Name: Alexandra Donaldson Jones (or, in Scottish Gaelic, Sandy NicDhòmhnaill Jones)
Nationality or Ethnicity: Nationalities: 1. United Kingdom; 2. Republic of Ireland. Ethnicity – ‘Celtic mongrel’ – Scottish, Welsh and Irish.
Where do you live?: The world; Europe; Scotland and England.
Languages: English, German, Scottish Gaelic, French, Spanish, Welsh,
Conversational: Greek, Czech
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I have always loved language, literature, poetry and song, and have been an internationalist from an early age. I write poetry in 2-3 languages and translate it from several more. Much of my professional life was in the international system (UN, Commonwealth), where to be a hyper-polyglot is normal, celebrated, and an advantage.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
All of them! At any given point in time, hyper-polyglots find that a few of their languages are feeling a little neglected and unloved. (I do have a particular affection for Greek, both ancient and modern).
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
Sanskrit; Farsi; Turkish …..
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Each language has its own beauty, usually more obvious to speakers of that language, and often at its finest in its poetry and song. So I tend to find languages with highly-developed and complex poetic forms, and/or with a strong sense of euphony, to be the more beautiful ones. Many meet these criteria! – including Gaelic and Welsh.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
The ability to understand another country and culture on its own terms – through the medium of its own language and unique conceptualisation of the world, including the many words (concepts) which are not directly translatable. Also – the tremendous welcome and acceptance that you encounter when travelling, for having made the effort, and opened the door into another person’s world.
6. Some people say the world is really just going to have a few languages left in a 100 years, do you think this is really true?
I fear it is very probably true – ‘language death’ is a proven phenomenon, proceeding at an alarmingly rapid rate, and the majority of the world’s languages are in fact ‘endangered’ (defined as under 60,000 speakers). The cultural, conceptual and psychological damage from this loss of linguistic biodiversity will be immense – see my response to question 5.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages? 1. Do it! These languages are identities, peoples, human heritage, and connections for future understanding, innovation and peace in the world. 2. Do not fear it might be difficult! The majority of the world speaks more than one language, so bi-lingualism or multi-lingualism is the norm. 3. Your brain will thank you! All the evidence is that learning new languages forges new synapses (the brain does not have finite ‘megabytes’), increases brain plasticity, and can prevent degenerative conditions such as Alzheimers. 4. You will understand the world better, and the world will welcome and respect you more.