Most of us take language for granted. It’s just something we learn when we are growing up. How often do you think about what it might be like to communicate without language? How often do you contemplate what it might be like to try and understand your surroundings and even yourself without language?
If you want to learn a foreign language or you speak more than one language, then you are in a privileged position. You have more opportunities in job sectors, you can travel more confidently and learn about different cultures by speaking to local people, and you can also consider how words work and change between different languages.
Walter Bejamin was a philosopher and intellectual who lived from 1892 to 1940 and he had some really amazing ideas about different languages and cultures. In his essay of 1923, “The Task of the Translator” he discussed how translations of literature often underline aspects that are not so obvious in the original, and that some parts of the original just don’t translate into the target language. This is one of the things a person learning a new language will discover; there are lots of phrases that don’t have an exact equivalent in another language.
You may be asking, ‘how does this make us philosophers like Walter Benjamin was?’
Well, when you find a phrase that doesn’t really translate word for word into another language you might think about why it doesn’t. This could lead to a better understanding of what it is we are trying to express with words. Walter Benjamin believed that the difference between languages was the key to philosophical truth. Do you think learning another language can bring you closer to understanding the way your own language works within a specific culture?