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Is a language for grammar or communication?

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 16:15 UK time, Thursday, 4 November 2010

I'm from a part of the world where nearly everyone speaks several languages.

Not because they are clever, but because it is a necessity.

They call Central Asia a "crossroad of civilisations". This is no more apparent than in the bazaars of Samarkand or Bukhara or Istanbul where stall holders will try and make you buy something - be it suzane embroidery or traditional naan bread - in any language from English to Japanese.

There's another type of necessity. When we were forced out of our own country my wife spoke Russian actively and Uzbek passively. Since then we have lived in France, Germany and Britain.

She has mastered all those languages and also become fluent in her mother-tongue Uzbek, since it has been in a great demand. She is learning Arabic and Persian as a requirement to her widening academic horizons. So on all these counts I think that necessity is the best university.

There's a saying in Uzbek that goes "You speak so many languages, you live so many different lives".

There are some hindrances in speaking many languages. For instance I know that my IQ and EQ are much-much higher in Uzbek or in Russian than in English.

I have a theory in this regard: like an artist who has got at his disposal a palette of colours, so we master our languages. Some people have got 64 colours in his palette, another person - just 32. When I read - for instance (or 'by the by' as he would say) - Laurence Stern's Tristam Shandy I understand how poor and plain my English is.

But in my case I don't see it as a tragedy.

However I once knew a couple. He was an Uzbek former-Soviet chap and she was an English girl.

He spoke hardly any English. She was extremely well-educated, sophisticated and aristocratic.

I alway wondered what kept them together, because they were so different in their upbringing, education and conversation. Then I found an explanation.

They met each other in Central Asia and since he didn't speak any English, they communicated in Russian, a language that she was studying there.

Imagine my compatriot had, say, 10 Russian colours in his palette - not too much, whereas she had all 50 colours in her English palette. However she had only nine colours in Russian and that made the difference! Her nine colours against his 10 meant she had to accept him as superior... I've heard that they divorced after she finished her Russian studies.

So the question is: what are the benefits and disadvantages of learning another language?

A market trader in Samarkand in Uzbekistan

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