I'm new to linguistics (fresh off the boat) and am curious if there is some type of equation/field/sub-field that tries to quantify the conceptual similarity between distinct languages. Not just the difference between the syntax itself, but how much the the concepts conveyed by each language differ.

What got me thinking about this is that some languages (say Chinese vs English) seem to have evolved somewhat independently from each other. Presumably they both try to represent the same world, but what I wonder is how much variability there is in this representation. In other words, can we quantify the degree to which distinct cultures have conceptualized the world differently?

If a mod could tag this question, that'd be great!

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    Everybody else wonders about that too. If you could quantify concepts, you could quantify their similarities. Unfortunately, concept is a very vaguely-defined term, and therefore can't be quantified. Q.E.D. – jlawler Jun 9 '18 at 17:53
  • "Concept" is such a vague term. Cognitive scientists have been arguing all the time about what does "cognition" exactly entail and there's no definitive answer at all. Our understanding of the human brain is still very limited actually. – xji Jun 19 '18 at 14:50
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    Furthermore, the "language-specific concept" thing is more of a myth and definitely exaggerated. I speak both Chinese and English. As China is now a very modern country already, many of the daily words in modern Chinese are used exactly in the same way as their English counterparts (or directly translated/borrowed from other languages), and there isn't much of a difference in the concepts they represent either. I think you should be able to notice something similar if you speak multiple languages heavily used in modern societies. – xji Jun 19 '18 at 14:50

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