Exploring Our Matrix
The Blog of Dr. James F. McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, Indianapolis
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Idegen nyelvet lehet nagyon jól tudni, de jól soha.
[Translation: "It is possible to know a foreign language very well, but never well."]
– Dezső Kosztolányi in his 1922 essay “Nyelvtudás” (“Language Knowledge/Learning”)
He also said, in the same vein, “Csak anyanyelvemen lehetek igazán én” – “Only in my mother tongue can I be my true self.” Would you agree?
Nope. Communicating in one’s first language certainly does help express one’s ideas, but, after ten or so years of communication almost entirely in a second language, this statement can easily be considered untrue.
I don’t think it is merely a matter of fluency with respect to this point. There is some evidence from psychological studies, if I am not mistaken, that one’s personality and the impression one gives of oneself are different in a language other than one’s mother tongue. My own experience would tend to confirm that. But perhaps you have simply achieved something that most others have not!
What does this mean?
Is the translation not visible to you?
It is, but I can’t make any sense of it.
It is possible for someone who is not a native speaker to reach a point at which they can say they now the language “very well.” But they will never know it well – i.e. there will always be something that feels different, that is imperfect, even for one who knows a language so “very well” that few others would ever spot a flaw in their expression.
Does that make sense? It is much pithier in the original Hungarian – which perhaps helps to make the point?
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