Sunday, February 12, 2006

Walls made out of sticks and stones...

are nothing compared to the ones made out of words..

I am not really sure where I am going with this post so bear with me.

I have been studying language lately both in school and in my personal life and it has begun to take ahold of my thoughts lately. I see the world in English. I experience the world in English. What do I mean? Bejaka (bay-ah-kah) is a Swedish word it has a literal translation of "affirmation of life" but its meaning is far more than a greeting it is a welcoming to all vicissitudes that life may bring and that you recognize an understanding and acceptance of people and things as they are. All of that in one word. Took a small paragraph to describe it in English. In English things are separate they have attributes properties, they are not connected. For example almost every language has a single word for smoked fish. Not two separate words that divide and describe the object. Do we divide and describe each other without ever really knowing it?

Effects on thought. I can only think about and describe the world in the words that I know. So does expanding my vocabulary expand my ability to think about the world?

And what are the effects of slang, is it a shared experience that builds culture community or is it a communicational prison that isolates the user from people outside that community?

Just starting to muse the subject...


Rocketstar said...

It's the old, "Sticks and stones can break bones but words cause permanent damage."

Another factor, how does the young age of American English contribute to it's compartmentalization of meaning?

FACE said...

Learning new words is good and understanding them. But knowing when to use them is another, just like writing, know your audience.

Yes in america we divide. Is there such a thing as a African Canadian? Why aren't people born in America just Americans, division?

The purpose of slang I believe started in America so "slaves" could speak "freely" without repercussions. Nowadays it stems from culture and what you do. Electricians have slang for the work they do, hip-hop dudes have slang for what they do. It's comfortable to learn words in all forms. Can you fell segrated by not understanding what someone elsa is saying of course. Awe but to learn and study, now that is a beautiful thing.

lauren said...

I think it would be really difficult to be someone learning English for the first time and trying to figure out what the heck all of our crazy slang words mean. How to explain the word "crunk" to someone just starting out in their English studies? (Better yet, try explaining it to your parents....just as difficult).

Yet in other cultures, the boundaries between proper language and common language still exist. When we learn the words of another language, we learn their literal meaning but not their street meaning.

"So does expanding my vocabulary expand my ability to think about the world?" I hope so. Keep us updated!

karphosite said...

Oh Brian..questions like these were the main reason why I loved the linguitsic branch of my English studies more than the literature one. Plus I studied the Germna language in depth two.

Let me just quickly add a few words to your observation of how ceratin concepts are put in to the "letter shell" differently in different language. Take the English word covers two things we need two different words for in German: Bildung und Erziehung..meaning the transfer of knowledge and the idea that social competence is also part of what we have to learn. There is a hughe debate about responsibilties on these fields in Germany, since everybody locates the learning process of social skills in a different teachers say partents need to be involved more and the other way English one word covers both go to school to get an education. Hmm I hope I was able to bring that point across.

As for communicating in your own language also mean being in some kind of prison..well that does not only apply for basically does for every language. It may offer different strategies to express things but each language has its weaknesses and limits, so to speak, too. But learning a foreign language offers you a view from a different kind of "prision", bringing in a new perspective on things..and that already is exciting and a good reason never to stop learning.

(See I brought the new keyboard from home, meaning I can type longer entries I had a good nap after work and my head is willing to process information again.)


Dem Soldier said...

Slang is there in each culture and language......As face put it, what matters is knowing when to us them....

Brian in Mpls said...

Rock - The age aspect floored me when I thought about ...does the older the compartmentalization of the language equal a greater reluctance to adapt to the future?

Face - You have anything you can recommend on the link between slavery and slang? That sounds worth exploring I had never heard that before.

Lauren - I bought a word of the day calendar:) I will keep you posted...would you mind if I threw up a link to your site? I was feeling your V-day post today:)

Anne :) This is why I can't wait to be a piece for some German show and tell. I love the outside perspective :) I miss you..

Brian in Mpls said...

but doesn't knowing when to use them both presuppose being educated? you have to learn both to know when to use both.

Rocketstar said...


I don't know, expand on that a little bit.

Brian in Mpls said...

Rock the more I thought about it the less it made sense. Every language makes up new words to describe new concepts the key isn't the language like in the sense that i was thinking but rather a cultures ability to adapt to change that is key.