Treat language as a Jenga tower, moving its pieces but preserving its structure. Credit…Illustration by Chantal Jahchan Language has probably always been a slippery thing, but I can't be alone in finding its current slipperiness particularly disconcerting. There is real, deliberate damage being done to words: A war becomes a “special military operation,” for example. The emergence of chat-based A.I. models such as ChatGPT , meanwhile, divorces us from the process of communication as a thoughtful series of decisions about how to best make ourselves understood by others. There are always, of course, scales more modest than these. Sometimes the simplest sentiments get twisted and freighted in ways we never intended: That I could not make time for someone does not mean I do not love them; but I can't add a footnote to clarify my intentions. The possibility of truly conveying meaning to someone else — which is, after all, the whole point — begins to seem remote. Words are nonetheless all we have, so to bolster my faith, I turn to bilingual editions. This might, as a coping mechanism, seem counterintuitive; these books approximately double the number of words you have to contend with. But when language feels as elusive as smoke — when there is so much to get across and so many traps along the way — bilingual editions make it feel solid. I admit that these books are for me a security blanket. I grew up on them, as my parents tried to drill back into my head some semblance of the Urdu I lost as a child. Before you ask: You don't need to speak another language to appreciate a bilingual edition. The English language shape-shifts across time and space — so you could find a pocket Shakespeare, if you like, one of those editions with a contemporary gloss across the spread, and play the same game. In any case, if you can read English, everything from French to Vietnamese can be at your fingertips. If you are the kind of person who has something to say but is never quite certain how […]
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