The languages I tried to learn and the languages I’ll never learn

Part 3.

A digression on encyclopedias

From the earliest years I liked to read encyclopedias. The first one was the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 2nd edition. The day a new volume arrived I spent hours to look through the newcomer from the first to the last page. It is difficult to understand what a role was played by this encyclopedia in the life of a child with an inquisitive mind in the society where there was a shortage of everything, including books. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I acquired a secondary education thanks to this inexhaustible well of knowledge. Some people say that this encyclopedia has an infamous mark of the so called cult of personality. This is true only to some extent. Sure, many articles about persons demonstrate such derogatory epithets as ‘reactionary’ and so on. However, a reader may omit them mentally without damage to the facts.

When I had joined the Foreign Languages Library, reading foreign encyclopedias became a kind of mania with me. It was the Encyclopaedia Britannica [a1] that attracted my attention most often.

Recently I downloaded a lot of volumes of the EB published at various times. What especially struck me is the remarkable lack of the articles Language and Linguistics in editions from the first to the 11th one.

The EB has a lot of lengthy articles on some subjects, looking like whole discourses. These articles could be used as textbooks of a kind. The newer editions are closer to what specialists regard as a specimen encyclopedia, which they think should contain many short articles without going into details. The Soviet encyclopedias and wikipedia  are closer to this sort of reference books. However, I prefer the earlier editions of the EB.

To be continued.


 [a1]I use the British spelling only in a case like that to show the original name of the book in question. Usually I adhere to the American mode of writing. 

 This is the answer to a question from my new friend from Arizona. I am hanging this text just in case.

The languages I tried to learn and the languages I’ll never learn

My sister is three years my senior. When she began to learn English, I was doing my second year in the elementary school. I took her textbook of English and read the first sentence on the first page: “In English there are 24 letters and 44 sounds.” I was perplexed. Why this difference? Is not a letter the same as a sound? I don’t remember why I didn’t ask my sister to explain to me this problem. In any case, I concluded that I was not able to learn a foreign language by my own and put the textbook away. When I began to learn English in the fifth grade, I understood that languages are what I need. The problem was that I had two obstacles. The first one is my poor memory. The second one is my misanthropy. That is why, after 57 years of learning, I can’t say I am fluent in English.

To be continued.



September 2017



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