Are your words worth a thousand pictures?

We have all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, but do our words paint pictures? Can people SEE what we are talking about?

If I had gone for symmetry, I would have asked if our words paint a thousand pictures. But anyone should be so lucky as to be able to paint one… and, more importantly, that it be perceived as such by the person to whom you talk.

You know you have learned a new language when…

I very soon became able to understand a great deal without (even mentally) translating it; I was beginning to think in Greek. That is the real Rubicon to cross in learning any language.

Those in whom the Greek word lives only while they are hunting for it in the lexicon, and who then substitute the English word for it, are not reading Greek at all; they are only solving a puzzle.

The very formula, “Naus means a ship,” is wrong. Naus and ship both mean a thing, they do not mean one another. Behind Naus, and behind navis or naca, we want to have a picture of a dark, slender mass with sail or oars, climbing the ridges, with no officious English word intruding.

via Beginning to Think in Greek.

Le metteur en scène en tant que traducteur

On a l’impression en France qu’en lisant un bouquin de Tolstoï ou Dickens, on lit Tolstoï ou Dickens : mais c’est stupide ! Pour lire Dickens il faut lire l’anglais ! Si vous écoutez une œuvre musicale ou si vous allez au théâtre voir Hamlet, ce que vous regardez ce n’est pas Hamlet, vous le savez bien ! Vous regardez Hamlet vu par un metteur en scène.

Aussi le traducteur en tant que sujet situe (ou “met en scene”)  le texte original dans une autre langue:

Tout ce que je dis, c’est que par nature, la traduction est une interprétation. Il ne peut pas y avoir de traduction objective, parce que c’est quelqu’un qui fait une traduction. Quand je dis “par nature” ça veut dire que ce n’est ni bien ni mal, c’est un fait de l’ordre de l’existant. Alors que faut-il demander à une traduction ? Ce n’est pas qu’elle soit fidèle, mais qu’elle soit cohérente, c’est-à-dire qu’elle soit une lecture, et une lecture appliquée. Une lecture pratique.

via L’Oeil électrique.

Your language is essentially

I bumped into a list of 1000 “Essentialist Explanations” in the form “Language X is essentially language Y under conditions Z”.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Basque is essentially the distance between kaixo and agur.

English is essentially the language of people who think that everybody else speaks their language. French is essentially the language of people who think that everybody else should speak theirs.

Spanish is essentially a language that should be called Castilian, for the relief of Basques, Gallegos and Catalans.

Italian is essentially Tuscan dialect as spoken by a Lombard.

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A language with its sleeves rolled up and its necktie loosened. (…) [I]t is “the language that says ‘no’. No to piety, to religion, to ideology and all its permutations, to honour, nobility, patriotism and their kindred infantilisms (…)”.

It is all those words we wouldn’t utter in a job interview or in front of a maiden aunt. And it is an endless source of pleasure, which explains why dictionaries of slang are so appealing.

via TLS.

From criticizing to providing feedback

At one point, people used to “criticize” each other. But then it was too harsh and hurtful to criticize, so instead, people started “giving criticism” to each other. (Notice the shift from a direct to a more indirect voice.) This was still too hard for many, so then we start to “give constructive criticism.” (Note the addition of a positive adjective — lessening the impact of a negative phrase.)But this was too long to say so then we stopped giving constructive criticism and started “to critique” — which has come to mean “high end criticism.” This then gave way to “giving critiques” (note the same pattern of lessening the impact by turning it from a verb into a noun). This one, however, didn’t last, and was quickly replaced by “giving feedback,” which then became “providing feedback” (note give — provide adds an additional syllable: longer words conceal more than smaller words do) — which is where we remain today.

Although we’re still “giving/providing feedback” today, that’s just starting to be replaced by its successor: “providing developmental feedback.” (Note, again, another example of adding a positive adjective to a negative phrase.)

This pattern is more invidious than it seems to be at face value: big words often hide big deeds, and big deeds are more often than not bad deeds. One of the key weapons in fighting the laziness of thought (and all the problems that derive from this) is through clarity in language. (Random thoughts)