"One does not inhabit a country; one inhabits a language. That is our country, our fatherland –– and no other." –– Emile Cioran
We're living at a weird time when it comes to the question of learning a new language. On the one hand the world is becoming so globalized, so intercultural, and so communicative, that there has never been a more relevant time to learn Korean or Farsi or Finnish. On the other hand, digital tools for translation––both in written and spoken forms––are becoming so capable and intuitive that language is no longer the high water mark for understanding a culture.
For centuries of especially European history, learning languages was a crucial part of being an educated and informed person. After all, in a world full of different languages, it was a necessity to be able to communicate. But in a bizarre way, global society has actually made us LESS dependent on learning a foreign language. English has become the internet's lingua franca, and tools like Google translate and other translation software has made navigating multi-lingual spaces easier. And tools like Duolingo give us exactly the amount of language access we need, which seems to be enough Spanish or French or Mandarin for our vacations. Language courses and requirements are disappearing from schools and unless you are born into a family that speaks a language different from the culture around you, its harder and harder to learn.
Most adults find learning a new language to be particularly difficult. In fact studies show that the number one way to increase your odds of picking up a new language is to already speak a couple languages. But don't lose hope! There are still some streamlined ways to get yourself self off the ground and immerse in a new culture's way of communicating...
I've always believed that it's impossible to truly understand a culture without having a firm grasp on the language. Natural linguistic differences lead to differing linguistic thoughts and perceptions of the world, and those differences can have lasting impacts on the evolution of cultures. For the brief period of time that I was a Classics major in college I put a lot of time into my Ancient Greek and Latin, with the exciting result that I was able to maneuver my way through Italy speaking nothing more than bastardized Latin.
Linguists tend to draw a basic language tree to chart out the evolution of languages over time, but the image
Okay...phew. I know that's a somewhat strange post title, but this project is fascinating and totally worth sharing, if not eloquently. The "Atlas of True Names" is a series of maps that substitutes the official names for cities, states, countries, and geographic areas with the meaning of their names in their original language....etymological topography!
You know when someone asks you what your thinking about, and you just can't find the term? Or, when you're asked how you feel about something, and you have to start it with a caveat or an "I don't know" before searching for the best approximation?
Chances are, there are words for those situation, they're just likely not in the English dictionary.
By some estimates, there are around 170,000 words in current use in the English language. The latest, twenty-volume edition of the Oxford English Dictionary records 171,476 words in current use, with 47,156 outdated words, and countless techinal terms, neologisms, and common words borrowed from other languages.
And yet, there are still those ideas that you wanna express, and simply can't find the right term...cause it doesn't exist. In English, at least.
But other languages have all kinds of interesting concepts and vocab words for things you just need to descibe. These terms don't have an English equivalent, but after reading this list, you'll sure wish they did.
On a recent episode of Morning Edition, NPR's Robert Krulwich, of RadioLab fame, paired up with his colleague, Adam Cole, to write a clever song about eponyms, the people who serve as namesakes for actual items, like General Burnsides (sideburns), Harold Bluetooth, or Amelia Bloomer.
The video is great - awesome Monty Python-esque animation, a catchy tune, and quite informative. Click play to watch it:
I'll admit it. I'm a grammar nerd. Well, at least a syntax geek. I'll often go quite far out of the way to avoid ending a sentence in a preposition, am pretty careful with my whoms, and am often misunderstood due to fact that I keep my lays and lies straight.