[Blog] Babel


Languages fascinate me. English, of course, holds a special place in my heart, both for its myriad quirks and the fact that it’s my own native language, but my interest reaches a bit beyond that. By which I mean that I’m an amateur, wanna-be polyglot, and proud of it. I’ve picked up a fair amount of Spanish, thanks to living in California and a near obsession with keeping up my streak over on Duolingo. I gained some ability with Armenian during my grand adventure there last year. I’ve dabbled with German enough to realize that it’s both really hard and really cool.

I love the way different languages express the same idea, and the way that each one is going to slightly change the way you see that idea. I love the way it causes you to look closer at something you’ve always taken for granted, or the way it makes you think about the idioms you use every day. I’m intrigued by the gap between words and concepts, and the different way different peoples bridge it. So it should come as no surprise that I’d love to get to the point where I can write a decent story in more than one language.

Come to think of it, some of this can probably be traced back to my high school Latin teacher. I wasn’t the best student in his classes, and at the time I was far too frustrated with being forced to learn a language to realize that I actually enjoyed them, but there was one final project he assigned that I loved, even at the time: we had to choose a fiction book and translate a chapter from English to Latin. And he let me choose the first chapter of Mossflower by Brian Jacques.

Like I said above, different languages make you look at things in a new way, and finding the best way to translate it forces you to get down to the nitty-gritty details of meaning that you might otherwise gloss over. I’m not sure how good my translation was at the end (and honestly, I was in tenth grade, and only a middling Latin student, so I have my doubts), but it was fun. And while I’m putting more weight on it now than it earned then, if a high school student stumbling through as direct a translation as she could manage could affect the way she read a children’s book, how much better could it be if she actually gets good enough to do it on purpose?

6 thoughts on “[Blog] Babel”

  1. Studying latin at school over the last year has showed me a lot of the same thing. We can learn a lot about different cultures just by what words they have and what they don’t. The romans had a worrying amount of words about killing. And the Eskimos have a lot of words for snow. You have a lot of words to talk about something you deal with a lot, and no words to deal with something you’ve never seen.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. *forgot to turn on email notifications and didn’t see a reply*
        Yeah, like concepts that you can understand pretty easily, but are basically impossible to translate into English. And then there are the other words that English used to have but got rid of (whither, whence, thee, and thou etc) the way languages change are super interesting

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  2. Are you ever interested in the etymological side of things? I’ve been learning more about linguistic and the process involved in (re)constructing Proto-Indo-European and it’s a lot of fun.


      1. Hmm… The various Romance languages have quite different words for yes, abbreviated from various affirmative Latin phrases. In France they took “hoc”, meaning “this”, and placed it in front of a pronoun, so you would be saying “yes (yes) to them” or “yes to you”, etc. Over time they stopped varying the pronouns and just stuck with “yes (this) to him”, which was “hoc ille”. Over time in the north of France ( otherwise known as the langue d’oil) this was abbreviated to “oil, which became “oui” more recently. Meanwhile the south dropped the pronoun and the “h” and became known as the “langue d’oc” (lenga d’oc to native speakers of Occitan in the South of France and surrounding region). I hope you think that is cool!

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