But does it reflect on the strength of the English language that these concepts are so easy to express, if you should ever need to say them?
Once in a while, in real life, I'll hear somebody say:
"Oh, __________ (insert name of more dominant language) is just clearer / more flexible / more powerful than __________ (insert name of less dominant language)."
Well, I say that can be both true and untrue, but mostly or typically untrue.
For most of my 20's, 30's, 40's, and even part of my 50's I subscribed to the linguists' (and anthropologists'!) party line: "Every language (respectively culture) is just as good as every other".
I think this was very needed, given where "the Western World / Science" was coming from.
There was a time in the Western world, for example (as you undoubtedly also know), when Latin and Greek were the two "best languages", then the modern Western European languages were next best, and finally came all the other languages.
In fact, there were stages in the understanding of linguistics where inflection was seen as the highest form of language development. This is because Latin and Greek were highly inflected, European languages a bit to a lot less, and pidgins very little. Using such a scale of assessment, Chinese scores pretty badly!
With positions like this, I think it was essential for both linguistics and anthopology to really wipe the slate clean, and say "Hey, let's start studying each language (respectively culture) with much less historical baggage and cultural assumptions. Let's treat each and every language (respectively culture) as completely equal, when studying them."
Excellent! I supported it fully (and still do, as a basic principle).
But I (personally) feel that I've passed that point. I think I can "claim my unbiased credentials", i.e. my basic commitment to the principle that "all language (respectively cultures) are equal". As such, I feel that I dare to say it explicitly, if I perceive differences, positive or negative, in specific aspects of a language.
I see another area of "science" where this pattern occurred: in psychology, up to the 1950's there was a deep-seated belief that men were superior to women. From the 1950's to the 2000's, I lived and supported the position that men and women were ABSOLUTELY equal. I would get very, very angry, if I read of psychological studies which purported to prove otherwise. I suspected such studies of having a hidden (and evil) agenda, of preserving millenia-old prejudices, i.e. I suspected that proving sex-based differences was only another way of attempting to re-assert the superiority of the male sex.
But now, in the 2000's, I'm much more relaxed about this. This is because I believe (in the area of Science, in general terms) that this principle of essential equality is now accepted. Nowadays, if I read about such studies (i.e. attempts to see if there are sex-based differences), then I say to myself "Sure, why not. Maybe there ARE sex-based differences. If there are, let's learn about it". Of course, I would still be suspicious of conservative back-lash supporters continuing to try to use these sorts of studies to "re-assert the patriarchy" (what sort of language is that?!?!
), but I am no longer in principle
against such studies.
This is just a personal statement, of my own approach. I'm not trying to claim that it's "true" or "scientifically justified".
For another concrete example from linguistics:
Germanic languages (and many other Indo-European ones, but I can't speak as confidently about them in detail) provide the useful structure of relative clauses (following the thing being qualified)
- The man who came yesterday
The equivalent structure, provided by Mandarin, makes them attributive clauses (preceding the thing qualified):
- The yesterday came 的 man
The relative clause structure provides much more flexibility and clarity, as can be seen if we start stacking relative clauses:
The man who ate the food
=> The ate the food 的 man
The man who ate the food which was cooked on the stove
=> The ate the cooked on the stove 的 food 的 man
The man who ate the food which was cooked on the stove that I bought yesterday
=> The ate the cooked on the I bought yesterday 的 stove 的 food 的 man
One can see that in English one can keep stacking, for much, much longer. But in Mandarin, beyond the last sentence above, no listener would be able to understand what's going on any more (even the last sentence is already getting a bit tough).
Of course, the real answer is this: a) one almost never has to stack to more than 3 levels, b) no one would try and stack to more than 3 levels in Mandarin - there are simply other ways of saying it ("fronting", to use the technical term). But that doesn't detract from the basic point that English provides this structure, it's easy to use in the speaker's mind, and it's easy to understand, when a listener hears it.
So here, I feel quite comfortable about abandoning the "politically correct" line, and just saying "Hey, Germanic languages provide a superior way of handling these
particular structures / concepts.
I'm not saying that Germanic languages are inherently better in all respects or even in more respects, I'm just saying in this
And it's not just Germanic languages vs. Sinitic languages. It can be any two languages. Undoubtedly there will be structures and concepts which are much easier to express in Chinese than in Germanic languages. I just don't happen to know them because my Chinese is still so poor. [One that comes to mind is that the existence of singulars and plurals often forces a speaker of Germanic languages to make tedious and long sentences "a person or persons etc".]
So, to sum up, I do feel that quantifiers are more easily expressed in English than in Chinese, and perhaps comparatives as well.
But I guess we really do agree, as you yourself say:
>> It's just that the Anglophone mind is better attuned to hearing such an utterance
What you're used to, and attuned to, you can and do use. If you've never known it, then you never miss it. I don't think there are many Chinese girls lying awake at night, fretting over the fact that it's not that easy to say: "My boyfriend likes tennis more than your boyfriend likes soccer"