Often my students asked me desperately:
- Are we really going to learn this language one day?
- With great enthusiasm, I would reply:
- Yes, you will learn it; that is for sure.
- How can you confirm that?
- Since I have learned it, you will also succeed (explaining at the same time my argument).
I may have surprised them, but I am not sure that I convinced them.
When I undertook to study all these languages, my aim, for some of them, was to master them in order to speak, write, and read them. For others, it was only to know their writing system, their structure, their morphology, the basics of grammar, their historical origins, etc. In this way, when I talk to certain people of my two multilingual dictionaries, each containing eight living languages – the first published in 1991, the second unpublished – they ask me, “Do speak all these languages?” My answer is, “No.”
In the same way, when I pointed out that my dictionary contains everyday words, they also asked me, “Give us an example.” I replied that that depended for whom. For example, the word snow, which has twelve different colours, is an everyday word for Eskimos. For a Targui (pl. Touareg), the word camel is an everyday word and has a thousand names. For a Korean, there are four different words for the everyday word rice.6
Even more interesting is the symbolism in Chinese which does not use an alphabet but ideograms, which have been adopted by the Japanese language, but with a different pronunciation. Originally, they were images before undergoing several modifications in order to simplify them. For example, (a) the ideogram for friend, friendship “represents the right hands of two friends, acting in the same direction7; (b) the ideogram for good order, peace represents women enclosed in a house.8