Some people seem convinced that learning a new language is a simple act of learning new combinations of syllables to signify an already rigid meaning as determined by one’s own language, that summer is the same thing as été or samhraidh, only pronounced somewhat differently. This, of course, is not true. Learning a new language equals learning how to comfortably inhabit another way of conceptualising the world, and said way of doing aforementioned thing will never be as simple as learning words, syllables, sounds. Idioms prove this to us on a daily basis; “hinter schwedischen Gardinen” means something completely different if the phrase is translated word by word into any other language. Only Germans think of Swedish curtains as prison doors.
Je t’aime is different from I love you, not only from a phonological point of view and when someone understands lagom, they haven’t just learnt a new Swedish word, meaning something along the lines of adequate, they have managed to crack one of many cultural Swedish codes as well.
Different cultures put more emphasis, care more about different things. This does not mean that any one language is the owner of so-called untranslatable concepts, it just means that the world around a language’s speakers has influenced them in different ways. A language, ultimately, is a tool acquired and developed by our ancestors to heighten our chances of survival, and thus it is only natural that one language focuses more on the texture of snow, where another creates hundreds of words for different waves.
It brings us to the age old question, if I cannot name it, does it exist and the answer is, of course. Only a closed, prejudiced mind colonised by itself declares anything a linguistic, cultural or physical terra nullius.
Cultures give birth to languages, languages define cultures.
— by Selchie Productions