Any of my frequent readers will already know that I find the idea fascinating of how closely connected to one another are language on the one hand, and ideas, concepts and cultures on the other. It’s patent that we can only say (or write) what we have previously thought of, thus making -apparently- the language a tool for expressing the ideas. However, it doesn’t seem so obvious, despite being equally true, that the language is also, at the same time, the vehicle for the ideas to take form; that it is a bidirectional process: we can only express what we think, but we can only think what we know how to express.
Effectively, language and thought are so akin that one can’t go without the other: we need the former to form the latter; without the language, we wouldn’t be able to have complex thoughts.
Therefore, how can we expect to properly translate anything? Of course, it’s always possible to put the main idea of a message into a new language; and the simpler the former, the more precise the translation; but we’ll always miss something in this process, because putting things in a different language (and being able to understand the result) would require us to be who we’re not: we can’t detach our personality -therefore our thoughts- from our mother tongue. People make the language, and language makes the people.
I’m sure I’ve already written things similar to this in some other post of this blog; and, for many years, my ideas upon the subject have remained the same: that when we switch to a foreign language, we assume a slightly different personality, or rather a modified version of the same. But this explanation didn’t fully satisfy me, because on one hand I couldn’t quite accept the idea of a changing personality, and on the other hand I had to face the case of bilingual people: do they have a double identity? That would be maddening, and doesn’t sound plausible. As a matter of fact, most of the bilingual people I’ve met seem to me to be quite clever, broadminded, and not suffering from any ambiguous nature.
So, recently I’ve modified my beliefs in this matter and now I’d rather say that learning a foreign language simply has the effect of broadening our mind, enriching us and making us somehow more complex. Thus, it would work basically (though in an amplified way) like getting to improve our own mother tongue: the better we learn another language, the more we get -added to our own selves- the treats of the folk who speak it since their cradles.
And a fine consequence, or reverse, of this theory would be a new idea: that, in turn, the broader our mind, and the richer or more flexible our personality, the easier should be for us to learn a new language.
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Of course all this are but my own thoughts. I’m sure there are well founded studies regarding the matter and thrusting trustworthy light upon it. If any of the readers here knows of some documentation about the subject, I’d love to hear of it.