Saturday, 29 May 2010

An insight into complexity

I'm still struggling with the basic vocabulary of Hungarian, but last week my French teacher, who speaks good Hungarian, gave me an insight into one reason why Hungarians speakers are so proud of their language.

In linguistic terms Hungarian is agglutinative, which means that words for complex ideas are built up by stringing together words for simple ideas that describe the whole. It does mean that the language is full of some extremely long words but even with my extremely limited vocabulary I can sometimes see familiar words inside long words that give me some idea about what the word is.

Anyway, my teacher said how he had been in a conversation with a Hungarian and had wanted to describe something for which he did not know the correct Hungarian word. So he thought about what the object was and strung together three small words to form a completely new Hungarian word and his listener understood it perfectly without needing any explanation.

I read a while ago that Hungary has produced more science Nobel prizewinners per head of population than any other country in the world, and one explanation given for this is that the language encourages analytical thought. I didn't really understand this at the time, but my teacher's little story gave me the insight that I needed.

To me that is a good teacher (even if it wasn't about French!)

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