The power of the human mind is such that it can overlook all kinds of mistakes: spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, even an imperfect choice of words. Of course it has been spelled out here that this is not entirely true and you can change the meaning of a sentence by simply changing the position of a comma. Last year, Lynne Trusse published this exquisite book entitled Eats, Shoots & Leaves on exactly the same subject.
If you think this is a minor subject, think twice. I was once asked by a French client to edit one of his documents. Written in his own language, not translated. He was the kind of person who should be supplied with a special keyboard–without the ‘comma’ key. He was using commas every couple of words and the result was, well, unreadable to the normal mind, but recognizable if you stood 3 feet away from the text, like in the opening example above.
In a language, whatever the language, every little bit of information counts. By this I mean EVERY BIT. It’s the beauty and the specificity of each language.
There are extremes of this. My dentist, who travels extensively to, and speaks at, international conferences, was telling me once how he was priding himself on his speaking a decent level of Japanese. Until the time when, as he was asking an innocent question from an honorable colleague from Japan, he saw his colleague’s face turn colorless and the man hastily turned away.
He was so shocked that he talked about it to other people and quickly found the answer. By simply switching two syllables in the question, he had asked whether his colleague was homosexual. So the human mind has its limits: culture.
I am not the kind of person to rant about text messaging and how young people are destroying the language. I don’t believe that speaking or writing in another language (texting for me is another language, which I don’t use) makes you less fluent or educated in your own language.
For me, language is a human thing. What I am ranting about is the pretense under which ‘close enough’ translation produced by computers, however sophisticated they may be, is made to pass as ‘acceptable’ and even ‘workable’ translation. This is the product of our technology-obsessed world. To me, the power of immediacy over quality of communication is producing a slow, but inexorable shift in languages and is conducive to yet more incomprehension, and may be, in the longer run, counter-productive.