May 16, 2007

Horse 761 - Damn You "English Language"!

It is no secret that I retain a deeply entrenched, nigh-sadomasochistic streak for language and its praxis.

Language rocks. Language melts. Depending on the situation, it can make or break a person. It can heighten someone to oft-heard of but seldom seen dizzying cusps of joyful abandon, or hurl that same person into the unfathomable depths of frantic self-loathing.

Overall, language is just plain fun.

Which is why the discrepancies among separate embodiments of human communication strike me so. Namely: I believe native English speakers are sentimentally impaired by their tongue.

By this I mean no disrespect on anyone’s cunning lingual ability (bet you thought I would skip the cheap shot, huh?). No, I’m referring to the different gradations of love according to language.

Much has been said about the influence of language on our thought process by a lot of people better prepared than I am. Chomsky, that guy who was obsessed with eskimos, CS Lewis and even my own discussions of slang and language related fiction are just some of the many, many boring sources I could point to regarding this subject. But I won’t.

I will just refer to one overbearing example: Love.

I know what you’re thinking: Rollo has finally gone off the deep end, the dude’s going to launch into some diatribe about how wonderful his girlfriend is - please spare us the schmaltz!. And yes, my girlfriend is quite wonderful, thanksformentioning it, but that’s not what I’m going to talk about. I want to discuss the idea itself, its manifestation in language, and its levels in particular.

In Spanish, there are two basic levels of the same emotion: Querer and Amar. The first one, "Te quiero", conveys a strong feeling of affection for a person. It’s ok to say it to your better half within an acceptable timeframe in a serious relationship (you don’t just rush into it), it’s rarely ok to say it to friends (unless it happens to be New Year's then it’s quite alright), and it’s not as high as you can go.

Then there’s "Te amo".

Which is, unquestionably, on a level of its own. This is the one you say to a girl when you look in her eyes and think to yourself that it would be awesome to settle down, and stay by her side until the stars don’t shine. You may "querer" a whole bunch of girls from afar in your life, but you’ll only "amar" one... possibly ever.

Now let’s move over to English… What do we have?

I love you.

That’s it. That’s the whole enchilada. No more, zip, nada, zilch, zero, zippidy-doo-da, badda-bing-badda-boom, nought, nothing, the matter is closed, pens down the test is over, roll up the clouds like a giant scroll, pack up the ball, pick up your bat and ball and go home. You either do or do not. No middle point at all. When you get into a "relationship" (and I really hate that word because it's so clinical) you’re supposed to stave off the desire to proclaim your feelings until you can give this one a go. And then there’s nothing more.

I find that cruel.

Thank goodness I don't live in Japan - they actually do get nothing.

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