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Sunday Scribblings #85: The Hidden Power of Languages

December is National Learn a Foreign Language Month; and in today’s world where we are interacting with people all across the globe almost consistently in one way or another, learning a new language is definitely bound to help. Not only that, various studies have proven time over time that speaking more than one language is beneficial in so many ways! All those benefits and pros point to the hidden power of languages 🙂

So is learning a new language on your list? If yes, which is your chosen language? As for me, I have been playing with learning Spanish on and off; and I do have my teens to help me with it as it is (was for my college-going son now) part of their high school curriculum. Plus, over the summer, I worked on learning to read and write one of the languages I speak already but am not proficient in the reading/writing departments yet.

Sunday Scribblings #78: With Love, A Letter to My Daughter

The Hidden Power of Languages

Rita Mae Brown said, “Language exerts hidden power, like a moon on the tides.” I agree with her. Without realizing, the language we speak influences us and others around us. The fact that we know and can communicate using a language with others is in itself so very powerful. Just imagine, if you did not know any language, how would life be?

Well, as for me, I would definitely feel bereft, adrift, lost at sea, even if I lose any one of the languages I currently know. Language impacts so many aspects of our lives in so many ways…. and I look at just a couple of them in very specific ways below

The Hou(w)se of Languages

How We Think and Learn

This article titled “How does our language shape the way we think” is a must read. The author, an associate professor at UCSD currently, questions if “people who speak different languages think differently simply because they speak different languages?” and also if “polyglots think differently when speaking different languages?” She also observes that “languages require different things of their speakers.”

I am basing this example on the sentence she uses in her article. Consider the sentence “Ronnie read this article.” When we speak it in English, the verb “read” needs to be pronounced “red” and not “reed” to ensure it is understood correctly, and in the right tense. In some other languages, the verb needs to be altered for both tense and gender, depending on Ronnie’s gender, while in others, neither tense nor gender impact other parts of the sentence. In still other languages, even this simple statement will need other bits of information included with it.

“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things but learning another way to think about things.” ― Flora Lewis

Learning new languages, at any age, helps improve our cognitive abilities, according to Dr. Ellen Bialystok, a linguistics professor at York University in Toronto. It helps strengthen and change the network of neurons in multiple ways, and can help our brains age more gracefully, according to a study at Penn State.

“It is literally the case that learning languages make you smarter. The neural networks in the brain strengthen as a result of language learning.” ― Michael Gove

How We Address Others and Communicate With People

I recall thinking for the longest time (and still wonder about it) how in my mother tongue (and many other Indian languages as well), we have specific words for some specific relations, while in English, it came down to just one or two words. For example, when I say “my athai,” it means I am talking about one of my father’s sisters; and if I talk about my “chithi,” I could be referring to either my dad’s younger brother’s wife or my mom’s younger sister. Similarly, a few other relations have specific words.

Does your language have anything similar?

Of course, there is also the fact that when we speak to anyone in their preferred language, it makes the conversation so much more: warmer, better, friendlier, and smoother. Even using a single word that we might know in another language helps. I know that simply

 “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela

Of course, when dealing with trade, it helps to know the language of the other person! If you have ever bartered for a better price on an item (either as a buyer or a seller), you will know what I am talking about. Or like Willy Brandt says below:

“If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. If I’m buying, Dann müssen Sie Deutsch Sprechen.”

Just in case you are wondering, that last phrase translates to “Then you need to speak German!” While I don’t speak German, I do know a few phrases in the language, including “thank you,” “sorry,” “please,” and “good morning/night/day/evening.”

While I mention very specific examples above, language is after all, key to communication, so there is so much that can be discussed here. Feel free to add to the discussion in the comments.

And the Rest of the Hows!

In addition to being able to communicate with others who speak a different language and strengthen our brain, learning a new language has so many other benefits. Some are obvious while others more subtle. Travel in countries where people speak other languages is easier; even virtual conferences can become livelier! We can read books in the original language and relish that experience. Don’t forget about being able to write in other languages too.

And the list can go on…

So Are You Ready to Learn New Languages?

The Hows section should have inspired you by now to get started. And here are a few more brilliant quotes to inspire you some more toward that intention.

“We should learn languages because language is the only thing worth knowing even poorly.” ― Kató Lomb

“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.” – Frank Smith

“With languages, you are at home anywhere.” ― Edward De Waal

“You are as many a person as languages you know.” ― Armenian Proverb

“A different language is a different vision of life.” ― Federico Fellini

“It is astonishing how much enjoyment one can get out of a language that one understands imperfectly.” ― Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve

“Any time you think some other language is strange, remember that yours is just as strange, you’re just used to it.” ― Anonymous

Poetic Sundays: Macaronic Poem of Many Languages

With all this talk of languages, I decided to feature the Macaronic poem today. I had already discussed this form as part of the A-Z series one year, and simply reusing it today. Why the Macaronic form? You will discover that soon enough!

The Macaronic Poem

What is the Macaronic Poem?

Macaronic verse was invented by a poet named Tisi degli Odassi in 1488 who mixed Italian and Latin in his work titled Carmen macaronicum (Macaronic Songs).

It was later popularized by Teofilo Folengo, a Benedictine monk, who combined Latin rules to Italian vocabulary in his burlesque epic titled Baldus published in 1517. He described the macaronic as the literary equivalent of the Italian dish, which, in its 16th-century form, was a crude mixture of flour, butter, and cheese. The Baldus soon found imitators in Italy and France, and some macaronics were even written in mock Greek. (source: Britannica)

So, the Macaronic:

  • has any number of lines – left to the writer
  • no specific meter or rhyme to follow – left to the writer
  • combine two or more languages – the more the merrier!
    • make up (nonsensical or not) words combining the languages to use in your poem
    • you know only one language – then fear not
      • you could also use slang with prosaic in the same ‘language’, Shakespearean English with #hashtags/acronyms, regular speech with textbook ‘language’
      • use Google translate to come up with words in your favorite language – the one you always wanted to learn but never did so far (this can be a start! – I know I have at least one such language)

How to write the Macaronic?

Well, there is no meter or rhyme mentioned anywhere for this form that I could see. All that it requires is a combination of two (or more) languages. In addition, you could choose to use the rules of grammar of one of them and apply those rules on the other languages in the poem to bring out comic effects, or to make the whole more beautiful and melodious, or simply change its impact (see my example in an earlier post here.)

You can also look at the popular macaronic poem titled Carmen Possum on Wikipedia for inspiration or check out Antoine Cassar’s mosaics poems.

Here is one poem for reference (“The Motor Bus” by Alfred Denis Godley)

What is this that roareth thus?
Can it be a Motor Bus?
Yes, the smell and hideous hum
Indicat Motorem Bum!
 in the Corn and High
Terror me Motoris Bi:
Bo Motori clamitabo
Ne Motore caedar a Bo—

Dative be or Ablative
So thou only let us live:—
Whither shall thy victims flee?
Spare us, spare us, Motor Be!
Thus I sang; and still anigh
Came in hordes Motores Bi,
Et complebat omne forum
Copia Motorum Borum.

How shall wretches live like us
Cincti Bis Motoribus?
Domine, defende nos
Contra hos Motores Bos!


Poems written in multiple languages can often be understood by readers, in context, or because of the flow of words in the language they do understand in that poem. You can check out the first link in the additional reading section below to see what I mean.

References, Additional Reading

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On My Blog

6 out of 7 ain’t bad.. 🙂

And At Home

With everyone home (my freshman was home for the Thanksgiving week!), it was simply days of doing chores that needed doing, relaxing, and spending time together.


On My Blog and Home Front

This UBC is coming to an end and while I did not participate everyday as I had hoped to, it was wonderful being a part of it. I will try to finish it with a post for each day for the remaining couple of days 🙂 And then we have a fun Bookish Blog Hop coming up again December 1st through 7th with at least one stop here on my blog.

At home, well, it is going to be one of those quieter weeks between ho-ho-ho-holiday weeks 🙂

This Week’s Celebrations

Literary Celebrations (close-to-it also!)

  • Literary birthdays this week include; Louisa May Alcott, Madeleine L’Engle, and C. S. Lewis on Nov 29th; Jonathan Swift, L. M. Montgomery, Mark Twain, Tayari Jones, Romila Thapar, and Winston Churchill on the 30th of November; Azar Nafisi and Candace Bushnell on Dec 1; Elizabeth Berg and George Saunders on the 2nd of Dec; Joseph Conrad and Stephen Elliott on Dec 3rd; Peter Godwin, Rainer Maria Rilke, Thomas Carlyle, and William Diehl on the 4th of Dec; Christina Rossetti and Joan Didion on Dec 5th
  • A few month long celebrations can be added here: Write A Friend Month, Read A New Book Month, and Learn A Foreign Language Month

Foodie Celebrations

Other Celebrations

Related Books and Reads

Suggestions related to various aspects of today’s blog

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Wrapping up my Sunday Scribblings

So dear reader, you have reached the end of this Sunday Scribblings! As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments, and suggestions about this post. And do let me know if you plan to celebrate any of these mentioned celebrations this coming week/month? I

Linking this to the Sunday Post over at the Caffeinated Reviewer and the Sunday Salon

5 thoughts on “Sunday Scribblings #85: The Hidden Power of Languages

  1. Love how you emphasized the importance of languages. I am teaching my son to be bilingual. I believe it will be useful for him to learn more languages as it is deeply embedded in culture and the way of life.

  2. Interest post. I Latin all through high school. It not much for specking but, it helpful in understanding the root words to languages that are related.

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