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Ardaschir

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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Eric
Senior Member
Australia
Joined 5460 days ago

102 posts - 105 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish, French

 
 Message 1 of 29
17 February 2005 at 2:43am | IP Logged 
Ardaschir,

You said in another post:

"OK, I'll try to give a list of sorts, but I don't feel very comfortable doing so because it is precisely when you do know many languages that the questions of what a language is and what it means to know a language become very blurry."

This interested me as to what you mean't by 'what a language is' and so forth, and I thought you could perhaps expound upon your statement for the aspiring polygots here for what 'despair?' awaits one who knows too much? (this is the tone I get from that statement, I could be wrong though)

Many Thanks Ardaschir.

-Eric
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ProfArguelles
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foreignlanguageexper
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 Message 2 of 29
17 February 2005 at 9:59pm | IP Logged 
Oh my, did I convey a tone of despair? I certainly didn’t mean to—perhaps I do sometimes intimidate unintentionally when I am trying to encourage. I’ll have to try to watch my phrasing more carefully.

I absolutely love being a polyglot and I don’t think there is any such thing as knowing “too much.” I believe that any young lover of languages can and should learn a great number of them, for treading the path of the polyglot is a far more stimulating mental adventure than any of the accepted options offered in a professional scholarly career. Still, while I cannot bring myself to “sacrifice” any of the languages I have learned, if I could do it all over again, I think it would ideally be better to know one dozen languages really well than to know two dozen rather well, which is more where I am currently at. After you have given months or years of your life getting to know a language, and fallen in love with her in the process, you naturally want to spend time with her, and there are only so many hours in a day, so that if you have many loves, it becomes quite difficult to find a slot for them all. This is the burden I feel, this and the fact that I feel an increasing desire to do something other than work exclusively with languages, as I have done for the past decade or so, and that it is hard to get away from them. Well, what did I mean by “what a language is and what it means to know a language?” You are familiar with the concept of language families and the notion that languages are related to each other genetically and historically, are you not?

Take the Germanic family, to which English, German, Dutch, Afrikaans, Frisian, Yiddish, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, and Faroese all belong. All of these are traditionally regarded as different “languages”—and they are. Your average monolingual Australian knows only the first one, and plopped down into a monolingual community of any of the others, he would be unable to communicate. However, he would soon come to understand many common words for homely items, and if he were to sit down and study any one of them, he would find many other common points of structural comparison as well, for all of these languages have a similar developmental history from a common point of origin. If he were to embark on the philological study of some of these languages, thereby coming to understand how, e.g., English evolved from Anglo-Saxon through Middle English into the modern language we are now using, and if he were also to take one of the living forms, say German, the next on the list, and learn it well, both in its living incarnation and its past forms, what do you suppose would happen if he were exposed to a third language, say Dutch, the third on the list I gave? Why, he would find that he understood quite a bit of it without ever even studying it, far more than either your average Joe or Hans could understand. Dutch, to the typical English or German speaker a related but different and distinct language, would appear to him as a penetrable dialect. The more knowledge and experience you have, the more this process continues.

If you thoroughly study eight out of ten members of a language family, you will probably find that you can understand the other two without even studying them. Indeed, while the speakers of these various languages perceive the other languages to be distinctly different, you will rather see and hear them as variations on a single theme. If you’ve never conversed in a speech form or read a book in it, you certainly can’t claim to know it the same way you can claim to know a language you have lived in for years and whose literature you have consumed, but if there is no doubt that you will be able to cope with it on your very first encounter, then you still know it, albeit in a different sense. Well, all of this is exactly what has happened to me. I honestly perceive the entire Germanic family as a single unit and I would feel more comfortable saying that I “know” Germanic than I would saying I “know” English, German, Dutch… Likewise, I would feel more comfortable saying I know Romance than I would saying that I know Latin, French, etc., etc. Until quite recently I certainly still perceived Germanic and Romance to be separate and distinct entities. However, I believe that with more experience and perspective, the similarities of these two related branches of the I-E family will outweigh their differences. As I age and consolidate my knowledge of various exotic tongues, I am coming to feel this way, and I can envision a day when I will feel more comfortable saying I know “Western European” than saying I know Germanic and Romance. And so on.

Do you follow me? Does this help?

Edited by administrator on 17 February 2005 at 11:45pm

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Eric
Senior Member
Australia
Joined 5460 days ago

102 posts - 105 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish, French

 
 Message 3 of 29
18 February 2005 at 12:29am | IP Logged 
Once again, many thanks Ardaschir, I completely understand now.

Ardaschir if it's possible I wonder could you answer one more question for me. (I have contemplated messaging you, but felt the other members would also be interested in the answer)

My question is this:

I am enrolled in University and I shall be starting my course shortly, and have to pick 2 majors. One is Japanese, the other I have a limited selection to choose from, but out of that selection is Linguistics.

Now I have never studied Linguistics and have heard it is incredibly hard, my question to you is how important do you feel Linguistics is, and is there any truth to it being hard? (I know hard can be relative, lets say if you are studying Law and passing at a Credit average, could you adequately understand Lingustics?)

Many Thanks once again Ardaschir.
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administrator
Hexaglot
Forum Admin
Switzerland
FXcuisine.com
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 Message 4 of 29
18 February 2005 at 12:51am | IP Logged 
Eric, linguistics as a topic at University is highly interesting and not so difficult, unless you plan to specialize yourself in it. How many hours a week and what material is covered in the program you are referring to?
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Eric
Senior Member
Australia
Joined 5460 days ago

102 posts - 105 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish, French

 
 Message 5 of 29
18 February 2005 at 1:38am | IP Logged 
Hello Francois,

I think it is 5 hours per week for the first semester, only two subjects:

- LNGS1001 Structure of language (Foley)
- LNGS1005 Structure of English (Simpson)

You can read for yourself here, I am not too sure if it is 5 hours, this will be my first time at University.

http://www.arts.usyd.edu.au/departs/linguistics/ling/timetab le2005.html
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administrator
Hexaglot
Forum Admin
Switzerland
FXcuisine.com
Joined 5608 days ago

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 Message 6 of 29
18 February 2005 at 3:58am | IP Logged 
Sounds very interesting!

I don't think you will have much problem. It looks like a general introduction to linguistics at first-year University level. You should probably enjoy it if you like languages.
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Eric
Senior Member
Australia
Joined 5460 days ago

102 posts - 105 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish, French

 
 Message 7 of 29
18 February 2005 at 11:35pm | IP Logged 
Yeah I am interested in Languages, just don't know what Linguistics will be useful for if I don't specialize.

Also thinking of 'downgrading' Japanese to Spanish, since I am a monolingual speaker, I might be diving in too deep, wheras if I major in Español, not only will this help me teach my mother but I kill off two birds with one stone.

Decisions decisions.
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victor
Tetraglot
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 Message 8 of 29
19 February 2005 at 2:44pm | IP Logged 
I think you're doing the right thing, Eric, finding out exactly what is linguistics. As far as I know, linguistics is definitely not the same as "learning languages". Linguistics after all, maybe not be of interst to you.

As for the "downgrading", how long have you been studying Japanese? If for a considerable time, I suggest sticking to it and master the language you want to learn.


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