Friday, 30 September 2011

Learning a Different Language

They say learning a different language, especially in one's fifties, keeps the brain nimble and may prevent the onset of Alzheimer's and other conditions. They also say one should try and learn a language whose script, vocabulary, grammar, etc., are very different from one's own. The logic being that learning similar languages will simply reuse old neural pathways in the brain and not create new ones. That's why many Westerners have favoured learning Japanese. It has until recently been the most "useful" non-Western language. Perhaps Mandarin will overtake Japanese soon in this department.

And this is an entirely unscientific assertion, but perhaps this is why I had never heard of Alzheimer's while in India. Everybody there is at least bilingual. And if an Indian knew English, Hindi and a South Indian language, they would know languages from three linguistic families with completely different morphology and syntax.

I was reminded of all this when I saw an out-of-office autoreply from a person on one of the mailing lists I'm subscribed to. This is in French, and I did attend a semester of French at college, but I would think any English speaker could decipher this using the "neural pathways" they already have:
Bonjour,

et merci de votre message.

Je suis absent du bureau avec peu de d'accès à ma messagerie.

Je prendrai connaissance de votre message à mon retour dès le 10 octobre.
En cas d'urgence, vous pouvez contacter M. _____ ( email address ).

Bien à vous

A few familiar words (if spelt slightly differently) and a well-understood context, and the message becomes completely comprehensible. Even the "Bien à vous" sign-off seems to translate to the Aussie "Good on ya" (though it probably doesn't mean the same thing!)

As Mr Spock would say, fascinating.

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