Nietzsche on the subject of learning many languages

I have studied English, French, German, and Spanish, and I have learned a bit of Latin Greek, and Hebrew.  I read this today:

“267. Learning Many Languages.—The learning of many languages fills the memory with words instead of with facts and thoughts, and this is a vessel which, with every person, can only contain a certain limited amount of contents. Therefore the learning of many languages is injurious, inasmuch as it arouses a belief in possessing dexterity and, as a matter of fact, it lends a kind of delusive importance to social intercourse. It is also indirectly injurious in that it opposes the acquirement of solid knowledge and the intention to win the respect of men in an honest way. Finally, it is the axe which is laid to the root of a delicate sense of language in our mother-tongue, which thereby is incurably injured and destroyed. The two nations which produced the greatest stylists, the Greeks and the French, learned no foreign languages. But as human intercourse must always grow more cosmopolitan, and as, for instance, a good merchant in London must now be able to read and write eight languages, the learning of many tongues has certainly become a necessary evil; but which, when finally carried to an extreme, will compel mankind to find a remedy, and in some far-off future there will be a new language, used at first as a language of commerce, then as a language of intellectual intercourse generally, then for all, as surely as some time or other there will be aviation. Why else should philology have studied the laws of languages for a whole century, and have estimated the necessary, the valuable, and the successful portion of each separate language?”


Human All Too Human (PDF):

Leave a Reply