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  1. #11
    Protocol Droid Athenian200's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thealchemist View Post
    Reminds me of how in 1984, the evil guys tried to reduce language to a few words to have a better control on humans.
    I read that book. While I'm not sure it would be possible to control language to THAT degree, I do believe it could be influenced to a certain extent, via rhetoric or political correctness.
    When I think in French, I am more rational and mathematical (not the correct word) than when I think in English.
    Do you mean "methodical"?

  2. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Athenian200 View Post
    Do you mean "methodical"?
    Aaah yes much much better word. (See? I wasn't thinking in French at the time.)

    It will be difficult to control language to that degree but I don't think it will be impossible. It's a bit like how certain words get popular (not just memes) and some other beautiful words of yore get forgotten. Hmm , I suppose an example would be how some people use "awesome" and "epic" to describe a whole variety of things. I wonder if this phenomenon happening on a larger scale and to a larger extent could modify the mind. I need to think more about this.

  3. #13
    Protocol Droid Athenian200's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thealchemist View Post
    It will be difficult to control language to that degree but I don't think it will be impossible. It's a bit like how certain words get popular (not just memes) and some other beautiful words of yore get forgotten. Hmm , I suppose an example would be how some people use "awesome" and "epic" to describe a whole variety of things. I wonder if this phenomenon happening on a larger scale and to a larger extent could modify the mind. I need to think more about this.
    I believe that people can collectively decide to abandon certain modes of speech in favor of others, certainly, but I don't really believe that one group of people could completely control language. Perhaps a conflict between two groups could impact a language, if they both tried to impact it. I also question whether shaping speech in the way that 1984 did would be desirable even for a totalitarian government.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Athenian200 View Post
    I believe that people can collectively decide to abandon certain modes of speech in favor of others, certainly, but I don't really believe that one group of people could completely control language. Perhaps a conflict between two groups could impact a language, if they both tried to impact it. I also question whether shaping speech in the way that 1984 did would be desirable even for a totalitarian government.
    Yes the more I think about it, the more I find it difficult to believe that one group could completely control language. Some languages, however, are slowly bowing down to other languages (French adopting English words, for instance) so I wonder if one day there'll be a "central" language; and if so, will that significantly increase the likelihood of language-mind control.

    I like to think of dystopia.

  5. #15
    Starcrossed Seafarer Aquarelle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Coriolis View Post
    Interesting, and thanks for the clarification. I tend to give driving/walking directions using the cardinal directions, e.g. "go north on Elm street for 1 mile, then turn west onto Carroll St.", and am always surprised when people seem confused by this. Have you any idea how this culture without words for left and right would distinguish one hand, foot, ear, etc. from another?
    Hmmm, good question. I'm not sure, and it wasn't mentioned in the article. I would guess they might say "my southeast ear hurts" but I could be completely wrong.
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  6. #16
    Senior Member guesswho's Avatar
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    What I know about language and the mind. (from empirical data)

    In order to properly learn a foreign language, you must be exposed to it at a very young age.
    2 scenarios can result from this.
    a) You keep using the language you have learned (for instance English, because you'll see cartoons when you're a kid), resulting in better insight, compared to others who have learned it later in life.

    b) You don't use the language you have learned or have been exposed to. But if you try to learn it later, let's say after 10 years, you will still have a major head start compared to others who haven't been exposed to it. (for instance having a foreign parent who will speak German for a while, and then make the transition to English and stop speaking German when you're around)

    What is the impact of language on the mind? Does it make you smarter? Does it change anything?
    No, it doesn't change much. It's a simple matter of absorbing information at the proper age, most people can do that.

    The only difference I noticed is that in order to speak English you must think in English. You start thinking in 2 languages frequently and it's quite funny.

    Languages obviously differ, in Romanian the words have quite a lot of meanings.
    For instance ass means ass, but it also means back.

    So saying "in the ass of the classroom" = "in the back of the classroom"

    Words are more humor friendly, due to their meaning.

    For instance, a teacher told us a story which was ridiculously funny because of the words he used...without wanting.
    He said " I was driving my car and a van hit me in the ass " Obviously no one thought of ass meaning back...and everybody laughed like crazy

  7. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Athenian200 View Post
    I also question whether shaping speech in the way that 1984 did would be desirable even for a totalitarian government.
    Well, it was practiced to a considerable extend. LTI is pretty good reading if you are interested in the mechanisms behind it.


    Wikipedia on LTI:
    LTI - Lingua Tertii Imperii: Notizbuch eines Philologen (1947) is a book by Victor Klemperer, Professor of Literature at the University of Dresden. The title, half in Latin and half in German, translates to The Language of the Third Reich: A Philologist's Notebook.

    Lingua Tertii Imperii studies the way that Nazi propaganda altered the German language to inculcate people with National-Socialist ideas. The book was written under the form of personal notes which Klemperer wrote in his diary, especially from the rise of the Nazi regime in 1933, and even more after 1935, when Klemperer, stripped of his academic title because he was Jewish (under the Nuremberg Laws), had to work in a factory and started to use his diary as a personal exit to his frustrating and miserable life.

    LTI shows a German language twisted into a Newspeak-like language. It also demonstrates how the new language came to be naturally spoken by most of the population. On the reverse, the text also emphasizes the idea that resistance to oppression begins by questioning the constant use of buzzwords. Both the book and its author unexpectedly survived the war. LTI was first published in 1947 in Germany.

    It underlines odd constructions of words intended to give a "scientific" or neutral aspect to otherwise heavily engaged discourses, as well as significant every-day behaviour.
    This quote from the book summarizes the main idea quite well:
    No, the most powerful influence was exerted neither by individual speeches nor by articles or flyers, posters or flags; it was not achieved by things which one had to absorb by conscious thought or conscious emotions.

    Instead Nazism permeated the flesh and blood of the people through single words, idioms and sentence structures which were imposed on them in a million repetitions and taken on board mechanically and unconsciously. . . language does not simply write and think for me, it also increasingly dictates my feelings and governs my entire spiritual being the more unquestioningly and unconsciously I abandon myself to it.

    And what happens if the cultivated language is made up of poisonous elements or has been made the bearer of poisons? Words can be like tiny doses of arsenic: they are swallowed unnoticed, appear to have no effect, and then after a little time the toxic reaction sets in after all.

    The Third Reich coined only a very small number of the words in its language, perhaps - indeed probably - none at all. . . But it changes the value of words and the frequency of their occurrence, it makes common property out of what was previously the preserve of an individual or a tiny group, it commandeers for the party that which was previously common property and in the process steeps words and groups of words and sentence structures with its poison.
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  8. #18
    Protocol Droid Athenian200's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Herring View Post
    Well, it was practiced to a considerable extend. LTI is pretty good reading if you are interested in the mechanisms behind it.


    Wikipedia on LTI:


    This quote from the book summarizes the main idea quite well:
    Interesting. It reminds me of the way political correctness and the media seem to encourage particular perspectives on things. They didn't completely change the language, but they did push a particular perspective onto people using media and propaganda that most people accepted. It wasn't total re-engineering, just subtle manipulation. Books from before the campaign started were still quite readable. But it was still effective. If Nazi Germany is any indication, it wouldn't even be necessary to eliminate the words for concepts that didn't serve the state, it would only be necessary to make them irrelevant in the common discourse by advocating perspectives that invalidated them. Far less control is actually needed to keep the majority of people in line, if you're willing to tolerate the existence of a few criminals who will need to be found and executed or something.

  9. #19
    Symbolic Herald Vasilisa's Avatar
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    This is so long it might make your eyes glaze over right away, but I find it very interesting and clearly related to the investigation of cognition and the mind. This is unlike feral children stories I have seen before, because it is about the absence of language, not the absence of all socialization. Its got that moving "Miracle Worker" moment also. I've chopped it up, please follow the link for the complete story, and check out the original interview.
    Life Without Language
    Posted by gregdowney
    July 21, 2010
    neuroanthropology.net
    [...]
    The rare case of individuals without language offers some potential window in on life across the intellectual Rubicon, if we had developed mentally without immersing ourselves in the shared symbols and communicative reality of language. Although we tend to think that only those who are profoundly intellectually disabled, criminally neglected or raised by non-humans fail to learn language, in fact, adolescents and adults without language may not be as rare as we think. Author Susan Schaller has written about the case of a profoundly deaf Mexican immigrant who grew up in a house with hearing parents who could not teach him sign language in her book, Man without Words.

    The website, Works and Conversations, has a discussion of Schaller’s story, how she became interested in sign language through a fluke accident, but especially her work with Ildefonso, who had grown up without learning sign language or any other form of communication. The piece, Leap of Faith, the Story of a Contemporary Miracle, was written by Richard Whittaker in 2009 (although I only recently came across it). It’s a fascinating interview, and, although I may disagree with Schaller in certain ways, I think her story of trying to teach Ildefonso, not merely sign language, but the symbolic process itself, is absolutely fascinating.
    Schaller meets Ildefonso
    In the interview, Schaller describes how she originally became fascinated with sign language, when she happened into the very first lectures held in sign language by Lou Fant in 1972 in a course called ‘Visual Poetry.’ Hit by a catering truck near the end of high school, Schaller had been excused from her classes so she took the opportunity to sneak into college classes that sounded interesting at Cal State Northridge. She was so moved by what she saw that she wound up joining a volunteer signing drama group even though, as she puts it, she knew three signs when she signed up.

    If you want more of Schaller’s story, I suggest you go to the original interview, or better yet, her book, but Schaller eventually wound up quite committed to signing. Asked to work as a sign interpreter, Schaller found herself in a class for ‘Reading skills’ that was little more than a warehouse for all the deaf students, no matter what their educational needs. In the midst of a swarm of signing and movement, she spotted an individual, clearly deaf, who was also clearly unable to sign:
    I went to the door to walk out and was actually turning the handle to leave, when I see this man who looked so frightened. He was holding himself as if he were wearing a straightjacket. He was backed up in a corner, protecting himself. I saw that he was studying mouths, he was studying people. Even though he was frightened, he was still watching: what is happening, what is happening?
    She observed as another aide, one who couldn’t sign very well, tried to reach the frightened man. When the other assistant gave up, Schaller tried to engage the man and his true situation started to dawn on her:
    I walked up to him and signed, “Hello. My name is Susan.” He tried to copy that and did a sloppy rendition of “Hello, my name is Susan.” Obviously he didn’t know what he was doing. It wasn’t language. And I was shocked.

    He looked Mayan and I thought, well, if he knew Mexican sign language, he wouldn’t try to copy. That’s not a normal thing to do, even if you don’t know the language. I couldn’t walk away. I slowly figured out that this man had no language. As I said, I could see that he was very intelligent. I could see he was trying very hard. I was twenty-two years old. I had no idea of what I was doing. I was faced with how to communicate the idea of language to someone without language.
    The man she would call, ‘Ildefonso,’ had figured out how to survive, in part by simply copying those around him, but he had no idea what language was. Schaller found that he observed people’s lips and mouth moving, unaware that they were making sound, unaware that there was sound, trying to figure out what was happening from the movements of the mouths. She felt that he was frustrated because he thought everyone else could figure things out from looking at each others’ moving mouths.

    One problem for Schaller’s efforts was that Ildefonso’s survival strategy, imitation, actually got in the way of him learning how to sign because it short-circuited the possibility of conversation. As she puts it, Ildefonso acted as if he had a kind of visual echolalia (we sometimes call it ‘echopraxia’), simply copying the actions he saw:
    He’d just try to form signs and copy what I was doing. But his facial expression was always, is this what I’m supposed to do?

    That question was on his face all of the time. It was terribly frustrating. It went on hour after hour, for days and days and days. Then I had an idea. If I died tonight, I may have had only one truly brilliant thought in my life. What was it that attracted me to this man? His intelligence and his studiousness, the fact he was still trying to figure things out-those two things.

    I decided to stop talking to him. Instead, I taught an invisible student. I set up a chair, and I started being the teacher to an invisible student in an empty chair. Then I became the student. I would get into the other chair and the student would answer the teacher. I did this over and over and over. And I ignored him. I stopped looking at him.
    Even with the ‘brilliant idea,’ the road ahead was hard, and Schaller talks about wondering when one of them was going to give up. Finally, they had a breakthrough moment which I want to quote at length because it really is a remarkable story (I got goosebumps from reading it):
    What happened is that I saw a movement. I stopped. I was talking to an empty chair, but out of my peripheral vision I saw something move. I look at Ildefonso and he had just become rigid! He actually sat up in his chair and became rigid. His hands were flat on the table and his eyes were wide. His facial expression was different from any I’d seen. It was just wide with amazement!

    And then he started-it was the most emotional moment with another human being, I think, in my life so that even now, after all these years, I’m choking up [pauses]-he started pointing to everything in the room, and this is amazing to me! I’ve thought about this for years. It’s not having language that separates us from other animals, it’s because we love it! All of a sudden, this twenty-seven-year-old man-who, of course, had seen a wall and a door and a window before-started pointing to everything. He pointed to the table. He wanted me to sign table. He wanted the symbol. He wanted the name for table. And he wanted the symbol, the sign, for window.

    The amazing thing is that the look on his face was as if he had never seen a window before. The window became a different thing with a symbol attached to it. [emphasis added, GD] But it’s not just a symbol. It’s a shared symbol. He can say “window” to someone else tomorrow who he hasn’t even met yet! And they will know what a window is. There’s something magical that happens between humans and symbols and the sharing of symbols.

    That was his first “Aha!” He just went crazy for a few seconds, pointing to everything in the room and signing whatever I signed. Then he collapsed and started crying, and I don’t mean just a few tears. He cradled his head in his arms on the table and the table was shaking loudly from his sobbing. Of course, I don’t know what was in his head, but I’m just guessing he saw what he had missed for twenty-seven years.
    Schaller argues that this is the ‘first breakthrough about what language is’: “Oh, everything has a name!” (from her account).

    The account is powerful and moving, I find, and Schaller says that it changed both of their lives. For Ildefonso, he didn’t just learn that ‘things have names’ (at least in a given linguistic community), he simultaneously changed the way he thought and joined a community of people who can think in ways that are intimately tied to each other. The breakthrough was both internal and external, simultaneously cognitive and social.

    For Schaller, the experience stuck with her, and she eventually sought out work on language-less adults. She couldn’t find anything, so she sent a letter to Oliver Sachs, who much eventually undergo apotheosis as the patron saint of the quirky and well-written account of psychopathology and neurological injury. Sachs wanted to meet her and told her, ‘You must write this down! In DETAIL!’ Sachs eventually wrote the preface to her book about Ildefonso.
    The plight of the language-less
    [...]

    There are examples of communities of deaf people spontaneously inventing new sign languages, but the case of a profoundly deaf individual in a hearing community, isolated from other individuals struggling to communicate visually, would offer little opportunity for this kind of innovation (see, for example, the case of Nicaraguan Sign Language, discussed here and here). Deprived of communication and symbolic interaction, it’s unclear how a personal language could really develop the stability or systematicity it would need to become a true language (Wittgenstein, for example, says that the idea of a private language is incoherent).

    What is it like to live without language? Unfortunately, Ildefonso doesn’t help us too much with that:
    It’s another frustration that Ildefonso doesn’t want to talk about it. For him, that was the dark time. Whenever I ask him, and I’ve asked him many, many times over the years, he always starts out with the visual representation of an imbecile: his mouth drops, his lower lip drops, and he looks stupid. He does something nonsensical with his hands like, “I don’t know what’s going on.” He always goes back to “I was stupid.” It doesn’t matter how many times I tell him, no, you weren’t exposed to language and… The closest I’ve ever gotten is he’ll say, “Why does anyone want to know about this? This is the bad time.” What he wants to talk about is learning language.
    [...]
    The role of language in cognition
    There’s really no way to discuss the long and complicated philosophical tradition of discussing the relation between language and cognition without being glib and superficial, but, happily, I’m pretty adept at glib and superficial, so that won’t stop us. A number of philosophers, including Michael Dummet, have offered ‘strong’ theories of language’s role in thought. Their ‘language-first’ approaches argue to varying degrees that certain kinds of thought, or even reflective thought as a whole, is only possible once a community-wide practice of communication through language occurs. We can find strong and weak variants in the work of theorists like William Calvin, Merlin Donald and Daniel Dennett.

    Language-first models predict that thought is more or less limited by the absence of language, the strongest suggesting that most of thought would be disrupted, and posit a definitive break in the forms of cognition available once human had produced language. The language-first approach also generally suggests that cognitive capacities vary with one’s language ability, meaning that not all linguistic communities likely have the same cognitive capacities. One noteworthy example is work on the Pirahã, a Brazilian Native American group whose language lacks numbers according to many researchers (see Frank et al. 2008, or a popular press version at The Independent or see the collection of Pirahã-related links at Language Log).

    In contrast, opposing ‘thought-first’ arguments suggest that language expresses thought rather than being a precondition for thought occurring. For example, Jerry Fodor has argued that a prior ‘language-of-thought,’ sometimes referred to as ‘mentalese,’ underlies language ability, and partially explains similarities among languages. The thought-first model, however, can develop a problem of infinite regress, as it’s unclear how the ‘language-of-thought’ itself arises except from a prior set of symbols.

    In the corner of the ‘thought-first’ argument, we could site a range of empirical evidence, such as the work of psychologists Susan Hespos and Elizabeth Spelke. Hespos and Spelke (2004), for example, found that five-month-old infants born to English-speaking parents perceived object relations concepts that were not highlighted in English, and that their parents did not see as perceptually salient (a relationship of ‘tight-’ and ‘loose-fitting’ that their research had shown to be salient to Korean speakers, whose language does highlight this distinction). That is, the infants in the English-language environment seemed to develop a pre-linguistic concept that was not supported by their first language, and thus the distinction atrophied and disappeared from their perceptions (much as sounds that are not featured in one’s language become less perceptually vivid after six months of age, eventually becoming hard to perceive).

    In anthropology, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf are frequently credited with bringing into sharp focus the role of language in shaping perception and cognition, although they arguably offered a less deterministic account of the relationship than some language-first philosophers (see our posts, Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is right… sort of? and Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was right… about adults, for more of a discussion of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis). Their approach suggests that language biases perception, affecting how people are capable of perceiving, making some ideas or even qualities of the phenomenal world, more or less difficult to perceive. Coupled with work like that of Hespos and Spelke, the work on language biasing perception suggests that pre-linguistic perception is actually more attuned to sensory discrimination that may later disappear if not buttressed by language; that is, the pre-linguistic conceptual world is perhaps more attuned to certain gradations, less likely to overlook intermediate or uncategorized sensations.

    When we actually look at the evidence in Schaller’s account, we find that neither a ‘language-first’ nor a ‘thought-first’ model seems to capture the inconsistency of Ildefonso’s conceptual capacities. Schaller suggests that his ‘brain was kept alive with problem solving,’ figuring out how to get money, whether by begging or working, find food and shelter, and interact with people who were unable to communicate with him.

    Ironically, he seemed to understand certain sorts of symbolic processes, such as performative identity. Schaller says he apparently understood, for example, ‘macho behavior’ because he ‘could see that.’ But other sorts of processes – she says things Ildefonso ‘couldn’t see’ – they remained a mystery; she offers ‘history’ and immigration patrols in the US as two examples. In fact, of course, the division is not really visible-invisible (after all, border police are quite visible when they arrest a person), nor is it symbolic-non-symbolic (macho behaviour, after all, is a symbolically rich performance). Rather, Ildefonso’s difficulties and his successful abilities suggest to me that our own category of ‘symbol’ glosses cognitive capacities that are not all identically difficult, nor are they all dependent upon either shared symbol or language. That is, our concept of ‘symbol’ may, in fact, blind us to the very divisions that Ildefonso’s disability sketches out; not all symbols are equally symbolic, we might say. The degree of arbitrariness, for example, or the hierarchical nature of some symbols — premised on other symbols — might make them particularly opaque to the language-less.

    For example, Schaller had the hardest time communicating to Ildefonso the concept of ‘idea’ itself. She discusses her attempt to mime ‘having an idea’:
    How could a languageless man have any idea of what is happening in the head? But I was just hoping that there were enough cultural clues, and he was an observant man. I was grasping at straws. So I would mime having this idea in my head with my fists close to my head and then I would throw it out at your head, as my hands opened. Then I’d become the student and I’d catch it [laughs] and put it in my head.

    I did as many variations as I could, again, over and over-hours, days, hours, days. Frustrating-the most frustrating task in my life! I’d look at him every once in a while and sometimes he looked tired, sometimes he looked frustrated, sometimes he looked as if I were crazy.
    Of course, from some perspectives, she was crazy. She was miming a particularly obtuse embedded metaphor in English usage: that ideas are a substance in the head that can pop into existence and then be passed to other people’s heads, which is really experienced in the other person as an idea. On so many levels, the ‘idea-is-an-object-in-head-can-be-passed-to-another-head’ is pretty absurd, yet she was trying to use it to get a languageless man to understand the very possibility of language.

    If it doesn’t sound absurd to you, think about it for a second; the very fact that Schaller was struggling so hard to get Ildefonso to perceive this demonstrates how long the chain of metaphoric assumptions is to get to this cultural common sense. Schaller wasn’t just asking Ildefonso to learn a name for a thing, she was asking him to recognize he had ‘ideas,’ conceive of ideas as things, locate ideas in his head, understand that ideas were different from every other kind of thing (popping into existence, for example), imagine that ideas could be thrown… You get the ‘idea.’ Damn weird thing, language. Makes you think all kind o’ crazy things.

    Even after language, however, some ways of seeing the world were difficult to grasp. Schaller catches up with Ildefonso much later, visiting him as he’s working as a gardener, and likes to tease him by asking questions about when things happened.

    However, there are a few things he doesn’t think differently about. I try to meet him once a year and I always ask him, “When was the last time we saw each other?” I ask him a “when” question because it tickles me. Time was the hardest thing for him to learn. And he always prefers to say “the winter season” or “the Christmas time.” He wants to point to a season or to a holiday. It’s not a cognitive problem. To this day, he thinks it’s weird that we count time the way we do. He can do it, but he doesn’t like it. Think about it. For twenty-seven years, he followed the sun. He followed cows. He followed the seasons. It’s that rain-time of the year.

    As the interviewer points out, many languages do not treat time as an abstract, spatialized, undifferentiated flow but highlight differentiation, seasonality and sequence. Some conceptualize time as necessarily sequential (today is not like tomorrow) or as inherently differentiated (summer is fundamentally not like winter). Time is a classic example discussed by Whorf (1956) to highlight the links between culture, language and perception, and even though his account of time has been criticized on a number of grounds, anthropologists still tend to agree that understandings of time can differ, and that Western treatment of time as a kind of flow through undifferentiated, measurable durations is just one version or inflection of the sense of time with its own distinctive emphases.

    < complete post >
    Last edited by Vasilisa; 02-23-2011 at 05:58 PM.
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  10. #20
    Protocol Droid Athenian200's Avatar
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    Hmm... I found something interesting about a person who spoke three languages. What do you think of this commentary on the character of each language?

    Another significant influence in her growth as a writer, Nin felt, was her knowledge of three different cultures and languages. She absorbed the essences of French, English, and Spanish even though she wrote largely in English. According to Nin, she received from her Spanish background -- asceticism, fervor, physical and mental passion, the color and vividness that dramatizes everything, the fusion of body and mind, love for beauty and gesture, comedy and tragedy; from the English -- critical tools, analysis, lucidity, awareness of the senses and subjection to them, the separation of body from head with the emphasis on keen, selective thinking and discipline of the body-machine; and from the French -- a soft, misty quality, not treacherously musical nor irrevocably clear but poised somewhere between, and tasteful selectivity, a resistance to impulse, deliberate transfiguration. She adds in her note, The Spanish people live for an idea, the English die for an idea, and the French fight for it. I imagine that Nin would do all three.
    Her description of English seems to match my hunch about what sort of language English is, but I'm not certain about the other two.

    I have always had the vague feeling that English was a somewhat "cold" language compared to the Romance languages, though I can't really say why it should seem colder even when expressing emotions, since it can clearly evoke them.

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