The 400th post – Another pitch for multi-lingual ability

 Finally, I post the 400th entry – though I had anticipated doing so by the last date of July. But, there was so much work in the last few days that I found it quite hard to find the time, and even when I did, the exertions had robbed me of an equitable state of mind necessary for a proper expression of thought. As they say, better late than never.

Now the question is what could be an apt topic for this milestone – what else but my old hobby-horse of multi-lingual ability.

I had shared an old Czech proverb: “Kolik jazyků znáš, tolikrát jsi člověkem” with you. The exact translation would be ‘You live a new life for every new language you speak” or put it this way, “If you know only one language, you live only once”.

It is quite interesting but this same proverb is found in some other Slavic languages, not to mention, those of different families too… 

In Bulgarian, you say “Човекът е толкова пъти човек, колкото езика знае” (“Čovekãt e tolkova pãti čovek, kolkoto ezika znae” for my dear friends not familiar with the Cyrillic script and in translation: “The more languages you know, the more you are a person”)

In Ukranian, you say “Скільки мов ти знаєш – стільки разів ти людина” (for all of you: “Skilʼky mov ty znaješ – stilʼky raziv ty ljudyna” or “How many languages you know – that many times you are a person.)

And even Turkish has “Bir dil bir insan, iki dil iki insan” or “One who speaks only one language is one person, but one who speaks two languages is two people”.

But the most memorable was (and I will stick to English for you, my dear uni-lingual friends) was the Russian envoy (or more correctly, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation) who once told me to remember that a man who knew only one language could only see the world with one eye…..

The same sentiment was expressed five centuries ago by an Elizabethan English scholar and didactic writer, famous for his prose style, his promotion of the vernacular, and his theories of education. 

As a hawk flieth not high with one wing, even so a man reacheth not to excellence with one tongue,” said Roger Ascham.

And even much earlier, Franciscan friar Roger Bacon said: “Notitia linguarum est prima porta sapientiae.” (“Knowledge of languages is the doorway to wisdom”.)

And it was JohannWolfang von Goethe, who pithily remarked: “Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiß nichts von seiner eigenen.”
(Those who know no foreign language know nothing of their mother tongue)

And if you prefer a more recent thought from someone which even most of you will have heard of, then see this.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

This was Nelson Mandela.

Lets digress a little….

A French author once remarked:
Un homme qui parle trois langues est trilingue.
Un homme qui parle deux langues est bilingue.
Un homme qui ne parle qu’une langue est anglais.

(I am sure you can make that out with a little effort. For those who cannot or will not, it means “A man who speaks three language is trilingual.
A man who speaks two languages is bilingual.
A man who speaks only one language is English.”)

However, we must remember the English language, in itself, has the capacity to … well the quote itself: “Not only does the English Language borrow words from other languages, it sometimes chases them down dark alleys, hits them over the head, and goes through their pockets.”

And a mastery in whichever language you speak is necessary, for language imbues you with much power. 

An Arabic proverb says :  قوّة الإنسان فى عقله و لسانه

(or “Qūwatu l-ʾinsāni fi ʿaqlihi wa lisānihi” or “The strength of a person is in his intelligence and his tongue”).

And as author Rita Mae Brown put it in her Starting From Scratch: “Language exerts hidden power, like a moon on the tides.

There is much more I can say, but I end with this quote from one of the most significant philosophers who dealt with language issues.

Ludwig Wittgenstein said: “Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt.” (“The limits of my language are the limits of my universe”).

May mine be as boundless as possible…..


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