Saturday, May 30, 2009

Does It Sound...

...Greek, Chinese or Hebrew To You?

And because the previous post didn’t have enough maps to look at I will give you another one.
Not technically a map (more like a cartogram) but anyhow an interesting mapping of how different nationalities use different languages to express their incomprehension of a word.

When an English speaker doesn’t understand a word of what someone says, he or she states that it’s ‘Greek to me’.

In France we apparently have trouble with a lot of languages since we can refer to Chinese (like most people), Hebrew or Javanese (we are the only one using this language as reference) but we don’t find (like a lot of other country) Greek to be a difficult one (maybe because we study it at school just like Latin – we like “Langues Mortes”*… at least nobody can correct our accent like that). Also I can believe Turks think French is a difficult language… pleeeease!!!!

But the palm goes to the Chinese because the only language they find hard to speak is “Heavenly script” (well at least they are well aware that Chinese is one of the most difficult language!). I’m also surprised that Arabic is not a big point of reference as a difficult language.

The use of Greek as a diffult language comes from the Middle Ages when the monks’ knowledge of Greek was waning, they would write in the margin of texts they could not translate, in Latin: “Graecum est, non legitur” (”This is Greek to me, I can’t read it”).

* “Langues mortes”, “Dead” language is used as a reference to language not spoken anymore such as old Latin, Greek. We also use “Langues Vivantes” (“living” language) as an opposition. So for example when in school you can have a period of “Langues Vivantes” in your schedule where students will go to the class according to the language chosen (English, Spanish, Italian, German…) and a period of “Langues Mortes” (which is usually Latin or Greek)