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Sunday, 31 August 2014

Literature: Through the Language Glass- Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages

Through the Looking Glass, Guy Deutscher 

Before I picked up this book, I had a vague idea of linguistics. 'Yeah, that's like the study of language and commas or something' and then I would go and misuse another apostrophe (much to the disdain of my English teacher!) 

...but then I remembered a quote from one of my favourite ever books, The Secret Life Of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd:

 “Did you know there are thirty-two names for love in one of the Eskimo languages?" August said. "And we just have this one. We are so limited, you have to use the same word.” 

I thought about that for a while. 

Does our own language limit us? 

When you are born an English speaker, you don't really think about the mechanics of it; why we have certain words and how they came to be.
What they represent (besides their literal meanings).
When you start to learn another language, it opens your eyes. 
I learn German, and I have learnt super fun words that we don't (but should) have in English.

They have a word for a song being stuck in your head, it's called an 'Ohrwurm', which literally translates to an 'ear worm'. I think that's tops!

 I found out recently that the Japanese have a word for a moment that is so beautiful but fleeting, a concept which I find heartbreaking for it's hybridisation of simplicity and complexity (I don't really know how something can be both but this just is):
 物の哀れ (mononoaware).

Do you ever have that feeling that there are 'simply no words' to describe something?
Other languages are ahead of us there; with words specifically for this purpose.
We just haven't come up with any yet. 

 In Through the Language Glass, Deutscher explores the convolutions of language, posing a question so important yet so avoided in the world of linguistics:

Does our language affect the way we think?

It might sound silly, but just ponder it a moment:

We see Italian as a romantic language... is that how we see Italians? 

In Australia, although we speak English, we often drop parts of the language and tend to be quite lazy with how we speak. 

Universally we are perceived as laid back and relaxed. 

German is ordered and organised. We also portray their language as rather blunt. Another common stereotype? 

You can see why this question is universally dodged: You have to explore the stereotypes, often offensive. 

I won't spoil it;

just be prepared to be fascinated. 
...And to turn into total linguistics nerds. 

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