Friday, April 29, 2016

English has a big lack of  words for "State"

Is it perhaps an Anglo-Saxon dislike of government that makes it difficult for us to make immediately clear statements about government?  The old Sapir-Whorf codability hypothesis would certainly suggest that.

For instance, we don't have a separate word for an intermediate level of government, a State government. In the English-speaking world -- The USA, Canada, Australia  -- such forms of government are common and important: Governments running Texas, California, Alberta, Ontario, Queensland and Victoria, for instance.

So a self-governing nation can be called a state but so can one part of that nation.

Germans are much better off.  They can use Staat, Reich, Land and Nation.  A State government, for instance is a "Land" government in Germany, while the nation is a "Reich".

And "Reich" is both an extremely useful German word and one   that CANNOT adequately be translated into English.  That deficit gets a bit embarrassing when we try to translate what the people of China call their nation.  The best we can do is to translate it as:  "Middle Kingdom".  But that is absurd.  China is NOT a kingdom.  In German, by contrast, "Mittelreich" is a perfectly adequate translation.

I use German words quite a bit.  It would probably help if more German words became better known.  We use heaps of French words, so why not?

Germans of course don't have it all their way.  They don't, for instance, have a good word for "pink".  They usually translate it as "rosa" or "nelke".  But both those words are names for flowers and both flowers can of course have a variety of colors.  Who can forget the yellow rose of Texas, for instance? So Germans should probably adopt our word. Maybe some do.

But A BIG gap in German is that they have no word for "happy".  Does that tell us something?  Maybe.  The nearest word to happy that they have is "gluecklich", but that just means "lucky.  Many years ago I was talking to an old German Jewish refugee who had narrowly escaped Hitler.   I asked him if he was happy.  He knew I understood a bit of German so he said: "Gluecklich I am but happy I am not".  He knew he was lucky to escape but missed the high culture of Germany.  And he needed two languages to say that concisely

So let us have more linguistic borrowing! -- JR

Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).

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