When a language meets another language and goes out for a drink, strange things tend to happen. They would discover they’ve both got seemingly ordinary words in their repertoires meaning entirely different things in another language. In linguistics, these words are called “false friends.” In the big melting pot of diversity that is Exeter Summer School, the discovery of these “false friends” often leads to real friendship and a good laugh.
First, we’ve got the awkward kind-of-funny-but-not-so-much kind of mix. The example here would be French. The ordinary word “farm” has a similar sound with the French word “femme”, which means woman. What’s a little bit more interesting is the fact that the disgusting English word “fart” actually means the adorable word “pet” in French. A girl from France named Samantha Murphy verified these two phenomena. When being asked whether it was strange for these words to have such different meanings, her answer was “when you speak in one language, you think in one language, so its not so weird.”
Next in line is an example of a sharp contrast in meanings. The English word “gift” translated into Germany would actually mean poison. According to Julia Mazzoni, she “know(s) it (the phenomenon) exists, but doesn’t feel too strange about it”, which is a similar answer to Samantha Murphy’s. The challenge of diversity flooding in words hasn’t beaten the students here at Exeter so far.
What’s more, there’s sometimes the awkwardness caused by the lack of vocabulary equivalence in two languages. As listed in Think by Zhongyou Sun, the English word “wonder” can only be translated to the Japanese word “gimon”, which means doubt. So the next time a Japanese kid says “I doubt if you could succeed”, don’t take it the wrong way.
To add to the list, we have the hidden meaning behind normal American names. In Chinese, the name “May” means beautiful. But what’s not so pleasing is the fact that the name “Ben” means stupid. So if your name’s Ben, don’t get too upset, your brilliance has been recognized by everyone around you; but if you happen to have a little brother named Ben who’s always been a pain in the neck, you might just be in luck.
Finally, on the very top of the list, is the magical and difficult language Hebrew. In Hebrew, “me” means who, “who” means “he,” “he” means “she” and “dog” means “fish.” Modern Hebrew is one of the two official languages of Israel. So if you ever find yourself in Israel, be sure to find someone who speaks English and ask them what that’s like.
Diversity makes Exeter what it is today. Like Mohandas K. Gandhi once said, “no culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.” The same works with people, if we never meet diverse people, we may never see the world that’s a step away from us. More importantly, we might just miss out on a good laugh.