Sunday, January 29, 2012

Long on Language: Discussion

To start the discussion on language:

If we all speak different languages, is it possible that we all perceive the world differently?
How are language and culture intertwined?
Can you speak intelligently about a culture, if you only know the language?
What are risks of translation?
Is language a help or a hindrance?

Don't feel like you have to answer all these questions! This is just food for thought. Please remember to comment (don't start new posts).

~Kaleb, Azim, Poonam [moderating team]


  1. In order to determine if people who speak different languages see the world differently, it once again comes down to defining language itself, which is a different experience for everyone. Language could be the words you speak, the hand gestures you make, philosophy, culture, or something used to describe all these things themselves. Therefore we turn once again to culture, and the integration and relationship of language and culture, which is what Long focuses on in this passage. He mentions the “linguistic turn”, which forces our thought process away from concepts and towards the words we use themselves to answer questions and propose thought- provoking ideas. Because language corresponds with truth, which is supported by Aristotle, it supports the idea that everybody, not only people who don’t speak each other’s language, sees the world differently because everybody has different truths and different lifestyles and perspectives. For instance, most people in the United States speak English- but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the culture of an English speaking person form Los Angeles (such as myself) can relate to the culture of someone in England, another English speaking country, just because we speak the same language. So I don’t think this idea corresponds necessarily to language itself, but the vague and indefinable concept of truth. Everything we know is based on experience and knowledge, and the truth gained from experience, so that we broaden our use of language in order to integrate with different cultures. I know it’s a vague description of what Long was trying to portray, but so is the very idea of language itself.

  2. I am intrigued by Margo's definition of language, but I'm not sure that I can agree with her categorization of philosophy and culture into language. Language is something that I believe falls into part of a culture as the means of communication, and it certainly can influence philosophy (as Long pointed out). But as I read Long's article I couldn't help but think that moving away from concepts in philosophy, and putting a focus on language (at least to the extent that Long claims) turns any inquiry by philosophers into petty bickering. Unlike what Long seems to take for granted, I don't think that there is any universality in language. Each person may have similarity in his or her language (the words they use, dialect, gestures, etc.) but no one communicates in exactly the same way. Trying to reconcile differences in language is like trying to define each human on the planet the same way; each person is very unique (once again, there are similarities but no two things are alike). So with regards to the question "what difference does language make," I believe that this question is impossible to answer. Because if language (as the broad categorization for all communication) is unique for each person, then you cannot possibly hope to define how it affects each situation. So concluding a long-winded response, of course Kant was wrong when he said that reason could/should be devoid of language, there is no escaping language and its affects (Kant could not articulate his position without language, nor would I be able to read it without language—in its imperfect English translation), any point to do so is an exercise in futility.

  3. Asking the question, "Do we perceive the world differently if we speak different languages" seems almost too easy a question; of course we do! I perceive the world differently from my best friend, and from my roommate. I perceive the world differently from my parents and my cat. Socio-economic standards, religious affiliations, interests, and environment all affect the way we perceive the world. Language is no different, and in fact is so intertwined with culture that you might say they're one and the same. While stereotypes of any country/culture are generally fallacious, they are derived from truth. The German language is abrupt, precise, and structured. The German people have a reputation for being orderly, precise, and structured. "Germanic" has evolved to mean more than just "of German ancestry"; it has become more of an adjective to describe systems rather than bloodlines. How, in this case, is is possible to argue that language is separable from culture?

    In this vein, it's easy to see the dangers of translation. While there are often equivalents of words in two different languages, they rarely are denotations of each other unless the languages are related or symbiotic. Even then, similar languages can be incredibly difficult to navigate. For instance (I'll stick with German, since that's what I'm most familiar with), the German language's handling of time (zeit) is complex and it must be impressed to students of German the difference in expression of time versus the concept of time. This complication arises even though English is a direct descendant of German! Imagine the difficulties in expressing ideas when you take two opposing cultures and languages such as German and Thai? Translation becomes terrifyingly risky because the very tenants of a language may make the idea expressed impossible to emulate in the language being translated into.

    Still, understanding a language is key to complete understanding of its people; ultimately, language is a help, but if regulated to unimportance, can eventually become a disastrous hindrance.

  4. Language is a part of culture just like cuisine or certain customs. Knowing how to speak the language that a certain culture uses will help the person to better understand that culture. However, even though a section of people speak the same language does not mean that they share the same culture. For example, most people in the United States speak english but different regions have different accents and some even use different words for the same object. Language, even though it is a part of culture can also be regarded separately. Here at GWU there are courses on culture and on language in the foreign language department.

    Some words cannot be translated correctly from one language to another and can make the translation process complicated. For example "to know" in english has two different verb translations in spanish. Though there are entire books that have been translated from one language to another, it is said that one can get more out of the original book in the original language.

    Everyone perceives the world differently regardless of what language you speak. Even identical twins perceive the world differently and, more often than not, they speak the same language. Perception of the world can be expressed and shared with others through language however, one's development of opinions of the world may not always involve language.

  5. I don't believe that language makes everyone perceive the world differently. I don't think that one person who speaks English would see the world differently from a person who speaks Chinese, French, or any other language. I think that a person's culture has a much greater influence on how a person interprets the world. Language is an important factor of culture, and I believe that a person's culture is what determines how they view the world. Different beliefs, morals, relationships between people, and other aspects that define what one culture is would have a larger effect on a person's perspective of the world than the language that they speak. Simply speaking one language over another doesn't necessarily mean that the person is not more associated with a culture that speaks another. A person's background, their culture, plays a more prominent role in their views of their surrounding world. The differences between languages, however, could potentially cause things to get lost in translation. There is a danger in this, and people can perceive things differently than they were meant to be perceived if things are not translated correctly or adjusted to make the most sense possible in whatever language it was translated to. Even though language does not play the largest role in how people perceive the world, interpreting something that was translated from a different language is most definitely effected depending on the language one speaks. I see a much greater correlation between the perception of someone's translated writing than the relationship between one's spoken language and their perception of the world.

  6. I agree with Margo, Luke, and Chardin that language is not the only barrier when it comes to understanding people. Two people might speak french but have trouble understanding each other depending on their social status, the way they were raised, and ultimately their individual personalities. In regards to the question of being able to speak intelligently of a culture if you know the language, I think simply learning a language isn't enough. Even in classes on language, teachers and professors go beyond simply teaching grammar and vocabulary, they try to immerse the student in the "culture" of the people, which of course raises the question of what culture is defined as. In this context, culture is the food, ideas, famous people, and history that composes the people of that language. Obviously it doesn't define say every single french person out there, but I think there are general views that define a culture.
    As someone who speaks both english and urdu, I can say that there are instances where communication between the two languages can get "lost in translation". Certain phrases, expressions, and ideas are hard to communicate for me from urdu to english or vice versa. I think this has to do somewhat to do with the fact that all languages have certain expressions that don't quite match up in another language if you take it literally. i also think culture plays a large role in this because expressions arise out of the past of specific countries or nationalities.
    This also makes me wonder about sign language. Can people of different native languages communicate better with their hands than by trying to communicate vocally? Personally I don't know much about sign language, but I've always been interested in the idea of a universal language.
    I think language is definitely a help, without language I can't really think of how one could properly communicate or express thoughts dealing with abstract matters.

  7. If we all speak different languages, is it possible that we all perceive the world differently?
    It is easy to look at this question and just say "Yes, of course we do!" It seems almost too obvious that people who speak different languages would see the world differently. The difference in language, which Long argues is a vital aspect of culture, indicates a difference in culture itself. When translating something from one language to another, it is possible for the true meaning to be lost. In some instances, the thought of taking a text out of its original language changes it to an completely different work; as in the instance of the Q'ran, where translation from its original language deems it an "interpretation."
    While I recognize this point of view, I feel that thinking within this realm doesn't allow for much growth or transfer of culture. One could easily get lost in the many ways to say, to use the example Long used in his work, bicycle or coffee cup, however, I would argue that this seemingly open, vast way to look at the world really limits thought and understanding. We need to be able to translate the work of other cultures to better understand ourselves, and by trapping ourselves in the idea of mistaken translation will only stunt social progress.
    While the word "bicycle" or "coffee cup" can be said in many different languages, I believe the physical item is something that can be identified in them all, and that idea, one that transcends language, makes up our cultural understanding.

  8. I would also agree that having a common language does not eliminate all barriers of understanding. I think that language is one aspect of a culture, but it does not define what that culture exactly is. Every culture has numerous subgroups that can create barriers between groups even if they can literally understand what one another is saying. I think these barriers exist in the form of demographics, social structure, and a person's general surroundings. I don't think that you can speak intelligently about an entire culture just by knowing the language. I have lived in America my entire life and clearly speak English but I am not knowledgable about the entire culture of the U.S.

    In response to Shazreh's comment, sign language is actually not a universal language. It also comes in many different dialects (which my roommate made me aware of because she is studying asl). If I had to characterize anything as a universal language I would choose music. Although there are many different genres of music, I don't think language is a barrier to understanding or enjoying music from other cultures.

  9. I found the last question to be the most intriguing one and I would say that language is definitely a help. I would also think that Long would agree since before the linguistic turn, such open-ended questions seemed impossible to answer. But if we use language to pick apart these questions, approaching an answer seems more plausible. In the text it seemed that Long was assuming that each country or region of the world has profound and inseparable differences in language and culture that essentially prevent us from comparing answers to these questions. While there are significant barriers in culture and languages across the globe, these seem far from insurmountable in my eyes. Another point to make is that almost everybody within a single culture or language views the world differently as well. There aren't just universal opinions regarding such difficult questions.
    After reading some of these posts I realized for the first time that language and culture affect each other, and that it does not just go in one direction. This is probably the most evident in the creation of "slang" within each language. I used to live in Hamburg, Germany and most kids there were somewhat familiar with Plattdeutsch (a dialect originating in Hamburg) that stemmed from the city's Hanseatic history. Thus, kids even today use some of this slang which to other Germans sounds like sailors talking. In this case, the language (Plattdeutsch) reinforces the Hanseatic culture in Hamburg and vice versa. While someone from Hamburg may not have strikingly different world views than a German from Berlin or Munich, one would absolutely need to know some Plattdeutsch in order to gain an understanding of Hamburg's culture.
    The one thing I was somewhat confused about was why Long narrows down his discussion to language and culture. There are probably a lot more factors that could be useful in this discussion. Another question I had was whether you guys think a person would be able to express his ideas/answers to these open-ended questions in a non-native language.

  10. I don't think just because there are different languages mean that us as a whole perceive the world differently entirely. There are universal emotions that everyone feels, regardless of what language they speak or culture they belong too. But, to an extent, varying cultures and language do make people who embody those different things perceive the world differently. For example, there may be those asian helicopter parent stereotypes of one culture to the more laid back Western parent stereotype. They may define success differently in their respective languages. They may define happiness or sadness differently, or love and hate. Could love be universal in one culture and subjective in another? Absolutely, depending on language.
    Someone can have a knowledge of a culture through learning their language but that only goes so far. It goes past logistically knowing how to communicate with people of a different culture than to have an emotional connection and truly feel what it is like to be a part of that culture. I think intelligence of a culture only comes through prolonged time within the realms of that culture, along with practice of the language and norms. For that reason, I think language and culture are closely intertwined.
    The risks of translation are monumental. There are certain terms in different cultures that could have radically different meanings, but that should be accepted. No language in its entirety will be able to be culturally relevant to another. There may be similarities, but I don't think clear cut languages will be compatible. For that reason, the risk of translation is the filtering out of culture. By this I mean, that the fear of losing the cultural aspect to a term and turning it into a dry translation potentially outweighs the benefit. Unless it's straight business, anything emotionally translated takes that risk, whether it's worth it or not depends on the individual case.

  11. I agree with Sarah, in the argument that language does not cause people to perceive the world differently. It is easy to fall into the trap of relativism with this belief; this is seen in Long's questions on page 29, particularly number six: "If God can only be spoken about in terms of the different languages and cultures of the world, then is God anything other than a product of our culture and language?" Personally, I believe that, yes, God goes beyond culture and language. Our previous readings by Long emphasize the view that religion, or faith in God, shapes culture--not the other way around. Long poses this question in order to counter "the linguistic turn," which does have some significance, but as Long states, also has many "problems, [or] pseudo-problems."

  12. Language is one of the many things that makes the world so interesting and diverse. I completely believe language leads to people perceiving the world differently. Some words just cant be translated. I dont speak another language, but I have friends who do and they tell me certain words cant be expressed in English.

    Language is an extension of culture. The english language has helped shape me as a person and if I were to speak a different language or more than one language, Im sure it would effect the person I am today. I believe I would be more aware of the world around me. I would be able to see things from different perspectives and have educated opinions on different cultures and their beliefs.

    Language is only a hinderance if you let it be. A person has to be willing to accept someone and attempt to understand them even if they dont speak the same language. People have to understand that certain things cant always be translated and situations like that can only further culture. It leads to a collaboration between groups furthering the development of world culture.

  13. Long makes several great points on how language and culture are connected. It seems fairly obvious that we all perceive the world differently, even if we don't speak the same language. It's our language that helps us provide description for everything we see in the world. Language doesn't even have to be separated into specific alphabets and pronunciations; one language can have many sub-categories. One example is right here at GW. We like to be G in front of everything we possibly can. People in the south of the United States often have their own set of lingo, quite different from in the north.

    It's also impossible to deny the barriers language creates. There are often some things in the world that can't properly be translated between languages. I once heard that in the French translation of Harry Potter, a wand was translated as a "baguette". I looked the word up and it's typical definitions are "stick", "rod", and "baton". To me, those words don't properly encapsulate the idea of a magic wand. When I was a junior in high school, I was required to read a book called The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. I found the book to be rather boring, but every person I know who has read in Spanish says it's amazing. They all say it makes more sense in Spanish, it's original carnation, than it does in English. Although language creates gaps like this, I believe it's these gaps that help make certain cultures distinct.

  14. I believe that the "correct" way to relate language and culture is an impossible task. Linguists have grappled with this problem for decades, if not centuries, without coming to a consensus. Maybe this is because it is a subjective issue, for which there is no objective or universal solution.

    My way of intertwining language and culture would mostly be an attempt not to compromise or limit one or the other, which tends to happen in defining them. Language is a large part of culture, but should not be considered culture. I believe we do think of culture in terms of language, but culture inspires something that goes far beyond language. Language is composed of syntax and sounds but also is contextually and culturally dependent, but where is the line between culture and language drawn and should there be one?

    In response to the question of whether or not the world is seen differently between different languages... I would say yes. For example, my concept of time is much different that a Hopi Indian’s concept of time. But we both have the concept of time. The difference between my view and a Hopi’s view is how we look at the world, which is, yes, very differently. But even though we carve up the world differently, we can go between worlds. It may not be a perfect transition, but it important to recognize that it is possible. In the process of going between, one may have to forget their previous self and the culture that goes along with it. But I do not think that language is a cultural prison in which one is stuck for their whole life. Language and culture are different, yet crucial to one another. One is the sound portal and the other is the use of that portal to go between different worlds and the concept of human connection.

  15. I personally feel it is absurd to not relate language with culture. If I speak English as my native language it's considered part of my culture, if I learn another language I have simply intertwined or "experienced" another culture. There are several things that define culture and language is definitely one of them.

    The Bantu migrations, that happened centuries ago and lasted about 3000 years, is famous for the "spread of culture" around Africa. Music, beliefs and language are only but a few of the cultural practices that was spread during this time. Apart from the classification of subculture in Africa, the migrations is crucial because it exposed the Bantu language to several villages that have adapted it to their native language; evident by the fact most countries in southern Africa have several similarities to the language. The similarities in their languages led the villages to coincide and make countries and famous empires, such as the Zulu Empire and South Africa, because the felt they had a parallel understanding of each other's culture.

    The relation between culture and language is somewhat obvious, unless overlooked and over analyzed. Similar language means two regions share at least one cultural aspect.

  16. First, verbalizing about verbalizing causes me to have a spiral of questions and ideas. I would agree with Shazreh that language is not the only barrier amongst people. English is spoken in the United States, England, and Australia, as well as many other regions, yet the cultures amongst these areas are vastly different. Still, language does play a major role in shaping a culture, but it is only one piece to the very complex puzzle that is culture. The reason language seems to have more importance in culture than other aspects like music, religion, etc. is because all of these other aspects contain language within them. Language is undoubtedly one of the most culturally uniting factors, but it is not enough. For instance students learn new languages every day, but this does not give them much insight into that place's culture.
    I am not completely positive in my opinion on whether people perceive the world differently due to their differing languages, but this idea really interests me. Adeola makes a great point that some words just cannot be translated, which causes me to think language does create a barrier of perception. Still, there are some core concepts that seem universal: love for example. In any language love is the same, or is it? This is the problem with contemplating perception of different languages. I am only fluent in one language, so will I really every know if I perceive something different then my Chinese speaking roommate? I think it is fair to say that not everything is perceived the same due to language differences, but this then drives me to think about the fact that people who speak the same language can also perceive things differently. This is just like the idea that every person could be perceiving colors differently, yet we will never know. This has nothing to do with language; therefore, language is not the only reason perception from culture to culture is different, but it is a large portion of this idea.
    Overall, it is obvious that language is important and necessary. Without language there would not be other aspects of culture because language allows ideas and traditions to spread. Without language there would not be religion, but at the same time without language there would also be no verbal conflict over religion. Long says, "Not only does the entire capacity to think rest on language, but language is also in the middle of the misunderstanding of reason with itself," which is so true. As Wale said, leaning a new language does allow you to "experience" a new culture, which brings me to the most important part of language. It simply allows us to broaden our knowledge and to have a better understanding of other people, of course along the way there are misunderstandings and hateful words, but usually the benefits outweigh the costs. The article by Mr. Lavoisier shows one cost of language, yet even though their were failures in translation people were still exposed to something new, which broadened their horizon. The one conclusion I can make for sure about language, though I cannot make many, is that it is necessary, useful, and here to stay.

  17. In accordance with most people who have posted above, I also believe that everyone perceives the world differently, regardless of language. However, to get into the semantics, languages simply are part of one's culture, not the means to access another culture. For example, I'm currently studying Arabic at GW, and every chapter we come across new vocabulary words that are linked to the religion of Islam...the Arabic language and Islam are inherently connected, and show how the people of one culture may relate to one another using their language.

    The intertwined nature of language and culture does not by any means qualify a non-native speaker of a given language to be an expert on the peoples of that language. We discussed how religion is part of a culture, but we would never assume that knowing a religion gives you insight into an entire culture. It's not reasonable to assume that culture is one-dimensional.

  18. I would have to agree that different languages make our perception of the world different. In the English language, you would say "I love you" to anyone you are close to; friends, lover, family, etc. However, in other languages (none that I can think of at the top of my head at the moment), have different ways of saying "I love you" to different group of people. The "I love you" they would say to a lover would be different than the phrase they would say to your parents. And so their perception of the English phrase "I love you" may have a completely different depth to them.
    The problem in translation can derive from the example I just gave. I recently read 'The Kite Runner' and I thought it was an amazing book. I asked my mom if she read it, and she said she did, but she said she didn't enjoy it as much as I did. I was surprised to hear her reaction to the book, but then I realized that she read the Korean translation of the book. Because the sentence structure between English and Korean is completely opposite of each other, it may have been hard to deliver the same kind of sensation to my mom.
    I have also heard of books written in Korean that people say was amazing, but those who read it in the English language were not very impressed. Asian languages in general tend to be very specific, and so translating it into English may "dull" it down a bit and take away that touch of the author.

  19. According to Long, language and culture are completely intertwined. They each influence each other. However, I cannot decide if one affects the other more. The meaning of words and the connotations that go along with them are affected by culture. But then again, the culture of a society affects what language is used and what feelings can be evoked by those words.
    I do believe though that language is not the sole factor of culture. So many different variables make up a culture. Both language and culture change all the time.
    In attempting to answer the question of whether or not you can speak intelligently about a culture without know thing language, I think that you cannot. Obviously, there is so much to learn about a culture if you are not born into it, but not knowing the language limits communication. Directly translating will lose the real meaning and feelings that go with the language.
    Long talks a lot about the connection between theology, language, and culture. He questions whether or not God is a product of our language and culture. I believe that God is not a product of our culture, however, the only way to express the belief of a higher power or something much bigger than what we know is through the language that we have available.

  20. Luke’s definition seems like the most convincing argument to me. Language is a means of communication between groups of people, which makes culture. It is evident that groups of people who speak the same language do share some common interest and culture, but there is no evidence of universality for sure as long said. Language in a sense is an identity. The type of language a person speaks tells a lot about the person such as nationality, origin, and an environment the person has lived in. Depending on how each person has lived and spoken, the person’s life and the way he views the world may greater differ. In that sense I believe that we all perceive the world differently. There is no doubt that culture and language has a vital connection, but it does not mean that one can speak of a culture just by knowing the language. I believe that the language can tell us about the culture, but culture cannot tell us about a language. For instance, my first language is Korean and I do speak English quite fluently with minor grammatical errors. However, I still have hard time understanding the American culture. It was a shocking experience to find out that you are not supposed to talk while having a food in your mouth. Even though it seems obvious, my culture does not care much about this type of etiquette. We focus more on respecting the elders. Likewise, understanding a culture has a lot more to it than simply understanding and speaking the language. Additionally, Even the language itself can cause trouble because the actual translation of a word may give you a totally different interpretation to a different culture.

  21. I definitely agree that we all perceive the world differently simply because of differences in personality, background, etc, but I also think that language has something to do with that. While I don't agree with the statement that one cannot think without the use of language, once one starts to get into deeper, more thorough thought processes, that's when language is important, and that's what makes a difference in our world perceptions, as many people have already given examples of.

    In response to the question can we speak intelligently about a culture if you only know the language: no. There are so many pieces that compose "a culture", and while language is a huge piece of that, it's definitely not all of it. Simply knowing a language doesn't mean you know about the customs, practices, superstitions, colloquialisms, etc of that culture. I do think that’s it’s possible to reach that point if you completely immerse yourself in that language for an extended period of time, but only if you’re spending time within that culture. Only then can you completely understand all the implications that that language carries.

  22. Just as with culture, I believe language relates to the history of the people which speaks it. In Europe, languages come from one of two primary sources : latin or slav. As the different populations evolved independently, they created words or modifying terms to fit the situation and questions they were facing. This way multiple languages rose from the original ones. But then, humans moved around the world and implanted their language into new territories. Even if these people all speak the same language, they don't have the same culture : I (being french) don't feel related to suiss or canadian and we actually often have troubles understanding each other because of accents as Caitlin was pointing out. Language is a constantly evolving matter and if it is true that it brings us together because we can (most of the time) understanding each other, it also alienates us from our own culture. In the past people where talking differently but it does not mean that they had a whole different culture : english people feel close culturally to Shakespeare, he is actually part of the culture, but reading his texts in original version really feels like reading an other language than english.
    Trying to make people feel like they are sharing a culture through language might also simply be ineffective as we saw in France when they tried to create a "european language" called Esperanto. No one actually learned it because it felt like abandoning a huge part of our own national identity/culture, so even though we might feel europeans we still all have our own National culture and here language actually separates us.
    Trying to translate a text is of course a very difficult thing to do because every language is so different with different alphabets, different number of words...etc. It is hard to translate exactly what an author said because he meant it with his words and not anyone else's. It is really hard to translate feelings because they are all about how well the author writes. If one still translates it, it will be more about how well it is translated because you don't really see the primary writing any more. Moreover a translation might be what the translator understood out of the text, so it is a second lecture. It is even more true in poetry, because the words are (most of the time) meant to create a melodious arrangement and if you translate the meaning you might not get he melody. It is the same with the movies in non-original version, the voices and accents are a big part of the actors game and a translation can't show that : you loose all references, jokes, wordplay and intensity in the voices. A lot of things cannot be taken into account just with words because a language does not capture every aspect of a message.
    Thus to me language can be seen both as a barrier or as an easy way to dive into a culture.

  23. Everybody perceives the world in a unique way; it's one of the traits that gives us our humanity. I don't think that one's perception of the world would be significantly altered in any way by their language. Languages are sometimes highly representative of and inseparably intertwined with a culture, at least in some of the world's older languages, though this is still true to a degree in more "modern" languages as well. For example, consider Arabic. Arabic and Islam, and by extension Arab culture, are inherently linked. The language influences the culture as much as the culture influences the language; actually, the language probably influences the culture more strongly. The same phenomenon is also observable in the highly pictographic languages of Eastern Asia, specifically Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Because of this particular association, I would tend to argue that someone who is fluent (or at least acceptably conversant and functional) in a language other than their language of birth can speak respectably accurately about that language's culture; furthermore, when someone learns an entirely new language one of the most important aspects of the process is coming to understand the cultural context of words, phrases, et cetera. Again, I'll make an example of Arabic: when greeting someone you would rarely, if ever, say the equivalent of the English "hello". Instead, you would say "as-Salaam alaikum", which is approximately equal to "Peace be upon you", and has its origins in the Qu'ran. This is where translation becomes dangerous: in translating a word or phrase from one language to the next, one runs the risk of losing some social, cultural, religious, or emotional connotation that particular series of vocalizations might have. "A day which will live in infamy" is a very emotionally-charged phrase in American English, but to a Frenchman it lacks the same meaning. Similarly, the word "angst" is used commonly in everyday English, but it isn't actually an English word. "Angst" is taken directly from French, because in English there simply are not words to specify the exact meaning and connotation that the word has.

  24. I would like to address the question of whether language is a help or a hinderance. (For some reason Blog spot cut of my name, this is Kevin Marshack)

    I don't know if the issue is so simple as to just identify it as one or the other. We need language. Without it, life simply couldn't function. How would we convey ideas to other people or communicate in any way with the external world? This isn't to say that it doesn't bring a myriad of problems with it. A word or phrase in the same language can mean entirely different things depending on where you are geographically or even socioeconomically in the world. Because of this, language can complicate and dilute the meaning behind our thoughts and ideas. However, the fact that language causes problems does not make all use of language futile. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    The author asks a very good question on the final page of the reading asking if we can speak intelligibly of anything outside our culture and language.I believe that we can not speak with authority on a issue beyond our sphere of experiences. We can make educated statements and use logic to the best of our abilities, but our lack of experience and knowledge of an area of the world prevents us from being a true authority on the subject.

  25. I have strong feeling about this topic. I feel that language is really crucial for a person to study and live, especially in a foreign country. I agree with Richard Niebuhr that culture comprises of language. That is very true. When my friends and I are doing our reading homework, we always hope that we speak the same language. So that it won’t be that hard to deal with it. I asked some of my friends about their reading speed, I thought mine is 2 or 3 times of theirs when we read the same thing (in English). People who learn Chinese may have the same feeling (I know how Chinese is hard to American students as well).

    I also knew there is a language called Esperanto, which is the most widely spoken constructed international auxiliary language. Its name derives from Doktoro Esperanto (Esperanto translates as 'one who hopes'), the pseudonym under which L. L. Zamenhof published the first book detailing Esperanto, the Unua Libro, in 1887. Zamenhof's goal was to create an easy-to-learn and politically neutral language that transcends nationality and would foster peace and international understanding between people with different regional and/or national languages. (From Wikipedia) But it seems not much people know it and learn it.

    For me, there were both interesting and awkward things once happened to my friends and I many times. For example, one my friend Devin wanted to show his Chinese and wanted to say “My lady do you want to eat dumpling with me?” in the shuttle bus. But when he spoke out, it became like “Do you want to sleep with me tonight?” which really shocked me. Because in Chinese, Shui jiao (Dumpling) has the same character with Shui jiao (Sleep). The only difference is the tune. Similar things have happened to me more than once. And I believe that I also made mistakes everywhere (They just don’t tell me!). So I also hope when I am speaking, you can correct me any time if you find any mistakes I made. Haha!

  26. Regarding the question of language and culture, and the influence of language on our perceptions, here is a link for an interesting article about Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis. Its interesting stuff, and parts are definitely convincing. My only issue is that we can never really know how someone else perceives the world, and surveys or analysis of data can only go so far.