The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

How other languages can reveal the secrets to happiness

“The limits of our language are said to define the boundaries of our world. This is because in our everyday lives, we can only really register and make sense of what we can name. We are restricted by the words we know, which shape what we can and cannot experience.”

Source: How other languages can reveal the secrets to happiness

conversationWhen we study other languages, it doesn’t take long to find words that have no direct translation into our own. Just as exasperating is discovering that something we can express in our own language with a single word has no correlation in the language we’re studying.

As writers, we try to get around being chained by the language in which we write by (sometimes) making up words (though not going as far out as James Joyce), using metaphors, experimenting with experimental prose, using widely known words in other languages, and polishing short passages so that we can get around the limits of our available word choices.

I like this article, which focuses on happiness, because it articulates a problem writers often see but that is, in a way, hidden from anyone who speaks a single language and has never studied any others: our perception is limited but we don’t realize that it’s limited.

–Malcolm

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4 thoughts on “How other languages can reveal the secrets to happiness

  1. If it’s true that we can only experience that which we have words for, it makes me wonder what people were like before words. Did our growing vocabulary create us, or did our need to experience create the words.

  2. I know someone who experiences feelings of Schadenfreude on a pretty regular basis. I love her, but this trait is exasperating (and disheartening).

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