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Language Lovers Club

Another language can be quite "funny"

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world" - Ludwig Wittgenstein

And that fun can be quite confusing...

Those who only possess one language, might think that they can communicate easily with people speaking another language, provided that they have a dictionary or online (machine) translator. That may be true, if only a primitive communication is required; for example: Where is the nearest grocery store? Or - Can I borrow a cigarette?

However, anything more complex than that could be quite challenging. The complexities of language can plunge us into some very interesting situations; some that are funny and some that are not so funny!

Once a Russian man I knew wanted to show-off by writing “I love you” in Chinese to his online, American girlfriend, who had studied some Chinese. Since he worked at a multi-national company, he had access to native Chinese speakers and so he reached out to a colleague for help. However, he quickly realized that there was nothing simple about this request when his colleague said he needed more information before he could help: How long have you known each other? How deep are your feelings? What are you intentions? The Russian man listened to him for 10-15 minutes, and then said "Enough! Thank you! I'd rather do it in English!"

There are many facets to a language that add to this complexity such as words not translating effectively and the way that words from one language make their way into another:

• Some words have perfect counterparts in other languages, either a complete match or at least a very close one, while others do not. For example, the English word "siblings" doesn't exist in Russian, Italian, French or Spanish (but does in Polish).

• In Russia, the word "résumé" didn't exist during the Soviet Era. And now Russians managed to borrow so many English words that their language become almost unrecognizable.

Be sure to come back for more on both of these topics.