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Who’s that language (for me)

Gaston Dorren, the author of Lingo and other books on comparative linguistics, asked his readers to share their associations and connotations with different languages, how these languages are felt from outside? Here’s what I feel, subjectively.

Gaston Dorren’s blog

Russian is the Pacific Ocean to me — no limits, no end in sight, an absolute immensity both in width (inherent expressive tools of the language) and in depth (inherent bottomless vocabulary). Russian is a modelling clay I can shape anything with — not just because it’s my mother tongue, but mostly because of a total 3D freedom and flexibility a Slavic language can offer.

Yiddish (which calls itself ‘màme-lošn’ — ‘Mom’s language’) and Belarusian both taste home, bread, warm milk and fireplace — so sweet and cozy. 

Polish means elegance and politeness. Ukrainian is made to be sung. Czech, Slovak and Slovene are disappointed hopes — you think you will easily cope with this simple task, but no — reality is tougher than you thought.

I feel the Baltic family as my distant relatives, but Lithuanian is a woman, she lives in a countryside, she is a farmer and she loves to sing; and Latvian is a man, he lives in a town, he is a school teacher and he loves to preach.

Flemish Dutch tastes comfort and tranquility. And easiness too — the only Germanic language (along with Yiddish, though) that you pronounce as if you were speaking Italian: no effort, no tension, just speak naturally as you breathe or swim (check it out here). Dutch of the Netherlands seems a parody of the clear Flemish Dutch (sorry, Gaston!) — why do you twist the word uitgegroeid só that I can’t recognise any single sound and must ask to write it down? Two musicians are reading from the same printed sheet of music score, but what a difference in interpretation between a VL-Dutch pianist and a NL-Dutch trombonist!

Flemish accent in French and French accent in Dutch are associated with courtesy, education and good manners.

Luxembourgish may seem a joke, but it isn’t (listen to it). German is the Wartburg castle — an impregnable citadel I can’t seize. German means hopelessness. Persian (Fārsi) is Italian written in Arabic script, but with a generous layer of sugar on the top. Italian itself is a non-stop aria. Sometimes I think that Italian should be declared the official language of the planet because of its universality and intelligibility.

Binary Hebrew and Arabic are good soldiers: they march keeping step, they can only turn 90°. I can compare them to the Periodic Table of Elements with the same degree of sturdiness and absolutism. Turkic languages are a Lego train — you take a locomotive first (the radical) and then endlessly add wagons to it.

Serbo-Croatian is a genuine time machine: I feel like travelling to the original proto-Slavic language 12 centuries back in time. And guys — you have won the Pan-Slavic competition of romanisation: your gajica is the most accurate variant. Another high five is also yours, it’s for the full equivalency in both sides ⇆ between Latin and Cyrillic systems — bravo for having easily harmonised the two worlds.

Bulgarian/Macedonian means a paradox: you guys gave us an alphabet (even two) and you don’t decline nouns and adjectives?! It’s a pity. Having cases is great, bring them back, you will certainly appreciate the genitive! And get rid of the article, it has no use.

Running into Sorbian languages in East Germany is like suddenly meeting an old classmate at the other end of the world — hey, what a surprise, what are you doing here?!

Modern Greek feels like a mix of a medical encyclopaedia, history and unexpected irrationality. Hungarian doesn’t belong to our galaxy. Is it a language after all or is it just a chaotic sum of random sounds and characters?

European Spanish looks like the Prodigal Son of the Romance family (though second to Romanian). European Portuguese is so weird that you finish by falling in love with it.

What colour is French? It (mistakenly!) seems to me that French is the default language that everybody should speak — and if one surprisingly speaks a different language, it’s just because (s)he wants to play. French is so habitual, so commonplace, so obvious and omnipresent that it became colourless for me. I forgot how French felt like when I didn’t speak it.

English is Latin to me — the ultimate lingua franca (just in case somebody unexpectedly doesn’t speak French). It’s a utilitarian esperanto: a language of science, computer interface, business, Wikipedia, international communication, manuals and reference books (and this post too). By far the best choice if you want to be clear, precise and to the point. The best fit to communicate with an air controller; probably not a best fit to make a declaration of love. I really don’t know how English is. It is as it is, it links us together, so thank you very much.

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