Language quotes touching history

My 20 favorite language quotes

And why I like them.

In line with my week of posts on the celebration of languages leading up to International Mother Tongue Day, I wanted to make a post about some of my favorite quotes on languages. Some of these quotes have been inspirational over the years in giving me reason and purpose to language learning itself, whereas others are new to me. The beauty of languages is that there is no limit to what we can learn. Just when we think we’ve learned a lot, we realize we are really just a novice still in some way.

(This is the fourth article in the week of language postings. Be sure to read the others here.)

I hope that you enjoy these quotes and that some of them inspire you to have a greater appreciation for the diversity of languages and cultures on this planet.


“Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.”


Why I chose this quote:

Rumi, formally Jalal ad-din Muhammed Rumi, is often quoted, but not everyone outside of this language family knows of his deep contributions to poetry through the Persian language. I think in English we only get part of the story, but Persian is a profound and beautifully artistic language that has produced some of the world’s most famous poets from Rumi to Hafez. Although language is something that we commonly think of as vocal and full of sound, we must remember that sometimes silence can be a powerful force in communication.

I look forward to one day reading Rumi in his native tongue as I continue my practice.

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”

Original in German: “Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt.”

– Ludwig Wittgenstein

Why I chose this quote:

We often forget how limiting being mono-lingual is. I challenge those who say language isn’t important to be dropped off in a distant land and try to communicate the most basic of necessities. Language can be extremely limiting or limitless. However, I don’t think that is the only thing that this quote is referring to. Deeper understanding of language pushes one far beyond their original confines.

“The greatest enemy of clear language is insincerity.”

– George Orwell

Why I chose this quote:

Language isn’t just hot air and words. Language grants the person who possesses it the ability to express themselves both for the best and for the worse.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

-Nelson Mandela

Why I chose this quote:

I love this little notion by Nelson Mandela because I find that although we often think that because someone understands us they really get it, but anyone who has put the effort into learning a second language will tell you that deep understanding of a language truly does go to your heart. In the early stages of language learning, it is mostly a mental game of words and definitions. It is once a solid grasp on the language has been attained that one starts to really understand the differences between things like happiness and contentment, or with liking something and being enamored by it.

“Language is a process of free creation; its laws and principles are fixed, but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varied. Even the interpretation and use of words involves a process of free creation.”

– Noam Chomsky

Why I chose this quote:

Language can be such a versatile and adaptable means of expressing oneself. This is why there are such great literary works from various authors over the years who have written powerful works read by millions. Symbolism and double meanings can lead to allegory while two people can interpret things completely differently. This is what makes language a beauty in the eye of its beholder.

“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.”

– Frank Smith

Why I chose this quote:

As I’ve heard multiple people say in conversations about languages, language has been a key for them to connect to an entirely new set of people. One language limits you to one people. Two languages, opens a whole new demographic of people who you can relate to and connect with. Opportunities for new experiences and/or different experiences are sure to arise. I can certainly attest to this. The difference between me traveling with a second language as oppose to only English has been clearly evident. When I first traveled, I didn’t know a second language. Traveling with Spanish opened so many doors for me in finding new places, getting a local experience, meeting new people who only spoke Spanish, and much more.

“He who knows no foreign language, knows nothing of his own.”

Original in German: “Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiß nichts von seiner eigenen.”

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Why I chose this quote:

There is something to be said about the idea of connectivity that humans have through language. We commonly think of language as a way to differentiate between Peoples or unite ‘other’ people, but we also must realize the connections that languages have. From borrow words, to cognates, to language origins, many languages are much more connected than you might think. How many thousands of English words come from French? How many hundreds of words in Spanish are of Arabic origin? Why is zendegi (life) mean the same thing in Hindi, Urdu, and Persian? Languages are connected, and so are the people who speak them. In a world of states and borders, we try to define ourselves as different from them, but in reality things are more interconnected than we would like to admit.

“Belladonna, n.: In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly poison. A striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues.”

– Ambrose Bierce

Why I chose this quote:

The importance of accurate communication. It is easy to think of language as all benevolent, but the notion of miscommunication can be detrimental.language quotes about

“There is no such thing as an ugly language. Today I hear every language as if it were the only one, and when I hear of one that is dying, it overwhelms me as though it were the death of the Earth.”

– Elias Canetti

For every language that becomes extinct, an image of man disappears.

” Con cada lengua que se extingue se borra una imagen del hombre.”

– Octavio Paz

Why I chose these quotes:

Elias makes a good point here. Keeping inline with the idea of connectivity through language, we must also realize why diversity in language is important. This is why International Mother Tongue Day is so important. Each unique language must be viewed as an integral part of the cultural eco-system of the world. They all have a contribution to this rich diversity. When one language becomes extinct, we lose so much more than a dictionary of words. If a dictionary even exists in that language. We lose a library of local wealth; we lose a perspective; and most importantly, we lose a way of being. In a world, where it is projected that as many as half of languages could go extinct within the next century please remember why a language is important.

“Any time you think some other language is strange, remember that yours is just as strange, you’re just used to it.”

– Anonymous

Why I chose this quote:

Although we live in a world where a few languages dominate communcation, there is no such thing as a strange language. If you had been born somewhere else, then you’d likely think that the language(s) you speak now are strange. It is all a matter of perspective.

“Absolutely nothing is so important for a nation’s culture as its language.”

– Wilhelm von Humboldt

“The nation lives through its language.”

Original in Hungarian: “Nyelvében él a nemzet.”

– Gróf Széchenyi István

“A country without a language is a country without a soul.”

Original in Irish (Gaelic): “Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam.”

– Unknown proverb

Why I chose these quotes:

I grouped these quotes together for a very important reason, to show you how there can be multiple ways of saying the same thing.  I could have added the quote, “Hep brezhoneg, breizh ebet” or
Without Breton there is no Brittany” that sums this up exact. To me, language and culture are indistinguishable from one another.

“To have another language is to possess a second soul.”

Original in French: “Avoir une autre langue, c’est posséder une deuxième âme”

– Charlemagne (French)

Original in Turkish: “Bir dil bir insan, iki dil iki insan.” “One who speaks only one language is one person, but one who speaks two languages is two people.”

“To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world.”

Original in Chinese: 学一门语言,就是多一个观察世界的窗户。

– Chinese saying

Why I chose these quotes:

When learning another language it seems that you almost take on another persona. It isn’t that you change who you are fundamentally, or your major outlook; however, you do inevitably start to see things differently. Speaking only one language makes you think only about the things that you think about in that one language. Learning a second language forces you to think in a new way that cannot always be translated. To try to imagine a day in the life of a native speaker.

In talking about this I like to think about different ways of saying simple things like how old you are for example. In English, we use the verb ‘to be’ as in our age is merely a number. Other languages like Spanish, Italian, and even Persian would use the verb ‘to have’. Consider the difference between ‘I am 27’ and ‘I have 27 years’. At first glance, it might not seem like a large difference, but being and having imply two completely different things.

“Never make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language.”

–H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Why I chose this quote:

Plain and simple, if someone has an accent, then it means they know something that you don’t and could likely teach you a thing or two. Learning from another is one of the great draws of traveling for me.

❝Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.❞
‒Chinese Proverb

Why I chose this quote:

Learning is the most beautiful and fragile gifts of life that we take for granted. Knowledge is something that can never be taken from you, but it is a precious thing to obtain as it must be used for good things. As my friend used to tell me, ‘he who knows nothing has to believe everything’. I’d say, that he who knows something has a responsibility associated with it.

Some of these quotes I knew from memorizing them in the past, however, I also found inspiration from Omniglot, especially for a few of the original translations. If you haven’t guessed, I am a firm advocate of second language learning and multi-lingualism. I’ve written a few articles in the past such as why you should learn a second language, that I hope you’ll enjoy.

Have you read my other articles on language learning?

Why learn a second langauge?

7 great ways to practice foreign languages

When to start learning another language?

Which language should you learn?

Words or phrases you should know in every language

Did you see these interviews with language lovers and polyglots?

Interviews with polyglots?

Tips for Localization professionals!

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  1. “The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” So True. Love it

  2. wonderful quotes. Great to see u. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. I love quotes! These are so lovely! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Amazing quotes. Reading them is lovely. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Great quotes!

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