Tuesday, 7 August 2012

It's All Greek to Me

I've never been good at languages, but I've always been intrigued. Intrigued by their structure, their history, their differences, their similarities. English is a language that is comprised of so many other languages. We are habitual pinchers. And so when I look at French or Italian or some of the other languages of Europe, while I cannot read it, I recognise words or parts of words and it all feels that little more familiar. That little more approachable.

While in Greece, I remember standing in front of a stone monument and feeling completely at sea. It depicted the bust of a lady and a few lines of text, but I could not have told you anything more. There were no indications of what the subject of this memorial were, no identifiable dates or names that I could grasp on to.

The only element of familiarity were some of the individual characters, letters I remember from church (Christ is the Alpha and the Omega) or from the rapidly fading depths of my high school maths books.
And while this says a lot for the influence of the Greeks on the early days of Christianity and on the science of mathematics, it in no way helped me to decipher what turned out to be a very simple war memorial.

Slowly I was taught the Greek alphabet, and put it into practice reading road signs as we whizzed by on a scooter to the extent that I could recognise all the important names that belong to the ledgers of history and myth. But I was transcribing Greek names into a Greek alphabet in order to recognise them without the added challenge of transcribing and translating Greek words into English. I'm not skilled enough to achieve that.

But, when you expect to understand, because you always have, and people expect you to understand, because you appear as though you can, it is such an uncanny barrier to have thrust before you.

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