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Thread: Does it help or does it hinder our intellectual abilities?

  1. #1 Does it help or does it hinder our intellectual abilities? 
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    What is true about being multi-lingual? Does this help or does it hinder intellectual development? I met many people who believe that learning foreign languages helped them. But that has not been my experience.

    My first language was Polish--my father and mother spoke Polish at home. That was in Moscow, before my father was arrested in 1938, when I was 7 years old. After that it became Russian, even with my mother. In 1944 it became Polish again-- in a Polish orphanage near Moscow, and in Warsaw, where I lived between 1946 and 1957. Then it became French, for seven years. And it has been English, since 1964.

    Language and thinking are interconnected; they are probably part of the same thing. I rarely have a chance to speak other languages I know; my wife and daughter are American born. But several days ago I started reading something in Polish, for about two hours. After that I started making spelling mistakes, such as "jes" instead of "yes," "Moskow" instead of "Moscow," and "Wladimir" instead of "Vladimir."

    I am fluent in French and English but my vocabulary, in each of these languages, is limited. What I know was 100% sufficient in my professional work (to teach to conduct research in physics, and to write scientific papers). But it is not sufficient to appreciate poetry, or to read some books. Limited vocabulary means limited thinking ability. That is what I think; do you agree?


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  3. #2  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    I am confined to a single language. I have always felt that this is a true restriction. The restriction comes in two parts.

    There is a secondary restriction that prohibits me from learning easily and deeply of the cultures and philosophies of others, unless they speak fluent English.

    There is a primary restriction in that I believe that the language structure and to a lesser extent the vocabulary allow for a different kind of thinking in different languages. Enjoying fluency in more than one language thereby extends the scope of ones thinking.

    When I have expressed this thought to those who are multilingual they have always agreed. Your observation has made me wonder if some of them were just being polite (or enjoying feeling superior :wink: ).

    (For the record I have attempted to learn French, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Malaysian, Indonesian, Mandarin and German. I joke that my single linguistic success was Arabic. After the failure at all of the above, when I moved to Cairo I set as my goal not learning any Arabic. When I left four years later I had succeeded.)


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    Ain’t nuttin’.
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  6. #5  
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    Quote Originally Posted by In infinity
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    Ain’t nuttin’.
    Sorry, I do not understand your reply. Please elaborate. Thank you in advance,
    .
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  7. #6  
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    To be multilingual helps greatly.
    I speak french, english, modern greek, a bit of german, a bit of spanish, igbo and creole. Also I can manage myself in yoruba and russian (with 1-2 weeks of re-leveling).

    Why does it help:
    1/ It makes your brain more souple.

    2/ It introduces new concepts. For example, in russian, there is the ellipse of the verb "To be"
    Ya ingener
    In english, you put the verb: I am an engineer.
    In spanish, you start to make the distinction between the permanent condition and temporary condition with ser and estar: Soy ingeniero
    In igbo, you face, at least 4 verbs for to be. The "to be" of the equivalence:
    Abu'm engineer. But there is also a to be for the qualification: he is small / O di obele. And for the location: he is in Moscow : O no na Moscow. etc...
    Now we get this, when Hamlet says "To be or not to be", what is it talking about ?
    The permanent/ temporary condition ? The qualitification ? The equivalence ?
    And the "I think, so I am". What is I am ?

    In igbo, once more, a bit like in german, verbs can be extended almost infinitly. I can say in one word "to eat fully with satisfaction" and with another verb "To eat with satisfaction and fully". You get the small nuances. It's very subtle.

    Philosophy is tie to language, concept can become fuzzy because of words. And concept will become very clear by learning languages.

    3/ Culturally, it helps to go deeper in other society. One question: why is there 2 way to say "Yes" in french "oui" and "si" (answer to a negative question) ? And why is there 2 no in creole "Non" and "Awa"...
    I won't say any comment about my compatriotes french women.
    But I can say that the "Awa" in creole is the african answer of the slaves to the master.
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    Makandal wrote: “Philosophy is tie to language, concept can become fuzzy because of words. And concept will become very clear by learning languages.”

    Language as communication is more than words. Language is vocalized thoughts. (For the speech impaired the language is sign.) After living over 30 years with someone who’s first language was different from mine, I still find that some words used to express thoughts do not translate well and misunderstandings continue to frustrate some conversations.
    Use the same basic language (English) as an example: I might use the phrase “cute little bugger” in describing a child in the US, but if I did the same thing in England it might not be thought of as cute or acceptable.
    Translations of a philosophical idea from one language to another would take much more knowledge and skill than just the ability to translate words.
    "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."
    Carl Sagan
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    I think we agree on that, Indigo.

    Let us make a very simple scientific experiment:
    type "pourpre" on google image. Observe.
    type "purple" on google image. Observe.
    Do the same with brun and brown.
    Even simple colours, within the 2 indo european languages are covering 2 different semantic fields. So imagine for concept.

    I do believe in a certain universality of human languages, like the fact all can be translated from one to another, the components (verbs, nouns etc...). But I think concepts are even more tough to translate.
    Don't we say "I have 30 years" in french while you are 30 in english ? And in many language, people are not dead, they have death...

    Understanding new language is broadening our concept horizon.
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  10. #9  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Makandal
    Let us make a very simple scientific experiment:
    type "pourpre" on google image. Observe.
    type "purple" on google image. Observe.
    Do the same with brun and brown.
    That was funny. Thanks!

    Birds and babes are brun; snakes and spiders are brown.
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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