Beauty is in the Eye…


Beauty is in the Eye…

I know, I know: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. What is one man’s paradise or beatific vision is another man’s “Yuck!”

At the risk of sounding of sounding chauvinistic and self-centred, I must admit that I’ve been put off lately by the sound of certain languages. Watching a couple of Danish television series on Netflix, (you know those soft and easy-going Danes?) I couldn’t help think at times: Ouch, what an ugly-sounding language!

Terrible, I know.

And just the other night, after Naomi and I walked out of the celebrated Russian film Leviathan, (how much tragedy and brutal misfortune can one viewer take?) I was also struck by how disagreeable the Russian language sounded to my ear. Not only couldn’t I seem to make out individual words from the slurred sounds coming from half-opened mouths, the whole process of communicating between people seemed to be a travesty.

Which lead me to think: Which languages, to my ear, do sound pleasant? I could only think of three: Spanish, French and English.

And not all Spanish spoken is the same: when I taught, in the late 80’s, kids from Central and South America who came to Montreal to learn English, I learned that Venezuelan Spanish was harsh and guttural while Colombian Spanish was soft and beautiful.

Scottish English sometimes sounds as if the speaker is chewing on his consonants, and experiencing indigestion, while Irish English has a nice light and poetic lilt to it.

Sometimes when I go to the Van Horne Avenue Mall and hear Filipino spoken by the many people who frequent this mall, I also think that it’s fairly pleasant on the ear, like the sound of the rushing water over rocks. Or was that Tamil?

After mulling this over a few minutes, I stopped and wondered: What would Aliens think as they listened to Earth’s different peoples talking to each other? Would they be impressed with how we sound? Whether it’s Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Hebrew, German, Russian and many, many other languages: Don’t most of them sound awful?

Then I thought: didn’t Klingon, that fictional language from Star Trek, also sound much worse than any language man has come up with?\



Finally I thought, returning full circle to the idea of Beauty being in the eye of the Beholder: I’m sure that the Russian speakers whom I had so much trouble with in the film believe sincerely that their language sounds beautiful, gorgeous in fact, and that English and French sound awful.

I’m sure that this is the case.



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