“To have another language is to possess a second soul.”
Charles the Great, king of the Franks
Charlemagne was the first post-Roman Empire emperor of Western Europe. His achievements and exploits aren’t exactly notorious in our age, but he was a giant force to be reckoned with in his own era.
His appreciation of language skills appeals to me, particularly because my own early experience with learning a second language (French) was memorable.
I had a gifted teacher who persuaded us to try to think in the French language, and assured us that such an undertaking was the most gratifying way to try to learn it. I recall my efforts to do so on the tedious bus ride from Temple University back to my home.
I have long appreciated this truth: some words, phrases and thoughts cannot be literally, fully translated from one language to another, I think of “cowboy,” “rodina,” “tabula rasa,” “la belle epoque”….
Indeed, this characteristic of language removes more or less all pleasure from reading translated poetry, at least for me. Same goes for books: I recently tried to read an historical novel that had been written in Albanian language, then translated into French and again from French to English. The text was wooden.
To know another language well is to know, not only different words and grammar, but also an independent way of thinking, a distinct sensitivity to alternative ideas and emotions and perceptions, another mindset, perhaps a second soul….
Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.