Wolfgang Schulze W.Schulze at
Sat Mar 19 12:14:58 UTC 2011

Dear Alex,
let me just ask one thing: Where did you get the 'German' word 
"Wuetschwunder" (for contusion ?) from? Being a native of German, I've 
never heard this term, and I doubt whether it's current among German 
children either. Any reference for this word? By the way: The German 
equivalent of contusion would be 'Prellung, Erguss, Quetschung', coming 
close to English bruise.

Am 19.03.2011 10:39, schrieb alex gross:
> Suspect some languages may have problems becoming more versatile due 
> to unconscious esthetic factors, for instance a preference in English 
> for high-flown latinate names over more basic equivalents, even when 
> such equivalents might be theoretically available. Which of course can 
> lead to greater "complexity," though not in a positive way. Gave some 
> examples of this in a 1987 interview on translating medical terms 
> across Chinese, English, and German:
> "A. Take the two bones in our lower arm. The only names we have for 
> them today are ulna and radius. These are the 'scientific names,' the 
> ones medical people--and few others--learn. Those bones are important 
> to you every day, yet you have no everyday way of referring to them at 
> all. But there is clear evidence from historical linguistics that 
> these bones once had other names. The ulna was once called the 'el,' 
> the radius possibly something like the 'spoke.' We know about the 'el' 
> from Seventeenth Century poetry (maid to lover: 'if I give you an 
> inch, you'll soon take an el') but also from modern German, where the 
> words are die Elle and die Speiche."
> "Even in modern English the place where the 'el' makes a bend or 'bow' 
> (sich beugt) is called the elbow. In Chinese these words translate as 
> foot-measure bone (close to the meaning of 'el') and rowing bone. All 
> bones and all locations in the body have similar down-to-earth names 
> in Chinese. Which people is likely to be on better terms with their 
> bodies--one that has names such as these or one where everything is 
> linguistically off-limits except to doctors? German continues to a 
> better job here even today with such words as Gehirnhautentzündung and 
> Harnröhre for meningitis and urethra.
>    "Q. It also occurs to me that a German child could understand words 
> like Riss- und Wuetschwunder, whereas an English-speaking child would 
> not understand 'lacerations and contusions.'"
> Full text of this piece is available at:
> All the best to everyone!
> alex
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Tahir Wood" <twood at>
> To: <FUNKNET at>
> Sent: Friday, March 18, 2011 8:07 AM
> Subject: [FUNKNET] Versatility?
> In the wake of all this discussion about increasing complexity, I 
> wonder if anyone here has thoughts on versatility. Does language 
> become increasingly versatile?
> Tahir
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*Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schulze *


Institut für Allgemeine & Typologische Sprachwissenschaft

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