Language.

I was pondering. The ponder was provoked by a comment made by A Quiver of Quotes which is a blog that concentrates on improving my writing. And yours too unless you suffer from contentedness in which case don’t bother.

Her comment was “…when you can’t think of a word but you know what you mean, what language are you thinking in?”

When I was in the Army they sent me off to do a course in Mandarin. It was a twelve month total immersion course run by the RAAF School of Languages. I was kicked of the course after three months because I am tone deaf and Mandarin is a tonal language. But I remember being fascinated by the pictograms which are the original characters and from these came the more complicated ideograms. There is one that anyone can see if they look at anything made in China. That is the character for the name of the country ; China.

The two characters combine to mean “Central Kingdom” and, if I remember what I was taught, then the first one is clear; a line running down the centre of the world. The second Character is a very simplified form of the ideogram for Kingdom and is made up of a wall around the outside and inside are characters for people, rulers and some others I’ve forgotten.

But the point is this. When I look at that ideogram (all those separate smaller characters combined ) what language do I use, up there in my tiny pink mind, to translate it into meaning?

The answer is, I think, that I don’t use any particular language. In my mind I just know that that is “China”. I was saying in my post about the Melbourne Zoo that I was fascinated by the way little kids and their parents all in different languages were all saying much the same thing when they were looking at the lemurs and the meerkats. I saw three little kids, one who was too young to talk, having a laughing giggling conversation amongst themselves but they weren’t using any language that was common, yet their ideas and thoughts were common. I didn’t take their photos because I think we have learned not to do that these days.

One a slightly different track but on the same tram my elder daughter, of whom I am very proud, ( if for nothing else, then for the fact that what you see below moved her as much as it moved me) sent me a link for a story about a High School in Sydney which has an amazing way of dealing with all the immigrant children in their care. This is a long report but at least go and look at the start if time is too precious to look right through to the end. And you will also get an idea why so many of us know that Australia is already great.

Holroyd High

10 comments

  1. I’ve always been fascinated with the ideograms. I knew the oriental languages were in these pictures, but being so awful in trying to learn other languages, I guess I didn’t have enough of an imagination to learn them all. It doesn’t stop me from being interested though.

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  2. You were absolutely right about this Insight segment. What inspirational young people, our country would be the richer for more citizens like them.

    What broke my heart was when we heard near the end that life is still not settled for all of them, their future may still be uncertain.

    Like

  3. Interesting take on the question! (And neat that you should follow up my question with a blog post response—honoured, thanks 🙂 )

    Actually, I think you were asking how do we translate words/pictures into meaning and I was gunning for the opposite, if we have the meaning, how do we translate it into words—but I think they’re both so intimately related that answering one, answers the other. The thing that interests me is when the “translation process” is a bit “off”. Namely, when I don’t understand the meaning of something, I feel confused, muddled, in a slippery mud-hole grasping for vines to pull myself out. (If I at all understand that I don’t understand.) If I have a meaning I want to express, I’m struggling on the verbal end, trying out patterns of words till I get a match. In both cases the confusion is there, the difference is in the manifestation. As for the language of thought … it’s a mystery, but it has its roots in both words and pictures. So your China ideogram was spot on!

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