Sunday, 17 February 2008

Word of the week "Platzangst"

2008, International Year of Languages
© UNESCO/Maro Haas
As someone who suffers from claustrophobia I've always assumed that this was English word to translate the German Platzangst. Catching the bus with Tony Coates this week, who is staying with us during central committee, we got to talking about how some languages have words for things that other languages have no concept of. Apparently there are two different words in Spanish for corner, depending on whether it is an internal or external corner - very logical if you think about it. As we were trying to find other examples Tony then came up with the opposite, a word in German which means both claustrophia and agoraphobia. A literal translation of Platzangst would be "space fear" - originally it was an academic term for fear of open spaces but became used in everyday speech for fear of enclosed spaces. Interesting how languages evolve.
Every time a language dies we lose a unique way of describing and seeing the world. This is the UN International Year of Languages, a time to celebrate multilingualism and the wonderful diversity that comes from describing our world in so many different ways; a time to protect all languages and promote them.


Don said...

I've posted links to this and one other of your posts on a list of blogs that mention the International Year of Languages.

FYI, the Year has its "official launch" on International Mother Language Day, Feb. 21.

Jane said...

Hey Don
thanks so much
I'm actually looking to prepare an edition of our house journal ecumenical review about language issues later this year so let's stay in touch