I Came, I Seen, I Understood

By Donnamarie Leemann – Head of Marketing at Adarve Translations

While I write blogs about language, and while I spend a good deal of my time teaching the English language, my primary concern is not language at all:  it is communication. Many humans pride themselves on our species’ monopoly on language, and denigrate the possibility of non-human language.

Gorilla CommunicationI don’t know if any other species—our primate relatives such as chimpanzees and gorillas, or cetaceans such as porpoises and dolphins, and possibly other creatures as well—have command of what we Homo sapiens sapiens understand as language. I do know, on a first hand basis, that many “animals” can communicate, some in quite a sophisticated manner.

So what is the difference between “language” and “communication”?

Language is (or has become) a codified system intended to promote communication. Grammar, syntax, the whole schtick. On the other hand, communication happens willy-nilly, like a baby hippo washed up by a tsumani into the territory of a mare who adopts it as her own.

Language is rule-bound and is increasingly analytical. Communication is empathic and transcendental.

In my last posted blog, I discussed “Language in Flux.” I intimated that I didn’t much like many trends in language, in the English language, such as conjugating the past tense of the verb “to see” as “seen” instead of the heretofore correct conjugation, “saw.”

I still don’t like it; mostly on the basis of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If a language works well, as the English language appears to do, given its current rise as a world-wide lingua franca, we tamper with it at our peril.

On the other hand, I have always disliked irregular verbs. Irregular verbs seem to me to be symptomatic of an immature language. I do not speak Esperanto but I know a number of people who do. They all praise the regularity of the language. Artificial languages like Esperanto are, of course and too bad, replete with other problems, not least of all any natural affection or empathy for the construct.

A number of years ago there was a film called “Jungle to Jungle.” One jungle was Manhattan, the other a South American rain forest. An anthropologist bugged out from Manhattan, not knowing she was pregnant by a City player. She raised their child in the tropical jungle.

I had no problem with the scenario, but I was appalled by the way the child spoke English, his mother tongue. His mother spoke perfect, educated English. The child was presented as speaking ungrammatical pigeon English. It was ludicrous. The boy was perhaps 12 or 13 years old, yet he spoke like a toddler who had not yet grasped the rules of language.Pigeon English

Toddlers do grasp the rules of language. If their elders speak pigeon constructs so do they, hence the linguistic variability in early New World slave dialects, and in dialects in Pacific Oceania and elsewhere.

The child in Jungle to Jungle’s speaking bad English when his mother who taught him his mother tongue spoke perfect English was simply ridiculous.

But the spectrum of New World slave dialects and pigeon languages spoken all over the globe can give us a perspective as to how “proper” language undergoes change. Language becomes simplified. The rough edges get filed off.

Irregular verbs get regularized. I see, I seen.

I am interested in this history of language, in as much as it can give me a window into perceiving how the future of language might evolve. I am interested in the evolution of language in as much as it might give me a window into how future communication might evolve.

I came, I seen, I understood.

All the best,

Donnamarie Leemann, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland

P.S. You can give Adarve Translations in pigeon English, uneducated Spanish, faulty French or any linquistic hodge-podge you please. I myself seldom do translations, I just pontificate on language and communication. But you can count on Adriana and her team to sort out what you need to say and to communicate your meaning to whom you need to say it.

About the Author: Donnamarie Leemann is an artist and writer who has for many years contributed to the BBC and to many other public forums, and who collaborates at present with Adarve Translations as Head of Marketing.

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Published by Adriana Adarve

I’m Adriana Adarve, a multilingual, plurilingual, multicultural and pluricultural English to Spanish freelance translator. My primary interests—besides my passion for languages—are in science, chemistry, and medicine. That is the reason why I concentrate on medical, scientific and technical translations. I am also passionate about cultural diversity, which means that my translations always take into account my clients’ culture, as well as that of the audience for which the translations are intended.


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