“The impact that shifting languages can have on us reveals how central it is to our identities and social connections. In a series of intriguing studies, Boaz Keysar and his colleagues at the University of Chicago have shown that when speaking a second language, people tend to behave more rationally. In our native languages, we’re somewhat stuck in our habits, and likely to be susceptible to classic cognitive biases. But the more thoughtful effort that is required to speak a second language helps elevate us into more rational territory.”
SOURCE: Cook, Ed. “Learning a Second Language Isn’t Just Good for Your Brain—It’s Good for Democracy, Too.” Quartz.
Excerpt from Paul Worley & Kelsey Woodburn’s interview with Sean Sell:
Not many people know that Maya literatures or even in general indigenous literatures exist. Why do you think that is? What is the role of the translation in the promotion of these literatures even within their countries of origin?
“Colonialism in the new world has not ended; rather, the colonizers took control away from European nations. Indigenous people throughout North and South America continue to fight to preserve their culture and have at least some control over their lives. Words like autonomy, sovereignty, and agency all relate to this struggle. While Western Civilization may see the world as a set of nations based on lines drawn hundreds of years ago by white politicians and map-makers, indigenous people (those who haven’t been displaced) have older connections to lands based on where and how their cultures developed. These writers use literature to speak for their connection to the land, a theme that comes up repeatedly.”
SOURCE: Woodburn, Kelsey, and Paul Worley. “Translator Sean Sell on Contemporary Indigenous Literature in Mexico.” Asymptote.
“[F]iction gives people the possibility to look at the world from the perspective of another person’s life. Kundera calls this an ‘experimental self.’ Literature from other countries would possibly open up that space even further, and you’re not looking at the culture from the outside but from someone’s point of view who lives there or has grown up there.
As a translator she said she’d become very aware of the relation between culture and language:
Some expressions or experiences become embedded in language that is almost unique to that culture. Therefore the two are very closely related. So what you’re trying to do as a translator is to make the author you’re translating understood in your own language, while at the same time stretch your culture and language a bit to accommodate what makes their voice and experience different. Which in the end might change your own culture a little bit.”
SOURCE: Buchanan, Rowan H. “The Stranger’s Tongue.” Electric Literature.
Alex Gendler explains how linguists group languages into language families, demonstrating how these linguistic trees give us crucial insights into the past.
SOURCE: Gendler, Alex. “How Do Languages Evolve.” TED-Ed.
Herta Müller’s translator, Philip Boehmon, on imagination as the key to empathy.
“Herta Müller shows people caught up in a linguistic world where the language doesn’t match the reality. In a way, for her, there is a kind of primal echo from when she was little, when she encountered words that not only did not match reality but actually masked it or were in opposition to reality, and were thus loaded with all sorts of potentially ‘lethal content.’ She was used to living with that tension and it is something she portrays very well in her characters.”
“Translation is a bridge that serves to enlarge imagination, to connect to the world. We’re impoverished without it. As translators we are both diplomats and activists. The sheer act of translation is one of engaging with a world outside of whatever world we’re in.”
SOURCE: Hofmann, Jennifer-Nahomi. “Translation as Activism: An Interview with Philip Boehm” Literary Hub.
“With the death of every language, dies a rich culture. It’s an identity that needs to be preserved in the face of an ever-changing world.”
“The contribution of these tribal communities to Telugu culture has been very significant. Many literary works in Telugu have elements from these tribal languages which have also contributed greatly to the evolution of art and culture in the region. Languages are store houses of culture, literature and knowledge. The Chenchu tribe has a rich oral literature; they have high knowledge about herbal medicines. The Valmiki tribe that speaks Kupia has a fascinatingly rich knowledge of forests, flora and fauna. Once these languages die, the wisdom is lost forever.”
SOURCE: Paul, Papri. “The Dying Tongues of Telangana and Andhra.” The Times of India.
Four Things That Happen When a Language Dies
- We lose “The expression of a unique vision of what it means to be human”
- We lose memory of the planet’s many histories and cultures.
- We lose some of the best local resources for combatting environmental threats.
- Some people lose their mother tongue.
“What’s happening with today’s language loss is actually quite different from anything that happened before. Languages in the past disappeared and were born anew, she writes, but ‘they did so in a state of what linguists call ‘linguistic equilibrium.” In the last 500 years, however, the equilibrium that characterized much of human history is now gone. And the world’s dominant languages—or what are often called ‘metropolitan’ languages—are all now rapidly expanding at the expense of ‘peripheral’ indigenous languages. Those peripheral languages are not being replaced.”
SOURCE: Eschner, Kat. “Four Things That Happen When a Language Dies.” Smithsonian Magazine.