When I was writing my postgraduate thesis on financial translation, my supervisor asked me if I was French. He said my English language mistakes looked like those of a French native speaker. The reality is I am a Greek native speaker with English as a second language and French as a third. I have also studied Ancient Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, Czech, Norwegian and Chinese. To be honest with you, after Greek, Latin and French, all other Indo-European languages were a child’s play.
For example, it is not very difficult to guess that 'esperanza' in Spanish means hope, when 'spero' in Latin means to hope and 'espère' in French also means to hope.
It’s not difficult to know when you are 5 years old, that 'pharmacy' in English means a place where you buy medicine, when in your native tongue 'φάρμακο' (pharmako) means medicine. In Polish, it’s 'apteka', which sounds like 'αποθήκη' (apotheke), which means warehouse or storage in Greek. After all, pharmacies are places with shelves stocked up with medicine.
It is easy to remember that 'fuoco' in Italian means fire, when in Cypriot Greek 'φουκού' (foukou) means barbeque. You know 'Antropologi' in Norwegian is the study of humanity when 'άνθρωπος' (anthropos) in Greek means human.
The word and meaning associations made across the different languages inside the multilingual brain are endless. They can take place at any point during the day or night! I remember dreaming once in black and white. The characters in my dream were speaking in English and I was seeing French subtitles, like in a movie. That was probably after a long subtitling project.
Word associations though can be dangerous, because let’s not forget about faux amis. False friends are words in a language bearing deceptive resemblance to words of another language. For instance, 'pathetic' in English means pitiful, but 'παθητικός' (pathitikos) in Greek means passive.
Translators and linguists are cautious of false friends and do not make assumptions on the grounds of resemblance. But when you have studied so many languages, that’s a big, big challenge!
Do you know more than one language?
Do you make word associations across different languages?
Tell me in the comments 👇
Vasiliki is a professional translator from English and French into Greek and from Greek into English. She runs Greek to Me Translations from Oxford, UK. She is a Member of the CIoL and the ITI and she is registered the Greek Embassy. She specialises in legal, marketing, psychometrics and food content. Her mission is to help businesses and private individuals reach their goals through the power of words.