almost no irregular spelling. in fact, the government in germany literally controls the language, and every 10 years or so, proclaims official changes which everybody is required to obey. certain words will change spellings to be easier or more correct, certain punctuation will be altered or added or removed, new words will enter the lexicon in an official form, and so forth. english has none of that.

Harold said...

“Or do white New Zealanders refer to each other as Pākehā”

Yes we do. Pakeha is the common everyday word for white person in New Zealand. Some whites don’t like the term, mostly because they lend credence to erroneous folk etymologies in which it derives from words meaning ‘white pigs’ or some such.

As an aside, here are some lyrics from a famous song from the 60s:

“You take a little umu and you get it very hot,
You catch a little Pakeha and put him in a pot,
Cook him all up in your old home brew,
And what have you got? Kiwi Stew.”

An umu is an earth oven.

Heliogabalus said...

"You do see some Eurasian looks in some of the Finnish descendants, kind of like the Russians, but I think some of it is probably the Sami influence."

More likely it's just the native Finno-Ugric element. There are still a bunch of F-U languages spoken in Russia, around the Volga area (Udmurt, Komi, Mordvin and so forth). These peoples show the Eurasian appearance more strongly.

Modern-day Finns and Estonians are heavily mixed with Germans, Swedes and Russians, which is probably why they look like typical northern Europeans.

michael farris said...

"i used to be almost fluent in german, and the reason i stopped learning and practicing is due to genders for noun articles. they occupied FAR too much space in my head for my taste. learning the "gender" of every object on earth, just to speak and write correctly? with ZERO extra, additional information"

Agreement categories like gender can be a pain when learning simple sentences where they don't seem to do very much. But they earn their keep by keeping complex sentences more transparent.
One of the reasons writing classes in English stress short simple sentences is that the mechanisms for joining sentences in english are either complicated or lend themselves to structural ambiguity (or both).

Short simple sentences in English are very easy to learn (by non-native speaekrs) but longer more complex sentences are actually more difficult in English than in many other European languges. I've read sentences that take up half the page in Polish but which are completely clear. That's almost impossible with English.

There's no real basis for saying that any natural language (looked at in its totality) is any easier or more complicated than another. Different parts of different languages may be easier or more complex than each other.

Noun structure is more complex in Polish (no articles, but with 3 genders and 6 cases) but subordination is much easier in Polish.

srschirm said...

Thank you for another Finnish entry!

Renee Zellweger is also part Sami. Maybe that explains her interesting look.

keypusher said...

Spanish and Finnish both have highly consistent and easy-to-learn spelling systems, and both use roughly twice as many syllables as English for the same sentence. So any difference in reading ability between these two languages must be caused by something besides the structure of the language.

Exactly. If a Spanish-speaking society did well in some relevant measure, it would be easy to find characteristics of the Spanish language (which is really lovely AND easy to spell) that might help explain Spanish excellence.

Very few people in the world (me not included) know enough languages to even compare them intelligently.

Anonymous said...

i used to be almost fluent in german, and the reason i stopped learning and practicing is due to genders for noun articles. they occupied FAR too much space in my head for my taste. learning the "gender" of every object on earth, just to speak and write correctly? with ZERO extra, additional information conveyed by the gender article?

Genders are a problem for language-learners, but not native speakers. In terms of informatics, a three-gender language like German adds about 1.5 bits of memorization per noun. If the average noun represents 40-50 bits (5 or 6 bytes), that's nothing.

Having nouns of different genders makes it easier for speakers to juggle several nouns without getting confused about which pronoun refers to which noun.

In German, for instance, if someone asks you to choose a book or newspaper, you can say "Das nehm' ich" or "Die nehm' ich" and it will be clear which one you mean, because it's das Buch and die Zeitung. English "I'll take it" would be ambiguous.

Also, what Mike Ferris said. One reason German is sometimes thought to be a cumbersome, inelegant language is that it encourages long, complex sentences that are indeed cumbersome and inelegant, when translated over-literally into English.

Cennbeorc

keypusher said...

Spanish and Finnish both have highly consistent and easy-to-learn spelling systems, and both use roughly twice as many syllables as English for the same sentence. So any difference in reading ability between these two languages must be caused by something besides the structure of the language.

Exactly. If a Spanish-speaking society did well in some relevant measure, it would be easy to find characteristics of the Spanish language (which is really lovely AND easy to spell) that might help explain Spanish excellence.

Very few people in the world (me not included) know enough languages to even compare them intelligently.

Anonymous said...

Cennbeorc said:

In German, for instance, if someone asks you to choose a book or newspaper, you can say "Das nehm' ich" or "Die nehm' ich" and it will be clear which one you mean, because it's das Buch and die Zeitung. English "I'll take it" would be ambiguous.


Well, if you go around saying "I'll take it" of course it's ambiguous.

However, when I speak English I only say "I'll take it" when there is no ambiguity. Otherwise I will say "I'll take the book" or "I'll take the newspaper."

In Chinese, you can omit the noun but you would have to use the measure word, which will often serve to disambiguate the reference.

It's all about context.

The Wobbly Guy said...

I'm surprised nobody has yet mentioned one peculiar feature of the chinese language family (of which Mandarin is one) - the exact same sound with the same tonal inflection may have up to twenty different character representations, and interpreting a whole word phrase may require more brain activity.

Of course, this does not mean that people who learn the language become smarter. However, there is an eugenic effect - those who can master the language are probably smarter and can communicate more effectively, are generally more successful, and thus are more likely to procreate.

The hypothesis - all languages have an eugenic effect - the more difficult the language, the stronger the effect?

Maybe we can carry out a study on programming languages and see whether that applies, lol.

Anonymous said...

However, when I speak English I only say "I'll take it" when there is no ambiguity. Otherwise I will say "I'll take the book" or "I'll take the newspaper."

Well, of course. But there will be fewer cases of ambiguity in German, so you can use pronouns where English needs nouns. But pronouns are convenient, when they work.

The same is true of non-arbitrary, sex-based gender. If I say "She gave him the apple", it's fairly likely you will know who "she" and "he" refer to. A sentence like "It gave it the apple" (assuming English didn't make the animate/male/female distinction) would quite likely be ambiguous.

Cennbeorc

Anthony said...

Rex Little asks: Does Spanish actually require more syllables than English? Or is it that the Spanish content of bilingual signs is written by people who aren't fluent enough in Spanish to find the most terse version of the concept they're trying to express?

Nope - Spanish does require more syllables than English, in general. Bilingual signs in Spain are almost always wordier (or more syllabic) in Spanish than in English. The one exception I remember was on the Metro in Barcelona, where the English was longer, because they used the word "ambit" in Spanish and Catalan, which took about four or five words to express in English.

Anonymous said...

Spanish and Finnish both have highly consistent and easy-to-learn spelling systems, and both use roughly twice as many syllables as English for the same sentence.

I beg to differ. People's exhibit A: the manual for my Philips HD9120 steam cooker. There are 7 1/2 pages in English, 7 1/4 in Spanish, but only 6 1/4 in Finnish.

If I could be arsed to dig up more manuals, I'm sure the results would be similar.

Raimo said...

A school building was fenced off with barbed wire in Espoo, Finland in 1908 (see the picture in the link). Swedes fenced off school buildings with barbed wire, in order to ban children the access to a school.

The Swedish government was responsible for the most iron ore the Nazis received. Kiruna-Gällivare ore fields in Northern Sweden were all important to Nazi Germany.

These massive deliveries of iron ore and military facilities from Sweden to Nazi Germany lengthened World War II. Casualties of the war have been estimated at 20 million killed in Europe. How many of them died due to Sweden's material support to Nazi Germany, is not known.

http://www.thoughts.com/raimo/case-sweden

www.thelocal.se/28470/20100819/
"I know about Sweden genocidal tendencies toward Finland. I know about Finnish Winter War and I know about putative neutrality of Sweden (Just to remind Swedes, needs of Nazi military industry brought wealth to Sweden).

I think that demands of Swedish minority of Finland are outrageous and arguments and insane. They are just symptoms of inherit Swedish racism toward Finland."

We have compulsory Swedish because Finland is not a democracy.

The oddest thing for me as an immigrant from a 'Western' country to Finland is how Finland-Swedish speakers keep insisting on the fact that THEIR peculiar and odd dialect of Swedish somehow binds Finland not only to Scandinavia, but ALL of western civilization, as if Finnish by itself in Finland would automatically place Finland within the same group as Azerbaijian, Tajikistan or Uzbekistan. I challenge this ethno-centrist and -extremely- outdated view. The Finnish language is a bridge to other western countries like Estonia and Hungary, and Finnish is a Nordic, Scandinavian language. Finland-Swedes are only a bridge to a bygone era when the coast of modern Finland was colonized by Sweden.

Finland-swedes are the most pampered minority on Earth. (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/25/international/europe/25finland.html) Millions of Euros a year in tax revenues go to propping up the archaic Finland-swedish language and culture. People that speak Finnish, whether they were born in Joensuu, Mogadishu, Phuket or Dallas such as myself are denied career advancement in the upper echelons of Finnish industry and government due to the fact that knowledge of Finnish is considered a "disadvantage" due to the fact that we would not be serving the minority and their language.

Swedish should be removed as an official language in Finland and made a minority one (which in reality it is) like Saami. It should have the same status in Finland as Finnish does in Sweden. A municipality should be bilingual only when the minority language is spoken by 20 percent of the population (EU recommendations), not the ludicrous 6 percent or minimum 3000 speakers! This leads to ridiculous situations, such as in Vantaa, with nearly 200000 inhabitants, translating all government documentation into Finland-Swedish because of the 3000 (or 1,5 % of the population!) speak Finland-swedish.

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