Thursday, October 13, 2011

Is one enough?

Is one language ever really enough?
Almost everyday I find myself searching for words and more times than not, I come up with them in a language other than the one I'm supposed to be speaking. I was in class the other day and we were talking about how Jesus could have come in and demolished the Romans (but he didn't, because that wasn't the way he had planned), but I couldn't think of the word "demolished" or similar words in English. However, I knew the sign I needed and half way through my sentence I switched to sign language and threw the word out that I needed. It got my point across, and the sign I used was just a really fun sign (it's one of my favorites...I'm not sure what it says about me when many of my favorite signs are on the "violent" side of things. The sign for "bombs" is super fun too.) 
Another time, in a context where the primary languages were supposed to be sign and English, I caught myself thinking in German (and maybe even a little Greek!) and accidentally vocalizing a few times in German instead of English. Many times I'll know a German (or other language word) that describes how I'm feeling or what I want to say much better than the English words I know. Once I know the word I want in German I try and think of the English word and there just isn't one! How do you translate the word "kribble" (Ich habe einen Kribble in meinen Bauch) into English? The best I've ever come up with is to Anglicize it (My stomach is all kribbly) and then when people ask, try and use lots and lots of words to explain it. In this instance, "kribbly" can be describe as happy little butterflies dancing around inside, kind of like the feeling you get when you talk with that special someone...or are filled with excitement. They aren't the kind of butterflies you get when you are nervous about giving a speech or something. Those are mean butterflies. There are all kinds of other words I do that with, just because I don't know the English or English simply doesn't have the word I need. 
The other day I threw the Hebrew "Nephesh" into conversation (I may or may not have been feeling slightly kribbly at the time) because I didn't have an English word to explain what I was saying. (My conversation partner actually had to look the word up. Hebrew phrases weren't in their vocabulary.) 

So what is my point? That's a really good question. I'm still working on that minor detail. What bugs me is that so many of us in North America know one language. Just one. And mostly it is English, which although a beautiful and diverse language, is lacking in so many ways. 
Is there a way to fix this problem? I wish I knew. I wish I could tell everyone to go out and learn multiple languages so that we could have fuller communication. I wish there was a practical way to come up with a language that would be understood by everyone, everywhere, and encompass the fullness and richness of individual languages, but that's just not practical. Firstly, our world is too big for everyone to learn the same language. It just wouldn't happen. Secondly, we all have different language needs. Someone living near the equator would not need as many words for winter precipitation as we need in Canada.
I don't know the answer.  Do you?

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