Sunday, March 22, 2009

The importance of multi-lingualism


I originally wrote this entry on August 19, 2004 and published it on blogs.sun.com.


I have already written about the importance of multi-lingualism and multi-cultural living as a response to some who have written about Balkanization on the Web, the inadequacy of automatic translation and the promise of universal, artificial languages.









I walk and talk to a farmer from Vila Dara hot springs, Ardabil Province, Iran, July 2004, on the foothills of Mount Sabalan.

I accompany a farmer from Vila Dara hot springs, Ardabil Provice, Iran, July 2004, on the foothills of Mount Sabalan. Language: Azeri and Persian.


To become truly multi-cultural, you actually have to live the lives of different cultures. There are people who do that and who have no trouble crossing linguistic boundaries because they have lived both sides, if not more than two sides. Young people, children in fact, do it all the time. We just don't foster it as a society, and we should have arrangements that encourage such living at a global level. Where I live, there are already children of Western European and South Asian descent, who are going to bilingual, public-private elementary schools that cater to an already large Chinese population. Many people in California already speak Spanish.


Also, to appreciate other cultures and languages, one doesn't necessarily need to be a very competent writer in multiple languages although there are many who can do that, very proficiently.




As an example, while I know of many great multi-linguals who speak, write and read many very diverse languages (not all of which are Indo-European), I can only speak competently in three languages and quite badly in two others, read in six different languages, three of them quite competently and three with various degrees of competency, and can write competently in two and quite badly in the rest, if at all. (Competency in reading or speaking can generally be accomplished in a larger set of languages than competency in writing.) I certainly cannot speak all world languages, or all "important" world languages but I can connect with more people because I can speak, read and write in more than one language.


This expansion effect is always true, no matter how large or a small the linguistic community.


So, opportunities for diversity are much better and more rewarding than the opportunities for an invented, uniform global language, which will often lack a living culture, rich literary history and tradition. (By the "living culture" of a language, I mean the culture of communities that primarily speak that language.)


Diversity comes at a well-spent cost. It requires dedication and hard work. I doubt anyone who's neither tried to learn nor read nor written Chinese and has not learned or lived it could translate (not literally, but figuratively speaking) that living, that history, that tradition in full into some other language, whether Esperanto or English.


Poets learn other languages because they know the difficulty of translating the music of each into the other, and also because they want to boraden their poetic horizons.

3 comments:

Aji said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Miriam

http://www.craigslistposter.info

Brian Barker said...

Apparently President-elect Barack Obama wants everyone to learn a foreign language.

The British learn French, the Australians also study Japanese and the Americans prefer Spanish. Yet this leaves Mandarin Chinese and Arabic out of the equation.

I think we need to move forward and teach a common neutral non-national language, in all countries, in all schools, worldwide!

Can ask you to look at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8837438938991452670 and see a glimpse of Esperanto at http://www.lernu.net ?

Aji said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Miriam

http://www.craigslistposter.info