Aug 21, 2008

As I was told, "it's easier to understand your own culture once you learn another language"

I had a long discussion about language with one of the guests at the weddng in New Brunswick . She was a native French speaker and didn't learn English until well into her twenties when she moved to Toronto and it was required for her job. I had been feeling hesitant about ever being fluent in another language until I met so many people that weekend whose second language wasn't mastered until well into their adulthood. This woman mentioned to me how she never understood her culture as well until she learned another language. To be able to see how word choices and definitions reflect a culture's values and humor give breadth to your vision into yourself.

Quite an interesting reflection. I've been pondering that idea lately, so it was great to stumble upon these articles from NPR and Times Online about words in each language that are difficult to translate but are perfect descriptions for just about anything. These articles are both a few years old.

Some examples:

esprit de I'escalier [es-pree de less-ka/-iay] (idiom) FRENCH
A witty remark that occurs to you too late, literally on the way down the stairs. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations defines esprit de l'escalier as, "An untranslatable phrase, the meaning of which is that one only thinks on one's way downstairs of the smart retort one might have made in the drawing room."

meraki [may-rah-kee] (adjective) GREEK
This is a word that modern Greeks often use to describe doing something with soul, creativity, or love -- when you put "something of yourself" into what you're doing, whatever it may be. Meraki is often used to describe cooking or preparing a meal, but it can also mean arranging a room, choosing decorations, or setting an elegant table.

yoko meshi [yoh-koh mesh-ee] (noun) JAPANESE
"As an untranslatable, this one ranks high on my list of favorites. I could not improve on the background given by commentator Boye Lafayette de Mente about this beautiful word, yoko meshi. Taken literally, meshi means 'boiled rice' and yoko means 'horizontal,' so combined you get 'a meal eaten sideways.'This is how the Japanese define the peculiar stress induced by speaking a foreign language: yoko is a humorous reference to the fact that Japanese is normally written vertically, whereas most foreign languages are written horizontally. How do English-speakers describe the headache of communicating in an alien tongue? I don't think we can, at least not with as much ease."

[tah-rah-deen] (noun) ARABIC
Arabic has no word for "compromise" in the sense of reaching an arrangement via struggle and disagreement. But a much happier concept, taarradhin, exists in Arabic. It implies a happy solution for everyone, an "I win, you win." It's a way of resolving a problem without anyone losing face.

Today I'm grateful for: fresh produce from local farmstands, backyard gardeners begging you to take cucumbers off their hands, blueberries, Across the Universe, white wine

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