Languages crucial in keeping minds alive

Mary Norris explained in significant detail the extent to which the Greek language has impacted the English vocabulary. While discussing her latest book Greek to Me, she spoke glowingly of her several visits to the country, citing the appeal of Athens and Rhodes. 

She revealed her delight at learning the Greek language in her 30s, but also expressed her disappointment in American people’s tendency to avoid learning other languages.

The New Yorker copy editor said, “We’re [Americans] not famous for our mastery of other tongues, and I think that’s a shame because any language gives you an insight into people. A language comes with culture and a mindset.” 

Norris observed the increased attention that classical literature has experienced recently, and explained the significance of bilingualism, particularly for younger and older people.

She said, “Any attention to the classics is an interesting and positive development. It seems to me there’s been a bit of a renaissance of interest in Ancient Greek.”

“If you can get it [understanding of another language] when you’re young, it’s going to be of huge advantage as a child’s brain soaks up language more. I think it’s also true that older people can keep their minds alive by studying a foreign language.”

If you are interested in Language, also see David Crystal talk about the future of English at 2.30 pm, 31 May. If you like watching Hay Festival events digitally, please sign up to the Hay Player for more from the world’s greatest thinkers.

Picture by Chris Athanasiou