According to American linguistic researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Chicago, the language  that we speak has an affect upon  at least half of what we see. Among the examples they give are the many distinctions made in English, between colours,  which do not necessarily appear in other languages, and vice versa.

In English we have two different words for the colours blue and green, while in several other languages, such as the Tarahumara language in Mexico, there is only one term to cover this range of colours. It seems that speakers of the two languages, English and Tarahumara,  perceive colours in different ways, and that  English speakers find blues and greens to be more distinct from each other than Tarahumara speakers do. This it seems is affected by the language used  - sky blue and olive green etc. Or is it the other way round – that perception of colour affects the language used? I’ll leave that answer to the researchers.

This is of course only one example of the many ways people use language.  I found, when in Pakistan,  that people had many ways of describing mangoes, which they grow, and eat. When it comes to small birds though, however many varieties there were to be seen, they seemed to use only one word  - they weren’t interested because they neither hunted or ate them, nor were the birds enough of a nuisance to be dealt with.

Bird watchers in England of course are well aware of the many differences to be observed among small birds. However, maybe bird watchers in England  have more leisure time  to do so. They have cars which can take them to special reserves and when they get there they use expensive binoculars in order to see the birds more clearly. Most Pakistanis I met living in the countryside made their living there and so were more concerned with their crops  and other basic things such as getting enough food for their families and having some spare to sell. So, they have far more words to describe farming activities; the state of the soil, the water levels, salinity and all the rest than the average person living in England just doesn’t need.

Almost every group and activity has its particular jargon. I always watch the Tour de France, and each year it includes a visit to another country. It also includes riders from many different parts of the world, yet the language used, even by English commentators, remains firmly French.  So we hear about the ’tete de la course’, the ‘maillot jaune’ and the ‘pelaton’, even from native English speakers. If it were a programme about the Stock Market, the internet, or surgery each of these would have their own specialist language too.

This often means your average dictionary will struggle to cope, so it behoves you to seek out specialist dictionaries.  For instance, I own a general and extensive French dictionary, but also a couple of specialist ones, only to be used when dealing with builders so that I know what they mean when they refer to a possible ‘agrandissement’ – an extension, or the need for a ‘carreleur ‘  - a tiler. I’ve got another one for gardening so that I know when I stand on it that it its,’la binette’ , the  hoe, which hit me in the face  and the difference between   a ‘prunier’ and a ‘poirier’.  (A plum tree and a pear tree.)

So if you have a particular hobby or interest perhaps you might want to think about getting such a specialist dictionary, whether your interested in golfing terms, architecture or something else, someone, somewhere, will have compiled a list or words to help you.

Recommended Dictionaries