Quotes: Even Just One New Language Infects You with a Radically Different Way of Thinking

The embodiment of the Enemy in The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, the Woman in White, says of the catalytic effect of human cities:

“You eat each other’s cuisines and learn new techniques, new spice combinations, trade for new ingredients; you grow stronger. You wear each other’s fashions and learn new patterns to apply to your lives, and because of it you grow stronger. Even just one new language infects you with a radically different way of thinking! Why, in just a few thousand years you’ve gone from being unable to count to understanding the quantum universe—and you’d have made it there faster if you didn’t keep destroying each other’s cultures and having to start over from scratch.” [original emphasis]

To me, one of the most fascinating features of my native Finnish is that the negator ei (‘no’) can be conjugated in personal forms, as if it were a verb: en, et, ei, emme, ette, eivät. For example, a one-word answer “En” to a question (e.g. “Would you like some tea?”) translates as ‘[I do] No[t]’, while “Emme” means ‘[We do] No[t]’, etc. And this is just one little, tiny detail of the amazing linguistic variety that exists on Earth. There are times I wish I had studided linguistics even further.

Anyway.

Obviously for the Enemy us petty humans had better stay petty and not learn anything new ever. She’s not wrong, though: we’ve come a long way, and human ingenuity can be astounding. Unfortunately, so can the human cruelty. If only we could stop the needless hate and reach for more amazing heights…

Jemisin, N.K. The City We Became. New York: Orbit, 2020, p. 342.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.