Monday, June 28, 2004

Why I DO speak Japanese 

With all of the miscommunication inspired bravado to be found on Nick's Click Opera these days, I opted to post this invective here. In language exchange as in blogging, the home field advantage is not without a certain charm. On a strictly philosophical level, I basically agree with the ideas outlined in Umberto Eco's book Serendipities: Language and Lunacy.

"I wanted to show how a number of ideas that today we consider false actually changed the world (sometimes fot the better, sometimes for the worse) and how, in the best instances, false beliefs and discoveries totally without credibility could then lead to the discovery of something true (or at least someting we consider true today). In the field of the sciences, this mechanism is known as serendipity. An exellent of it is given us by Columbus, who -believing he could reach the Indies by sailing westward- actually discovered America, which he had not intended to discover.

But the concept of serendipity can be broadened. A mistaken project does not always lead to something correct: often (and this is what happened in many projected perfect languages) a project that the author believed right seems to us unrealizable, but for this very reason we understand why something else was right. Take the case of Foigny: he invents a language that cannot work, and he invents it deliberately to parody other languages seriously proposed. But by doing so he helped us see (probably beyond his own intensions) why, on the contrary, the imperfect languages we all speak work fairly well.

In other words, I feel that what links the essays collected here is that they are about ideas, projects, beliefs that exist in a twilight zone between common sense and lunacy, truth and error, visionary intelligence and what now seem to us stupidity, though it was not stupid in its day and we must therefore reconsider it with great respect."

Coming back down to earth for a second, I have to admit that I don't really study Japanese any more in an abstract way - commiting a rule to memory here, trying to retain the general conjugations of verbs there. That's because I'm far too busy actually battling it out in the linguistic trenches, translating the language for a variety of reasons that include (but are not limited to) my freelance work for OK Fred, academic work at the university, communiques, etc. The sheer wealth of linguistic vicissitudes is more than enough to leave me spellbound for a lifetime, as I find myself enjoying the inexplicably correct exceptions to everything I spent a great deal of time trying to confirm.

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