A Subtle Argument

In one clear sentence, Benjamin Lee Whorf crystallized clearly what has been said in much more arcane and confusing language by many others:

“Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about.”


What happens, then, when you move to another country and learn to speak a new language? Suddenly, the scope and shape of your reality changes. In my case, it seems to have shrunk.

For the full post at The Times of Israel, click here.

5 thoughts on “A Subtle Argument

  1. Nice post, miss! I think one undeniable feature of Hebrew – which is, perhaps, why you find it inadequate for the purpose of expressing nuance – is its limited range of synonyms (something about which the English language is very generous – perhaps too generous!). The ‘modern’ Hebrew we speak in Israel today, is a derivative of Biblical Hebrew, which Hebrew was lean, precise, and recycled; so that a given root-word is employed multiple times in different contexts that require differing translations.
    Consider, for example, the root “p-tz”. In the episode of Cain and Abel, when Gd rebukes Cain, He describes the ground swallowing Abel as: “… min ha’adama asher PATZTA et piha….”, which Artscroll translates as “than the ground which opened wide its mouth” (4:11). In this context, the root “p-tz” connotes “opening”(-wide), “swallowing” etc. In Bamidbar 10:35, however, the same root demands a dissimilar translation: “kuma Adon-ai, ve’YAPHUTZU oyvecha”, which Artscroll translates as: “and let your foes be scattered.” In this context, the root “p-tz” connotes “scattering”, “dispersion” etc.
    My point is this: try switching the translations around, and each verse loses its respective meaning. And so Artscroll – or perhaps more fittingly, James I – gets away with literary murder. Just read Artscroll’s translation of the Book of Prophets and you’ll be astounded by the variety of English synonyms they use to aggrandize and edify every word and phrase. Very uplifting when read in English, but the “devil” in me cannot help but question whether the true meaning has been spoiled. Returning to my first sentence in this post – English has no problem expressing nuance because it is so diverse. Hebrew, much less.
    My solution? Find an English word that fits both contexts. In the above example, for me, this word would be “spread.” The ground “spread” open its mouth to swallow Abel. Let our enemies be “spread” from us and from one another. There, it fits! And that, in my humble opinion, is the correct translation.

  2. Am overwhelmed to think that I am associated with this brilliant mind of yours. You entertain me …. Give me food for thought …. Take my mind to kfarblum places….
    You are simply enthralling Or should I say thrilling ….? Love you

  3. ok, second time round after having to create a wordpress account…Missi this is so brilliant…I think you should send it to a paper

  4. A propos, Did you know that Eskimos have around a dozen words for snow? each connoting a different type. Language does indeed define our consciousness and perception of our world.

    Great post, dahhling. I think it’s hilarious that there’s no word for subtle. In the same vein, what does it mean that there is no word in English for davka. Or Stam. Hmmm.


    I can think of at least five tenses in Hebrew- you forgot to count the conditional and the imperative.

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