multi-lingual code cracking

June 10th, 2012

Spending time in our native language, where everything for the most part is clear, understood an unambiguous, gives us a skewed perception of what language really is like. Understanding quite effortlessly is something we get used to, and that's what makes our encounters with so-called foreign languages uncomfortable.

A language you know intimately is the exception. A great deal of language happens between individuals who communicate effectively despite their linguistic shortcomings. That to me is the real magic of language.

Dealing with a foreign language is always a matter of partial knowledge.

poster_afficheTake this poster and the word "affiche".

To begin with, Dutch has many French loan words and this is obviously one. "affiche" must be a noun, thus the corresponding verb is likely to be "afficher" or perhaps "ficher a" (to "ficher" at something or onto something).

In Polish "afisz" is a sign or a notice and it's simply a straight import from French.

In Spain recently I noticed it is very commonplace to write "prohibido fijar carteles" on all kinds of surfaces to discourage people from putting up posters. When you see that sentence on a wall that clearly has seen lots of posters torn down with remains of adhesive and dirt, the context is so clear that it's hard to misunderstand. "fijar" and "ficher" thus occur in a similar context.

Meanwhile, in Portuguese there is a very common word in "ficar" which is used in practically every context that has to do with entering a state of mind, eg. "eu fiquei feliz". This is very close to the Italian way of saying "sono rimasto deluso", where the verb to remain is used instead of, as in English, to become.

These three verbs are not exactly the same, but they have a strong common base of intention. "afficher" is the verb that corresponds to "fijar", ie. to fix or fasten something. Meanwhile, "ficher" has the metaphorical meaning of "ficar", namely to enter a state of mind.

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