The limits of my language are the limits of my world.
— Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosopher
Are ideas independent of language? Can one person’s idea conceived in one language be completely translated into another language without loss?
In our global world, even with Google translate or human interpreters, perfect communication is rarely possible.
If you have studied a foreign language, you have probably experienced phrases that just seem impossible to translate while keeping the richness of their original meaning, emotion, or importance.
I see a two-fold lesson from Wittgenstein’s quote.
1st, Transmission. The better we command our native language, the better we can transmit our ideas unaltered to others to increase their chance of understanding.
Whether I was teaching history or global business environment, I insisted on clear writing, much to the consternation of students. I told them that clear writing was a reflection of clear thinking.
2nd, Receipt. The more languages we learn, the less limited we become in receiving unaltered messages.
We might think we can increasingly rely on machine translation, but pure ideas can rarely be divorced from their language of origin without some defilement.
Expanding the limits of our language expands our world.
You can learn more about Wittgenstein’s philosophy here:
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