Saturday, December 10, 2005

What words say

It's funny what words say about a society. In Russia the word "state" shows up everywhere - Moscow State University, etc. In Denmark the word you see everywhere is folke - "people." Denmark has people's highschools and Copenhagen People's University and the Danish People's Party. But the word doesn't mean "a collection of individuals" like you could use "people" in English - you can't say there were a lot of folke at the party. It's the nation, the community. In Russia you only have individuals and the state. In Denmark the state is the people's.

The other night I was at Ricky's house during bathtime for the youngest son, who was squeezing his bar of soap to make it shoot up in the air. I began counting backwards in Danish as if for a rocket launch, but when I got to what should have been "blastoff", I realized I had no idea how to say that in Danish. I asked Ricky, who didn't know, and we asked his mother. "What do you say at a rocket launch after 'three, two, one'?" Dorte looked puzzled: "Zero?" Only then did I realize that of course they wouldn't know - Denmark has no space program. There is no word for "blastoff" in Danish.


Andrew said...

The way language shapes thought is so fascinating. I heard they had trouble explaining "public broadcasting" (NPR) to Russians because the language that distinction.

There's also a culture in Europe that has no relative directions (left, right) because they express things relative to the big mountain they live around... so fascinating.

sandy said...

the germans have no word for "fluffY"
10 points if you know where that's from!

sandy said...

oh yeah...and the french have no word for cheap.
hmmm...makes you think that.