Monday, February 2, 2009

Language, please

Try as I might, I've never been able to become fluent in another language. But I keep trying.

I've been working at Russian for almost 15 years and still can hardly speak it, so you'd think I'd give up by now, but I can't seem to quit. My bathroom reading is exclusively Russian, and this month it's short stories by Chekov.

The great thing about reading literature in another language is that you can sometimes experience a different perspective on the human existence. Our view of the world – our experience in it – is limited by the language with which we can express that experience. Reading in an another language can reveal interpretations of our world rooted in very different and ancient cultures.

Take this morning, for instance. I stumbled on a word: gori. In the context of the sentence, it meant "sorrows," but I stumbled because there are so many words in Russian with the same root: gor. There are gora (mountain), gorets (to burn), gorlo (throat) and gorky (bitter), and gorney (heavenly), just to name a few. The interesting part is when you begin to see a relationship among some of these words.

Connect the words and you see mountains reaching up toward heaven, and streams flowing from those mountains like tears of grief. Goryouchiye sleozi means "scalding tears."

We look at mountains and see majesty and strength and challenge, because our language, our culture and heritage have always described them in this way.

Reading in other languages is indeed a mind-expanding exercise.

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