27 January 2011

Roger Federer

A break from talking about literature:  let's talk about tennis.  Here's an excerpt from a newspaper article about Roger Federer's being a polyglot (Swiss German, French, English):

"It is not uncommon for Federer to stay behind after his main press conference and answer questions in several languages for a variety of media in newspapers, radio and television.

"'Sometimes I wish I never told anybody I learned French or something like that.
"'I'm happy to speak it. It's a language we speak in Switzerland. I'm proud to have learned that language. At least I can communicate and have friends as well from that part of the world.'
"Federer, who has a South African mother, said he grew up speaking English and Swiss German.
"'That (being a polyglot) comes at a cost, sure. But I don't mind it. I try to have fun with it,' he said.
"'I have different humor in all the different languages, which is kind of fun for me, too. Getting to know myself through different languages is actually quite interesting for me.'"

I was struck by his observation that another language not only helps him communicate with people, but learn about himself.  Since one of literature's major goals is to help writers and readers learn about themselves, having more than one language is surely a simple way to gain more self-knowledge.  In the same vein, a novelist working with more than one language knows a lot more about his or her characters than one working monolingually.

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