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Older people (not ‘older’ in general; older than the person they’re speaking to) always say that things look different as you get older. Very young people have only a hazy idea of what that means. You can’t really conceive of the ways in which a viewpoint can be different from your own until you’ve gone through a viewpoint shift.

I am neither very old nor very wise. But I am old enough to say that the world looks so different to a married mid-twenties professional than to a high school student.

I was marveling at it today. I’ll spare you my internal monologue, because honestly, it was much like the “deep” thoughts of a kid high on pot. You know the kind. Only less smoke and, hopefully, more revelations that bear meaning to people who aren’t high. Yes, we’re all one under the skin. Peace, love, etc. Moving on.

The Point: Getting older is like learning languages. When you only know one language, you have nothing to compare it to. You have idea how a language could work differently than your language does. Naturally, other languages have different words than yours; otherwise it wouldn’t be a different language. Ich liebe dich means “I love you”. Subject, verb, direct object. Meaning. That’s how language works. End of story.

You grow up a decade. You actually learn to speak German instead of parroting it. You stop throwing half-understood German phrases into English conversation (at least deliberately). In one of the great ironies of life, now that you actually know German, you don’t try so hard to prove that you know German. You know now that there are other configurations than subject, verb, object. You know there’s more to “I love you” than Ich liebe dich.*

And when you look back, you see the differences between German and English that you never could have conceived of before you learned German. And maybe you start to wonder, during those rare, introspective moments, what other differences are out there that I haven’t even conceived of?

And then you start to learn Japanese…

* Ich liebe dich is used only for romantic love, and only when you’re quite serious. Between friends, or between a parent and a child, you’re likelier to use another configuration. The same roots, but quite a different meaning.

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