Videos for Greek and Czech – and “Different but the same”

Videos for Greek and Czech – and “Different but the same”

I live in Astoria, Queens, where there is a big Greek population (as well as people from many other parts of the world).  A few blocks along my street is St Demetrios Greek Orthodox Cathedral, and St Demetrios Astoria School, the biggest Greek-American school in the US.

Here’s the equivalent of “I live here” – “Ζω εδώ” – in Greek.  It was recorded outside Cafe to Go, near Astoria’s 30th Avenue subway station:

And this is “I live here” in Czech – Já žije tady.  This was recorded in another 30th Ave cafe, Bakeway.


A friend who is an elementary school teacher once told me how impressed she was by one of her young student’s poems.  The student called it “Different but the same.”  That’s one way to view languages.

On their “sameness”: The ability to speak language unites us as humans.  It is truly “a trait of the species” that makes humans distinct from other animals, says John McWhorter in his book “The Power of Babel”.  And there is a certain unity in languages. Whatever the language, our mind functions in the same way to learn and speak it.  In each one there are ways to communicate similar things – from something as simple as “I live here” to far more complex ideas.  And every language mutates over time, often borrowing from others.

On their differences: Within each language is a unique way of living in the world and viewing it.  People rarely feel the same communicating in a second or third language than in their mother tongue, however fluent they may be.  The differences between them are as essential as those between individuals.

I’m using the world “translate” or “translation” at times as a shorthand to convey what I’m trying to do – i.e. collect the way in which “I live here” (in English) would be said in all the languages spoken in Queens.  But translation implies the meaning can be shifted directly across from one language to another, while of course it is not as simple as that.  Already I’m coming across languages for which “I live here” is written differently if you are a man or a women, or if you are speaking formally or informally for example.  And others in which “here” sits strangely, as if it does not have so finite a meaning in that language.

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