Second Half of the Jornaleco Interview with Dr. Freire
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Tue Jul 8 16:24:02 UTC 2008
Second Half of the Jornaleco Interview with Dr. Freire
Posted on July 7, 2008 by Ryan
Dr. Carlos do Amaral Freire is a truly amazing individual. He has
conducted research, taught and studied languages at home in his native
Brazil, the USSR, China, the USA, Bolivia and many other countries. He
has surpassed the legendary Cardinal Mezzofanti by studying more than
115 languages. This is a continuation of my translation of an
interview that he did in 2003.
Janer - How many languages have you currently mastered and what are
your criteria for having mastered a language?
Carlos - Mastering a language, even one's own native language, is an
extremely difficult endeavor. For me, however, mastering a language is
having a theoretic and practical knowledge that allows me to
communicate in it and, even with some difficulty, translate literary
text. Based on these criteria - which are a little personal - I say
that I have mastered about thirty languages. I can translate a few
others but I have very little practical knowledge of them. When they
ask me how many languages I speak (or that I have mastered) I prefer
to answer that I know, or that I have studied, with philological and
linguistic criteria, more than one hundred languages during a period
of fifty consecutive years. Since graduating in Neo-Latin and
Anglo-Germanic Languages [PUC, 1958] I've kept up a tradition of
systematically studying at least one new foreign language at the
beginning of each year. I already chose the next one: Wolof, which I
started studying on January 1st of 2003.
Janer - Translating is impossible but necessary. What is a translation
from Chinese to Portuguese like?
Carlos - I don't think that translating is impossible. The proof of
that is that there are truly significant translations that are
excellent, especially when the source language and the target language
belong to the same linguistic group and the cultures that they are
connected to are close. In the introduction to my poetry anthology,
Babel de Poemas, I try to show how classical Chinese poetry is almost
untranslatable. You can translate part of it but not all. Why? It is
because Chinese poetry is written with ideograms, a truly visual art.
It is a tonal language and therefore musical. It's lyricism,
literature because of its poetic content. A Chinese poem is a
combination of these three arts: painting, music and literature.
Chinese calligraphy is an art that consists not just of characters and
words for transmitting a message but also of comprehending a visual
element that expresses a meaning through its form. Therefore,
ideograms have a high symbolic value that is untranslatable into other
languages. The discovery of ideograms' great esthetic value by Western
poets, mainly Ezra Pound, and then by our own avant-garde Concretistas
was a fruitful source of inspiration.
In short, we could say that the untranslatable part of Chinese poetry
is not written but painted with a brush. It's visual art. It is heard
when read aloud as a combination of tones, music. What's left to
translate is somewhat abstract and generic. It's like taking something
consubstantial out of the body of poetry. It is precisely this
intrinsic harmony that exists between content, form and an extremely
concise style that makes classical Chinese poetry almost
Janer - According to the French linguist Claude Hagège, a language
disappears every fifteen days. In other words, twenty five languages
die every year. More than half of the Indonesian languages would be
considered on their way out. The rhythm of language extinction, which
was accelerated in the last century, should become much faster in this
one. Does this deprive humanity or does it facilitate our
Carlos - The Malaysian/Polynesian situation is very illuminating.
These languages are spoken from Madagascar to Polynesia. More than 200
different languages are spoken in the Republic of Indonesia alone.
Seeing as all of these languages belong to the same language family it
was relatively easy to make Indonesian the country's official
language. It's a lingua franca, the result of simplifying and
assimilating many other local languages. Only the old Indonesian
languages that have literary and historical importance, like Javanese
(sixty million speakers), Sudanese, Toba Batak, Madurese, Balinese and
a few others will be able to survive for very long. The rhythm of
language extinction must continue as long as concerned countries do
not have defined language policies, the necessary economic conditions
and, above all, the support of competent linguists who can study and
classify minority languages that are on the path to extinction. In
order for them not disappear completely, it is absolutely fundamental
for them not continue unwritten and for there to be schools that teach
them. Theoretically, it obviously would be easier for mankind to
communicate if there were only a few languages. However, it is equally
certain that this would result in a great spiritual loss. Languages
are fundamental, unique and unrepeatable aspects of the human
experience. Moreover, they are the greatest characteristic of our
species. Every language that disappears - especially without leaving a
trace or having been studied and documented - means a species becomes
Janer - There was an alarming study conducted by UNESCO stating that
no less than 5,500 of the world's 6,000 languages will disappear
within a century. Do you believe that this is possible?
Carlos - If the previously mentioned measures are not taken hundreds
of languages will be inescapably lost in a short amount of time.
Janer - Could the expansion of the Anglo-American language and other
big languages be the reason for this language massacre?
Carlos - The expansion of the Anglo-American language, as well as all
other big international languages, is the logical consequence of
military and economic conquests, as much today as it was in the past.
The conqueror's language generally prevails.
Janer - Your current project is to study Wolof. It is believed that
this language is as dangerous to the minority languages of Senegal as
English and French since it isn't considered a foreign language and
posses the prestige of the great African languages. Do you have any
thoughts about this controversy?
Carlos - In Senegal there are ten native languages, six of which are
promoted as national languages. Wolof is understood by 80% of the
population. The six national languages - Pulaar, Serer, Jola, Mandinka
and Soninke, in addition to Wolof - are taught in elementary school
and transmitted by radio and television. Senegal has, therefore, a
defined language policy and I do not believe that the other languages
run the risk of disappearing, like in other countries. Senegal will
probably continue with French being its official language and Wolof
being its different ethnicities' most important lingua franca.
Janer - There are linguists everywhere trying hard to save languages
spoken by communities of fifty to one hundred people. Are these
Carlos - It was precisely his knowledge of one of the most ancient
pre-Colombian languages, Aymara, spoken by around two million people
in Bolivia and Peru, that led Guzman de Rojas to prove that this
native language has a third inclusion logic embedded in its syntax. It
has a trivalent logic and not a dichotomist (x is true and y is false)
Aristotelian logic which all Indo-European languages and all Western
cultures have. The Aymara speakers have reasoned according to that
principle for centuries which, today, is recognized and defended by a
large number of scientists and philosophers: Lobachewsky, Vasilev and
J. Lukasiewicz in mathematics. Planck in physics, J. Lacan in
psychoanalysis and many more. This is just one persuasive example that
proves how much linguistics, applied to studying two minority and
exotic languages, can contribute to science and to the knowledge of
I am completely convinced that more profound studies of languages that
communicate for non-Aristotelian cultures can make even more
contributions to this field of research which studies the third
inclusion. I think that Weltanschauung research about indigenous
language speakers, as well as Chinese, Japanese and Korean speakers -
in addition to other languages that do not contribute to the principle
of contradiction and classical logic - will be able to confirm,
definitively, the third inclusion hypothesis in the near future. It's
worth remembering that even Einstein admitted that the third exclusion
principle, in classical science, is only a metaphysical postulate.
There is no doubt! It is worth the effort. It is linguistics'
absolutely highest priority.
Janer - Schools in the Basque Country and in Catalonia are giving more
emphasis to the Basque and Catalan languages than to Spanish. In Spain
there are parents that can no longer communicate with their children.
In your opinion, is it at all profitable to give up a language spoken
by hundreds of millions of people and to lock one's self in a minority
language spoken by only a few hundred thousand?
Carlos - Basque (Euskera) and Catalan are in two different situations.
Basque is still a linguistic enigma. It has no proven scientific
relationship with any other linguistic group. It is a unique language
that is loved, studied and spread by its speakers. Unlike hundreds of
African, Asian and Amerindian languages, Basque is far away from
extinction. Quite the opposite in fact; interest in this language has
grown enormously and it is being taught and spread by the media at
Catalan is a language with an extremely rich history and a magnificent
literature. It is certain to have a steady growth. If the language
policy of the Spanish government continues to be as democratic as it
is now, recognizing the autonomous provinces and different cultures,
its fate will be secured. Only if there is a split in the state and
those provinces become independent will their speakers prefer their
native language and abandon Spanish.
Janer - There is a new language being proposed in Europe: Europanto.
To speakare europanto, tu basta mixare alles wat tu know in extranges
linguas. It would be the only language in the world that could be
learned almost without any study. It's 42% English, 38% French, 15% a
mixture of other European languages and 5% fantasy. No est englado,
non est espano, no est franzo, no est keine known lingua aber du
understande. Wat tu know nicht, keine worry, tu invente. Does it have
Carlos - I don't think that Europanto has a future. Moreover, the
issue of an artificial international language being accepted is more
political than linguistic. From a purely linguistic standpoint
Esperanto is a masterpiece, nevertheless, it has yet to be implemented
it as it should be.
Janer - How many languages have you forgotten?
Carlos - That's a good question…I've forgotten many, or rather, many
of the languages that I have studied are quite deactivated. However,
with a little effort they can be activated again. Translating, for
example, is one of the best ways to not forget them. On the other
hand, old age - I am 70 now - is an inevitable negative factor.
This concludes my translation of this fascinating interview with one
of history's greatest linguists. You can read the first half of the
interview here in English. You can read the whole interview in
Portuguese here. Portuguese speakers can also watch a clip of Dr.
Freire being interviewed on Brazilian T.V. which has been posted on
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