The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #12 November / December 2014
Parleremo
Word on the Streets
Why Writers are Important
by Sofia Ozols
November / December 2014 | 

If you are a regular reader of this magazine, you probably know that this column is where we normally write about authors and poets in different countries. We give basic biographies as well as some insights into what their greatest works were about.

The title of the column relates to how these writers are memorialised on the Parleremo site. In the fictional neighbourhoods, which are really just groups where people learning the same languages can find each other easily, we name the streets after them.

But why do we care about writers in a language learning environment? What relationship is there between their lives and works to our desire to communicate with people in other languages.

As it turns out, everything!

One of the main reasons people learn other languages is to aid in the exploration of another culture. No matter what else we do, we can never really be part of another group until we learn, even in the smallest way, something of their language. Until that time, we are just outsiders, looking in.

When we talk about what goes into a culture, we talk about its works of art, mainly the music, fine arts, and literature. We also examine the history, because that tells us how these people got to where they are now. Those last two things, the literature and history, are of particular significance, for the history shapes the people, and the people shape the literature. Combined, we can get a very vivid view of a people.

And that is why the the most celebrated writers of a country become the most important to our efforts to understand the people. A person that has lived in that history and written about it, either in fact or fiction, speaks not just about their personal experiences, but about a greater feeling among the people, revealing their lives, hopes, tragedies, and future. These cultural historians are a direct line into the heart of any civilization, and the more exulted they are by that society, the more critical they are.

But there is even more importance in the lives of these authors, when it relates to languages. Sometimes, the writers are actually linguists, and their works have contributed in some way to a larger understanding of languages. Even more often, they have pushed, either directly or by inspiration, to have their native language used more in writing. Many of the authors we have written about here have been considered the creators of a whole new generation of authors. Without them, the literary works we love to read as we learn a new language would be tragically diminished.


As an example, in any collection of German language learning materials, you are very likely to come across the name Goethe many times. Goethe was a prolific writer, creating books, poetry, critiques and dramas. He also contributed to the fields of evolution, linguistics, and mineralogy, even having a mineral, Goethite, named after him. His works inspired authors and philosophers for generations. The famous Goethe-Institut, which promotes the study of German abroad as well as promoting knowledge of German culture, society and politics, is named after him.

It is hard to think of German literature without Goethe, as it is hard to think of any culture without its writers. Those giants of language translated their world into language for all of us to experience, and it is only through learning their languages can we fully explore those connections. That is why writers are so important to our language learning and appreciation; without them, our path into these cultures would be greatly diminished, and our worlds would be that much more empty for it.


 
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Word on the Streets - Why Writers are Important
Writer: Sofia Ozols
Images:
Lin Kristensen: Pile of old books
Petey: Old books, one open

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.

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