Free thoughts on language learning

Discussions on learning Spanish, English and other language issues. Occasionally, we may stray from language learning topics if there is something that catches my interest.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ilan Stavans Thinks About Dictionaries

Who? Thinks about what?

OK - let's back up a bit. Ilan Stavans is a Professor of Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. He is also a terrificly, smart and fun author with wide ranging interests. Last year he come out with an autobiographical book titled, Dictionary Days: A Defining Passion (Graywolf) His background might called a little unique. (if one were also inclined to say things like "a little pregnant" or "a little dead" - I'm so inclined)Born of Eastern European, Jewish ancestry, he grew up in Mexico speaking Spanish and Yiddish. Along the way he learned French and English as well and thus is well equiped to comment on languages from muliple perspectives. In an interview on Translation Journal he speaks at length about dictionaries and what they tell us about trends in thought at the time they were written. He comments on their function and is right on the mark in this section:
Language without limits descends to chaos: grammar, syntax, spelling... these are all prescriptive activities. But when the limits are set in stone without any room to be innovative, language becomes stagnant. For languages, to survive, need to be in a state of constant mutation. They need to engage in a give-and-take, to borrow and improvise new terms, and offer terms to other languages.

There is great stuff in this interview. It is thought provoking and perspective broadening. Where else are you going to hear people talk about Logotheism ..."a religious manifestation where words have center stage" or lexicographicolatry (nope! you'll have to read the interview yourself) If you were good enough to stick with this blog posting but can't imagine wanting to read this interview then click here. (thanks to Monty Python)


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