Thursday, 26 December 2013

Interesting in translation vol. 3

In past weeks i had my brain swirling with thoughts about the use of you in english as both the singular and plural form of the second person. I'm not thinking about the T-V question (the intimate against the honorific use of the second person) but just on how much this lack of number distinction influence thinking.

Even if in the end ideas come before language, language influences thinking patterns (Newspeak from 1984 anyone ?) and so i'm wondering how english speaking minds deal with this lack of differentiation.
Whenever i think about that i think also about subtle and evil group dynamics, with people thinking about friend/neutral/antagonist factions and speaking differentiating between a single you and making the others you becoming a threatening them.

In every language, especially in writings this problem arises, just think about this: in a group of more than three persons one of them says "Would you come with us ?" In english it is not clear how many people are asked to come with how many "of us", in italian it could be translated in two ways, "[Tu] Vieni con noi ?" and "[Voi] Venite con noi ?". The first form is clear, one person is asked to come while in the second at least two persons are asked; it is always unclear how many people "us" is referring to.  And in both cases if this is happening in writing instead of face to face it is absolutely unclear who exactly the you are!  The bracketed pronouns are usually omitted as the italian verb conjugation is explicit enough to get the idea. I find it almost amusing that the language using pronouns more explicitly is the one being more confusing ;-) .

In a similar way i'm even wondering if/how much people living in the United States of America thinks about the pronoun us  being the same as the usual shortening of their state name: US.  Do they notice that or they always think about those two letters as separated when using it for the state ?

Oh, lovely polymorphic untameable languages! :-)

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