Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Languages

SM Stirling's Rangers have made Tolkien's invented Sindarin a living language and have had to make up new words to fill the gaps. Stirling's Sir Nigel Loring learned Irish when he was an SAS man in Northern Ireland. (I am not sure whether any SAS men really did this?) Poul Anderson's Olaf Masgnusson can negotiate with the Merseians because he speaks not only Eriau but also two other Merseian languages. Today, I heard of an American actor who learned two Indian languages to make films for Bollywood. I cannot speak Irish, French, Latin or Esperanto despite having studied all four languages at different times.

I think that there are two problems:

a language has to be taught and/or learned properly;
it helps if the learner has some aptitude not only for learning one language in childhood but also for learning others later.

It can be done but not easily by everyone.

7 comments:

David Birr said...

Paul:
I've studied both Esperanto (self-study) and German (formally taught in childhood and teen years). I couldn't now carry on even half a minute's worth of conversation in either. Part of that's lack of continued practice, but I believe as you suggested I also lack a native APTITUDE for retaining languages other than my primary tongue.

I read somewhere that studying languages exercises the mind in such a way that the more languages you learn, the better you get at picking up additional languages. I have no proof of that assertion.

Incidentally, I discovered that the Tengwar and Tehtar, Tolkien's Elvish runes, work even better for writing Esperanto than they do with English, because there are a number of vowel sounds in English that the Tehtar (vowel diacritics) don't quite fit.

I keep a number of dictionaries of foreign languages. Of course, there's still the question of grammar and syntax, so I'm by no means able to converse in ANY of these tongues, but I can at least try looking up word meanings for Esperanto, German, Japanese, Latin, Russian ... and Klingon.

S.M. Stirling said...

I'm told that a number of SAS men did study Irish; the Provos used it as an code.

Paul Shackley said...

Mr Stirling,
Thank you. I was not sure on this point and hoped you would respond. I suppose that an SAS man who BOTH studied Irish AND had a linguistic aptitude MIGHT become fluent. I wish I could.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Gentlemen,

I've also read that young children can learn languages more easily than many adults can. Presumably that was because their minds had not yet "hardened" from using one language alone.

Sean

S.M. Stirling said...

There's a latency period in a child's life when it just soaks up words (and the patterns of their arrangement) easily and quickly; afterwards this tapers off. But if the child is not exposed to language during this period, they'll never fully master the standard linguistic skills.

A child at that stage babbles in the full range of sounds that human beings are capable of. They gradually stop using the ones that aren't included in their language

Nihonjin-speakers have terrible trouble with "r" and "l" because their language uses a sound which falls almost exactly between those two; they literally cannot hear the difference.

That said, some people learn languages much more easily than others as adults; it seems to be linked ot musical talent as well.

Paul Shackley said...

Mr Stirling,
So Juniper and Nigel are a perfect match!
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

This "latency" period in a child's life during which he is able to quickly learn languages is what I had in mind. And I also thought of Nicholas van Rijn as one of those adults who learn languages more easily than others. He said in Chapter VI of SATAN'S WORLD that he knew ten to 15 languages well and twenty to thirty badly. AND had the gall to say he spoke Anglic best of all! (Smiles)

Sean