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Alexander Arguelles

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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Eric
Senior Member
Australia
Joined 5244 days ago

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

 
 Message 17 of 71
06 April 2005 at 5:56am | IP Logged 
Ardaschir, Latin has a reputation for being difficult, and in todays world with all it's distractions and no more Roman Empire threatening to take over the next town, wouldn't you say it seems doubtful regular people would bother learning such a hard language?

After all, most US citizens won't even learn Spanish, when it has the reputation for being fairly easy, and unlike the Roman Empire close by, they don't have to fear Latin America invading but it would benefit many of them to be fluent in Spanish I would think, yet how many actually do?

If they won't learn Spanish, will they learn Latin?

Regards,
Eric
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ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5272 days ago

610 posts - 2101 votes 

 
 Message 18 of 71
07 April 2005 at 2:28am | IP Logged 
As I wrote in my original response, I think the whole question of planning for a world language is still beyond the human race - we will continue to use the language of the dominant power, regardless of difficulty. If the Chinese should take over the world, then there will be an enormous surge in the number of people who both study Chinese and actually succeed in learning it.

However, since you asked me for my opinion on this, I would indeed suggest Latin for the reasons I have already given - not that I would seriously expect it to be adopted, but simply to get people to face the fact that I have mentioned, namely that people in the past could learn it, but "we" say that we cannot. What does this say about us? I personally am convinced that contemporary civilization is making people stupider, and this is a fact that too often gets swept under the rug when it should be addressed.

I do not believe that the difficulty of languages such as Latin is ever of concern to polyglots. In point of fact, all older Indo-European languages are highly inflecting, thus "difficult," but still I believe knowledge of them is absolutely crucial in becoming a polyglot. It rather saddens and worries me that there is apparently so little interest in them, even among members of this forum. Knowing where languages come from and how they change is instrumental in developing the ability and the flexibility to intuit new forms and patterns, which is the crux of polyglottery.
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Eric
Senior Member
Australia
Joined 5244 days ago

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

 
 Message 19 of 71
08 April 2005 at 12:24am | IP Logged 
Wise words Ardaschir, ample food for thought, thankyou.
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Malcolm
Triglot
Retired Moderator
Senior Member
Korea, South
Joined 5331 days ago

500 posts - 514 votes 
5 sounds
Speaks: English*, Spanish, Korean
Studies: Mandarin, Japanese, Latin

 
 Message 20 of 71
17 April 2005 at 10:01pm | IP Logged 
Ardaschir: You mentioned that you studied Classical Chinese and had memorized thousands of characters before having to give it up. Did you ever study modern Chinese (Mandarin)? This giant must have seemed tempting at some point in your language learning career, so you must have at least considered it. Were you turned off by the tones? Was there another reason? I apologize if I misunderstood your account and you actually did study modern Chinese.
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ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5272 days ago

610 posts - 2101 votes 

 
 Message 21 of 71
18 April 2005 at 7:47pm | IP Logged 
Of course I was tempted to learn modern Chinese - learn it and with one fell swoop you will have learned to communicate with 1/6 of the people on the planet - what other language can offer this? I did make several stabs at it, but you are exactly right, I was "turned off by the tones." Pax to you and all who love it and to Victor and all whose tongue it is, but I really find Chinese to be an incredibly ugly language. I tried to overcome this purely subjective prejudice by focusing on its importance, but as I must initially learn languages by intensive shadowing, I just couldn't do it. After only a few minutes of shadowing Chinese, I begin to feel very unpleasant physical sensations because my entire auditory system is offended by what I am hearing, and it is as if my vocal tract is saying "stop! this hurts me! I don't want to make these sounds! please stop!"

I think this little annecdote about myself illustrates a very important principle of polyglottery, namely the principle of affinity. I do not believe it is possible to learn a language that you do not like. I think that one reason why many people study but fail to learn a language, and why they do not enjoy the process, is because they do not feel any affinity for the language they are studying. It is all well and good to go after a language becuase it is important or useful or for whatever other reason you like, but if you not like the way the language looks, sounds, and feels, I think you had better make another choice. That is to get started learning, but to take it to a deeper level and really master a language, I think it is necessary to appreciate the cultural aesthetics of a language - its cuisine, its music, its art, its literature. I've found that respect for the tradition is not quite enough - these things must actually appeal to you. You should explore these things when choosing a language, and carefully consider the feelings of affinity or antipathy that develop as you progress in your studies in order to determine whether or not to continue. Those who learn a language because they have to do not have this luxury, but those who learn languages out of love should not be burdened with something they cannot love.
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lola
Groupie
Joined 5168 days ago

63 posts - 65 votes 

 
 Message 22 of 71
05 May 2005 at 11:58am | IP Logged 
Ardaschir,

Somewhere in another topic you said that an educated person today should speak 7 or so languages. My initial idea is something around these lines:

1.- at least 2 of: English, French, Spanish (if not the three... at least for the native speaker of any of these)
2.- at least 1 of the Middle East: I can only think of Arabic right now
3.- at least 1 of the Far East: Mandarin, Japanese seem main options for me
4.- as european, maybe a germanic language: German is number one in this group, I guess
5.- 1 for geographical and cultural spread: Russian, Urdu
6.- 1 just because you want (in my case Italian, Esperanto maybe).

So, my question is (for everyone), which are the 7 languages that an educated person should learn/know/use?

It may seem that I'm asking the same that Ardaschir has just answered, but those where his preferences for himself, and I'd like to know his take on the topic. I'd like to know everybody elses' thoughts as well, but we should start another thread if this is going to become a general topic.

Thank you

Edited by Ardaschir on 05 May 2005 at 7:22pm

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ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5272 days ago

610 posts - 2101 votes 

 
 Message 23 of 71
05 May 2005 at 7:19pm | IP Logged 
I have gotten into trouble for this before, so let me begin by clarifying that when I say an educated person “should” know half a dozen languages, I mean this “should” as an attainable goal to be striven for, not as a criterion for judgment that anyone who does not know this many is not well-educated. Since contemporary culture does not hold up this goal, individual products of its educational systems are hardly to blame if they have not attained it. Also, I certainly do not believe that linguistic knowledge is the only measure of a good education—there are many other things I believe a well-educated person “should” know, but since this is a forum about languages, I only discuss this here. I do believe that for self-motivated lovers of languages, this is an attainable goal that should be striven for, and I have several distinctly different reasons for this belief:

1. Ample anthropological evidence that it is normal for normal individuals from truly multilingual societies such as parts of Africa and India to know half a dozen languages. Obvious thus it is in the standard capacity of the human mind to know and use this many languages if the environment is right, and I think that concentrated intelligence and diligence should be able to match the quality of early childhood immersion.

2. Ample textual evidence that this goal was attained in the not-so-distant past. Look at any scholarly tome from the 19th century and you will see that no translations are provided for quotations from other languages—if the book is written in English, translations will certainly be provided for Chinese or Sanskrit or Persian or Arabic, but NOT for Latin or Greek or French or German or Spanish or Italian. Obviously it was a reasonable and justified assumption that anyone who would read such a book would be able to read these languages. There is a common belief that the explosion of knowledge in our era has forced us to become specialists while these old fellows had the leisure to spend time on languages because there was so little breadth in their fields. I used to believe this myself, but it is simply not true. The range, the breadth, the depth, the quality, and the quantity of 19th century scholarship measured against the output of contemporary scholars in the same field is incomparably greater. Obviously, linguistic range facilitated flexibility of mind while its absence narrows it. At any rate, if our great-grandfathers could do this, why can’t we?

3. Ample linguistic evidence that half a dozen languages is a boundary mark. For those who have not reached it, the study of foreign languages is generally a hard task in which success is always uncertain, while for those who have reached it, the acquisition of further languages is no longer difficult. Given that languages are the fundamental element in human thought and communication, In the course of a lifetime, an awakened mind may well wish to acquire a new one, and so knowledge of this many is the fundamental base that one should have in order to assure the ability to acquire others at will.

4. Ample sociological and demographic evidence that the languages of the world are in great and grave danger of extinction now that the era of global languages has arrived. From the standpoint of communication this may well be a good thing, but from the standpoint of cultural preservation, it is a disaster. The only way to prevent the literary and cultural legacies of the past from being lost is to encourage the study of the languages that are their vehicles. If the general expectation that educated individuals should know this many languages can somehow, ideally, be established, then I think there is some hope for cultural preservation, even if the world of the future speaks only one language.


I really like your idea of what your 7 languages should be, taking one language from many different civilizations. This is a true ideal, one that I am consciously trying to provide for my sons, born of a Western father and an Eastern mother, by moving to and raising them in Arabia, with plans to move to India within a decade. However, most human beings are infinitely more culture bound, and when it comes to learning languages, culture is a critical factor. For a European, learning other familiar European tongues is one thing, while mastering exotic tongues is geometrically more difficult and consequently time consuming. The kind of range you suggest is probably attainable only for those such as members of this forum whose major focus is on languages, and I did mean my “should” to refer to all educated individuals, whatever their fields of interest or concentration.

I do not believe there is any particular half a dozen formulaic languages that can be prescribed for all people because the issue is so culture bound. In general, I think that well-educated individuals in my ideal world should know a) the classical language(s) of their own civilization, b) the major living languages of their broader culture, c) the international language (English) if this is not one of these or a semi-exotic if it is, and d) one exotic language of their own choosing. For example:

A well-educated Westerner “should” know: a) Latin & Greek, b) English & French, Spanish or German, c) Russian, and d) Persian or Arabic or Sanskrit or Hindi or Chinese or…

A well-educated Middle-Easterner “should” know: a) Arabic, b) Persian, Turkish, & Hebrew, c) English & French, and d) Latin or Urdu or Japanese or…

A well-educated Indian “should” know: a) Sanskrit & Persian or Arabic, b) Hindi/Urdu & Bengali, Marathi or Gujarati or…, c) English, and d) Italian or Korean or Swahili or…

A well-educated Easterner “should” know: a) Classical Chinese, b) Mandarin, Japanese, & Korean, c) English, and d) Greek or Pali or Persian or…

And so on.
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lola
Groupie
Joined 5168 days ago

63 posts - 65 votes 

 
 Message 24 of 71
06 May 2005 at 5:13am | IP Logged 
Ardaschir,

Thanks for your response. It is the kind of thing I was hoping for. I sort of understood 'educated' person more or less as you explain it here, but I suppose it is good you emphasize it.

I have a pending issue with Latin, which I studied for one year in high school and remember nothing of it, apart from sitting exams. A waste. But then again, as part of my education, all I would aim for is to read Latin, not to actively produce it, which should be a more achievable goal (maybe after I learn French)...

But, yes, within this ideal framework then personal needs would dictate the choice. Thanks again.



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