Newsletter: 21 October 2010

One of the ways I use to discover vocabulary or semantic gaps in someone’s language habits is to see what word associations and particularly which polar opposites my client can recall quickly … which words and ideas are actually active … and which are still “on the tip of the tongue.”

For example, if I ask for the opposite of the English word “hot” … I want to know whether or not you’ll come up with a word like “cold” … rather instantly. If the keyword is “near,” then I’m looking for the presence  or absence of the words “far” or ‘distant.’  If the keyword were to be “nice,” I’d be interested to know just about any negative word that comes to mind.

Proceeding this way, I’m able to identify the gaps that are often the sources of frustration. This occurs when we’re speaking a foreign language … not to mention our own native languages!

What’s interesting is that between languages, the thought patterns are like Venn diagrams. Sometimes the word pairs coincide and are easily transposable from one language to the other … but in other cases they aren’t. One of the most frequently used words in English is the word “good.” If you are a native English speaker, chances are you will instinctively and immediately say that the opposite is … “bad.”  Not because others – evil, for instance – aren’t “right,” but because good and bad are the most frequently used to refer to the same things. A good movie, a bad movie; the good guys, the bad guys … etc. The perfectly valid opposite pair “good/evil” is just slightly less frequent … though I think there was an American president who tended to see the world that way .. -:)

Now if you take the word “right” … what’s the opposite? Is it “wrong” or is it “bad” ?

We think in terms of words and groups of words. In English, we’d say for instance:

“Sorry … you’ve got the wrong number” … But unless they’re CONSCIOUS of this instance, the French might say … “Sorry … You’ve got the bad number.” or … if they’re mentally translating before speaking “You did the false number.” (in this imaginary situation, of course!)

Why? Because in French the opposite pair for a phone number or other factual information like email addresses or flight info, etc.  would be … “bon”  (right, good, correct, accurate) and “faux” (wrong, mistaken, erroneous, false);

Thinking in different languages involves exploring these semantic fields.

A last quiz … “What’s the opposite of “now” ?

The answer is in the title of today’s post … about the French phototographer, Eugène Atget. Enjoy it.

Photography in Paris: Eugène Atget … then and now.

And thanks for reading today’s The Paris Savannah Connection.

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