•Excerpts of interest to the language lover•
Bonjour à tous!
In my recent free time, I have been pursuing my interests in languages and linguistics a little more determinedly. Whilst engaging in this, I have found several interesting quotes and excerpts and I thought: why not share them with you?
I hope you enjoy these little excerpts as much as I did.
Semantics, Culture and Cognition: Universal Human Concepts in Culture-Specific Configations – Anna Wierzbicka, Oxford University Press, 1992
A related, and striking, feature of the Anglo-Australian ‘ethnography of speaking’ is undoubtedly the widespread insistence on a reciprocal use of first names among people who are not intimates and differ in social status… Presumably, this is another manifestation not only of the Australian super-egalitarianism but also of the must-commented-on cultural assumption that people are all essentially the same and can be treated on a person-to-person basis as fellow human beings. p383
• I really like this quote because I feel that I can relate to it on many levels. As an Australian, using the first name (in most situations) feels right and natural to me, and I feel somewhat proud of our national sense of egalitarianism (although, obviously, in reality we unfortunately aren’t able to all be equal). •
The real question, then, is not whether meaning can be transferred from one language to another but to what extent it can be so transferred; not whether meaning is language-independent but to what extent it is. p7
• I really connected with this quote because I tend to agree with this line of thought. As a learner of many languages, there have indeed been times where I am able to see how translations change meaning even without the intention to do so. So much is dependent on culture and the words themselves; the individual meanings they convey and their meanings with other words. It could be seen as frustrating but I think of it as rather beautiful: like a language can have wondrous secrets that it shares with only its speakers. •
English distinguishes lexically between arms and hands, between fingers and thumbs, and between fingers and toes, whereas Polish doesn’t. p373
• Here is a funny one! This is actually the same in Czech, and no doubt in other Slavic languages as well. I never understood how one cannot see their hand as different from their arm – it is their HAND – it looks different! And the same with toes and fingers! But, alas, that is how it is! I also found out that Czech lexically differentiates between the front and back of the neck… So I suppose, to them, it is weird that we only have one word for it! Ah, languages! •
Legacies of Totalitarian Language in the Discourse Culture of the Post-Totalitarian Era: Newspeak in the Language of Politics in the Post-Totalitarian Era – The case of Bulgaria – Rossen Vassilev, Ernest Andrews, Lexington Books, 2011
This tendency to deform the meaning and sound of the word is typical of totalitarian regimes. As George Orwell saw it, “Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past…” as well as “the falsification of reality”. In his opinion, “it is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear”. p99-100
• I think that this quote speaks for itself. I am so interested in history, regimes, Europe, Russia, politics, propaganda, philosophy… And, given our current times, this quote definitely has significance for the present and future. •
The Story of Language – Mario Pei, Lippincott, 1965
Equally curious are formulas of greeting and leave-taking. “Good-by” is originally “God be with you.” Our “hello” is in the original Anglo-Saxon “be whole” or “be healthy.” We use it in opening a telephone conversation, and so do many other tongues which have borrowed it from us. German, however, also uses “Here Mr. So-and-so.” The British and Portuguese use “Are you there?” Spanish says “What is it? or “At the phone.” Italian says “Ready!” Russian says “I’m listening.” Japanese says “Say, say!” the implication being “By all means speak up, if it so pleases you.” p87
• I love this quote! It gives the etymology and historical usage of simple English phrases, as well as sharing how people in other languages greet each other on the phone. This further shows the differences in “translatability” mentioned Wierzbicka’s book – watching a foreign film “Pronto!” (Italian) would just be translated as “hello” into English, but there are a plethora of differences in subtle meaning. Also, in Czech it is similar to German, and in formal telephone calls they just say “Tady (surname here)” (Here “surname”) which I always found kind of funny. •
That’s it for now! I do have more interesting tidbits but they might be in some future post.
Did you enjoy reading about such things? Let me know in the comments below!