When I captured this image yesterday I only saw the peahen and the peacock sitting opposite each other…

When I looked at that image in my file again this morning I saw the peacock and the peahen perched opposite each other and a chicken perched right in the middle on high.

When it was time to edit the shot I saw another chicken central to the peacock, the peahen and the high up chicken but down low.

Learning is a bit like this. A slow addition of information.

Did you know that New Zealand has three official languages Maori, English and New Zealand sign language.

The United States of America has no official language. Though English is more widespread with Spanish closing the gap but the Founding Fathers did not write a language choice into their constitution.

Switzerland has three official languages French, German and Italian though I have a friend who is a coroner in a Geneva hospital and he works almost exclusively in English. (Though he is French).

France is French. Denmark is Danish. Russia is Russian and Singapore is English, Malay, Chinese Mandarin and Tamil.

All international airline pilots ( and their crew) must be proficient in English – this is an aviation law.

By 2017 around 80 percent of science papers were first published in English – no matter their origins.

In 2001 the International Maritime Organisation deemed English the official language mandating the use of English for commercial mariners.

The list is long of international organisations and institutions where English is being officially mandated as the language of choice for international communication.

Although my research gives me varied numbers we can estimate that around 300 million individuals in China are presently learning English. The population of the United States is 327.7 million.

Whereas 500 years ago about 5 million people spoke English – almost all in the British Isles: the conservative number of fluent English speakers in the world now is 1.5 BILLION.

So – you see what this weeks essay is about!!

Have a lovely day.


The weeks forecast in case I don’t get back to it.

53 Comments on “SYMMETRY

      • It means of course that all languages are welcome here. Which is pretty special really. There is a theory that the founding fathers considered naming a language as the ‘official ‘ language – and it was just as likely to be German – but they did not want to offend the countries who helped them gain independence.

  1. The symmetrical peacocks & chickens would make a great calendar photo. “Quick, you get over there! Celi is coming with her flashy thing!”

  2. Very, very interesting. Love this sort of information. It makes me a bit sad though. As if the diversity of language is just another suffering life form in our America-led, globalized, commercial-interests-first world.

    • Well, as I read it, English has become a part of other countries languages. Not instead of the hone language but with it. The theory being that a Taiwanese man and a French woman would converse in their common English- thereby enlarging their worlds.
      However we also must be careful to protect endangered and rarely spoken languages.

  3. While not specifically about language… take a brief work/study/essay break & watch the USAF Band “One Voice – a Holiday Presentation” (on youtube). One line is “This is the sound of all of us” and although performed only in English, i feel it meshes well with today’s post. Proud of you for stepping up to help others like this!! 👍👍

  4. Sometimes I marvel at how lucky I am just by birth and today you brought that back to me. It’s nice to already have the English language in hand. I hear it’s a hard language to learn. We have a lot of senseless things in our grammar and in how we spell.

  5. And Canada is officially lingual with both English and French being our languages. It certainly depends where you are in our country though when it comes to the acceptance of French.

  6. I’ve always found it interesting that the language you first learn to speak defines how you think and look at the world. I wonder how it would feel to have your brain stretched a different way by being forced to speak a language very different from your own all day long. Does it start to change how you think?

    • I thin the language you must function in eventually informs how you think. I had a friend who was born to a couple who spoke only Danish and Norwegian in their home, when she went to school at the age of five she spoke no English, despite the fact the family lived in Chicago for years before her birth. Her mother was informed that she would never manage well in school because she did not speak or understand English to which her mother said give her a month. By the time I met her she had lived and worked in many places and spoke, Danish, Norwegian, English, Greek, German, French and Brazilian Portugese where she had spent several decades as a vice counsel in the American Embassy. She had come back to Chicago when she retired and it was interesting to be out someplace with her and have her lean over and say something softly in Portugese, giggle and then translate into English for me some observation that was more apt for Brazil than here. Or the other occasional lapses into rapid Portugese in moments of stress – some of which were likely best left untranslated. She had functioned for a good forty years in Brazilian Portugese (it is different from the Portugese spoken in Portugal as her nephew informed me after visiting there – he was born in Athens, lived in Brazil then here in America, he forgot the Greek, but would happily rattle at you in Brazilian Portugese like his aunt) and she pretty much thought like a Brazilian. She had a good long life, and I know a very interesting one, leaving us at 96 years young. .

      • 🙂 ! Thank you Aquila – a great example of how easy it is to function in a multitude of languages as I stated below ! I am very used to going out to dinner with friends where some eight people may come from six different countries and the dinner-table conversation flows most easily in 3-4 languages . . . changing without thought from English to French to German to Italian etc et al . . . as need be: don’t think anyone would give it a second thought . . . 🙂 !

      • I see exactly what you mean Kate – to always be searching for the right word must ( initially at least) create a tension. I think this is why people often swear and curse in their Mother Tongue! I bet you come out with some doozies when you let rip!

      • Aquila – what a fascinating story. You must have known this woman very well. Sounds like she had a rich life. I can’t help but feel a little envious.

        • She was fascinating. I didn’t meet her until she was into her eighties, a very spry, intelligent, and physically active person. I think you would have enjoyed her a great deal.

      • My parents are/were both linguists: my mother was born in the Netherlands and as well as Dutch spoke English, French, German, Portuguese and a little Swedish. My father speaks French, Spanish and Portuguese. My sister speaks French and German, my brother French, Brazilian Portuguese and a little Spanish. I speak a little Dutch, French and Spanish. It seems a facility for language, a brain that stays plastic past childhood, is a genetic gift. I think perhaps, though, that language does inform attitude. In Spanish, there is no verb ‘to stare’ with the implication of rudeness, for example…

        • Came back after a spate of work to find your comments ; am smiling – if this conversation had not come about, we would know so much less about you ! Absolutely great it did !!! English, Estonian and German are my only fluent ones, tho’ can get by on a few others . . . . French and Italian reasonable and some Finnish . . no Spanish other than what Mad Dog has been able to instil over the past years . . .

        • I don’t have a second language, a few phrases in Spanish have stood me well and it seems I’ve got a good ear. I don’t even realize I pick up regional accents and have been confused with people living in an area all their lives just based on accent alone. I’ve reached the point where I don’t really need another language. I wish there had been more awareness of giving children the option of a second languate early while I was still a child, I suspect I’d have several. My father spoke “Plattdeutsch” at home as a boy in Davenport, Iowa, picked up a little Arabic while in North Africa during WWII and also had a keen ear for accents. I think the younger a child is exposed to different languages the easier they learn them.

  7. It is amazing how almost random events affect world languages. From the 17th to mid 20th centuries, French was the language of diplomacy (or lingua franca). It certainly helps me with the Catalan language, which shares a lot of words with French and Spanish.

    • Do you speak French and Spanish? And Catalan? Catalanic? You must have s good ear. I think food helps us understand a new language. Fede and I connected linguistically in the kitchen more than anywhere else.

      • Català. It’s a beautiful language. My father lived in Catalunya for 25 years and I’ve spent a lot of time there.

      • I can speak French and Spanish – Catalan has a lot of words in common (or very similar) to French and Spanish words and then there’s perhaps about 20% which is completely unique. So I can understand a surprising amount of what is said, as long as people speak slowly. I did Latin at school, which helps a little.

          • Latin was the universal European language, it’s a great shame it died out, but at least vulgar Latin is the base to all European languages, particularly French, Spanish and Italian.

  8. Great thought Katechiconi! Ceci, sounds like you are already enraptured with this new field! I love how you relate it to your life and work. THANKS for the thoughts from you and the others.

  9. @Katechiconi, i enjoyed your question. As a daughter of immigrants, and as a non-native speaker of their language, i would say that different languages definitely change how you are able to see the world. When a phrase or thought can’t be said or is difficult to say in the 2nd language, one tends to start viewing the world in a way that *can* be easily expressed. Here’s an excellent podcast from Hidden Brain about the topic –

    • Thank you for the link! And I do agree – languages evolve in a way that allows us a glimpse of the history. Many Inuit communities have many different words for snow for instance and I read today that the ancient Celts had numerous sounds for water. Fascinating.

    • That’s *exactly* what I was talking about! Something that is easy and natural to think or say in one language can be almost impossible to think of in another and requires lots of mental gymnastics.

  10. What I find interesting about the English language is its ongoing change, adaptation and influence of other languages, cultural and societal and technological. Today’s is a very different English language to that spoken 500 years ago. And to the one that will be spoken 500 years from now.

  11. The Kennedy fire hydrant is unique to the USA…iconic. Other countries have other sorts of taps but the Kennedy is designed and made in the USA and some have been around for 100 years!

  12. Just for once I seem to be on a divergent path from Kate. I was born in Estonia where we grew up with at ;east the four ‘local’ languages: Estonian, German, Russian and probably Finnish – one of our recent presidents, Lennart Meri, spoke 32 fluently. It honestly did not hurt or ;stretch’ anyone’s brains and, as many others agreed, children do not mix the different tongues up. The situation does not make one think differently to others just make it easier by far to pick up other tongues far more easily later in life . . . it is so worthwhile in broadening one’s horizons culturally . . . oh, and Switzerland has four languages as Romansch is officially recognized. There I have had a few problems: Schwizerdütsch is a hell of a tongue to master but so much fun . . . 🙂 !

    • I certainly mix my languages up – it is not unheard of for me to start In Spanish then finish in awful French ( actually both would be awful) but Kate and I were not born in countries with access to 32 languages let alone being fluent in all four in your own house as a child. So we are both intrigued by the idea of being able to think in other languages. Also I think she meant that having this knowledge must surely enrich ones thinking.

      • Fair enough, Celi! For any of us where we just happen to be born is not exactly our pick 🙂 ! And President Meri’s phenomenal abilities were one of a kind ! Most of my friends manage and use 4-6 tongues regularly but enjoy all the benefits: we begin our conversations in whatever seems natural at re time – yes, we ‘bastardize’ our conversations at times as one language simply has a better phrase for the moment, but I have never ‘mixed’ up a language with another . . . Personally I am a scientist and not a linguist – methinks three fluently, three sort-of and about another dozen in which to be able to read the local menu 🙂 ! How, as a child, it all seemed SO normal I simply don’t know . . . I guess I just looked at ‘that’ blonde lady and spoke a certain language, or tried another with the next, understanding what she was saying . . . all I believe that once you tell your mind something is manageable and then forget about that concept, any degree of difficulty will be surmountable! Kate:, big smile, she does speak Dutch to the best of my knowledge . . . 🙂 !

      • I think you’re right, Celi. It’s not that we get mixed up, more that we approach from different angles, sometimes. I know that some Chinese friends have trouble expressing concepts in English which are very straightforward in Mandarin, and a female Japanese friend tells me that Japanese is deeply and fundamentally gendered to the point that men and women can use completely different words or constructions for the same thing. And for native English speakers the idea that objects can be masculine, feminine or neuter is bizarre, even with our tendency to refer to cars and ships as ‘she’…. This discussion is fascinating, and I’m so glad you raised it. We are many peoples, divided by our common language!

  13. Wonderful photos and post Celi. I like the way it is all meshed together. I hope I understood your plan with this post

  14. Thank you for taking us along for the lesson. I love learning something new each and every day. I was brought up bilingual, with German being my first language. My father spoke to me in English and I answered in German. I was five when I started school here and really had to work at the nuances of English. My mother never, ever got jokes in English. I am so delighted you are reaching out your already over extended hand to help others learn this language. It’s interesting how you can see something you missed before when you get the time to look harder.

  15. I also liked Kate’s original question because I’m fluent in the languages of the countries where I’ve lived (U.S., Hungary, Switzerland and France) plus a lot of Latin and some others I can get by in. But it was only in Hungarian where my brain would just give up because the theory about worldview and language structure was true. After much struggle I could speak it well but so many words and concepts are the opposite of how we express them in English. For example, the family name comes before the first name (Liszt Franz, not Franz Liszt), when friends meet they say ‘Szia’ (see ya) and when they part they say ‘Hello!’ There is no verb that means ‘to have’ and the alphabet has at least 5 extra letters. There is no future tense. So when a Hungarian and I, a native English speaker, are trying to converse in either language we don’t always have words for the concept we want to get across. Eha probably understands this fundamentally because he is from a country whose language is also Finno-Ugric . Fascinating!

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