Language is a very fascinating subject, extensive and equally sophisticated.
According to Henri Delacroix, ‘The individual’s whole experience is built upon the plan of his language’. Language is seen by most as a communication system, and the differences in language patterns go a long way in explaining the differences in opinions, experiences and thought processes. The contact between languages sometimes leads to Cultural diffusion and Languages hybridization. This means that languages tend to influence each other either directly (i.e. through obvious signs of word swaps and total abandonment of certain terminologies) or indirectly (i.e. through accents and subconscious comparisons).
Language allows people to communicate with great precision. Most evolutionary scenarios for language see it as a communication system. Not all scholars agree with this. Some scholars do not view language to have evolved solely for the sake of communication; hence as a means of sociability but that language evolved first as a cognitive tool then later externalized for communication, especially following Fodor’s (1975, 2008) Language of Thought Hypothesis. Therefore, they see Languages as being merely used in communication and not being a system of communication in the strong sense.
In other words, this shows that viewing languages as a communication system alone imposes obvious constraints on the abilities that have to be pre-exist for language to exist. Communication is extensive in nature but Language is unique. Humans are the only ones who need a system of communication that allows them to communicate a potential infinity of different contents. This then raises the question, ‘ where does this infinity of different contents come from?’ One potential answer is that Cognitive sophisticated species need an equally sophisticated system of communication. In conclusion, human intelligence rather that human sociability is the key to language. Personally I agree.
This brings me to Translation of Language and Language as a thought process. There are certain words in your language that are ‘untranslatable’, trying to translate these words distort their meaning completely and affect the experience. Take for example, when the UN Charter was written, Latin-Americans protested that the phrase ‘sovereign states’ meant nothing to them and that they preferred ‘personality of states’, the Spanish-speaking members could not differentiate between ‘chairman’ and ‘president’ and the Russians had trouble understanding ‘ gentleman’s agreement’. A German isn’t satisfied with the word meaning ‘to know’, he needs two, ‘wissen’ and ‘kennen’. One means ‘to have knowledge of ‘ like to know a secret and the other means ‘to be acquainted with’ as in knowing a place or person.
English has its own fair share of ‘untranslatable’ but it won’t really matter to you if you are an English speaker because you are already wired to ‘think in English’. This is why translations sometimes can be very tricky, as a simple change in words can affect or even destroy the meaning of an idea. According to Edward Sapir, ‘Each language is a particular how of thought and the speakers of each consider all others as more or less inferior, absurd and illogical’.
Translating is the ideal form of intellectual exercise.
According to Let Schopenhauen, ‘In learning a foreign language, you form new concepts, you discover relationships you didn’t realize before, innumerable nuances, similarities, differences enter your mind, you get a rounded view of everything. This means that you think differently in every language, that learning a language modifies and colors your thinking, corrects and improves your views and increases your thinking skills, since it will more and more detach your ideas from your words.
P.S. It doesn’t have to be a foreign language, any language other than your own will do. Also, Speaking well is not a measure of intelligence. Yes it is admirable to be able to speak ‘good English’ but do not let it cloud your judgment and perception. Learn to think clearer and you’ll act better.
Excerpts from the Research topic ‘Components of the Language-ready brain- Why language really is not a communication system: a cognitive view of language evolution’ and ‘The Art of Clear Thinking’ by Rudolf Flesch.