Alphabet Soup – Weekly Photo Challenge

“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



It was in my freshman year of high school that I first fell in love with language, thanks to a French teacher who inspired us to look beyond the words to understand the people and the cultures behind them. This week’s Alphabet challenge stirred memories of that initial exposure and my subsequent quest to better appreciate the world’s languages.



“Who are we without our words?”  

Melina Marchetta

After studying French, Spanish and Latin in high school, I went on to become a language major in college. There I studied more French and Spanish as well as German and much more interestingly, linguistics. It was in the last that the evolution of language became much more clear – to the point that we were able to speak and write Swahili without actually studying it – a whole new world was suddenly opened to me.



“Pity the poor in spirit who know neither the enchantment nor the beauty of language.”  

Muriel Barbery

Beyond written language, in recent years scientists have begun to understand the many forms of communication used by other species. Sophisticated sonar communication between whales, the clicks of dolphins, the complex squawks of crows and even the use of foot stomping by elephants are all examples of languages we are only now beginning to explore.



“I like you; your eyes are full of language.”

Anne Sexton

While we in the US think of our own alphabet as the method for depicting language in written form, other cultures offer much more extensive alternatives. The Chinese, for example, use thousands of symbols to depict their language.



“I dream of lost vocabularies that might express some of what we no longer can.”

Jack Gilbert

During our exploration of China I captured some of the examples of written language that I found most interesting. The pictographs used by the Naxi people, which is nearly extinct, were fascinating. Today’s opening capture of a hotel sign includes Chinese script as well as an English translation and if both fail, the lovely little pictoral image of the building. I especially liked the second image, which I made from a charming moment in a local park, where a group of seniors were practicing their art by writing on the pavement.The shot above made me smile because of it’s message – “Sincerity . Eternity”.  Seriously, how could you possibly expect to see such a sign on the back of a BUS of all places?!  And finally…..



“Language is the only homeland.”

Czeslaw Mitosz

I loved the sign captured above, not only for it’s message but for the sincere attempt at translation – which didn’t quite achieve idiomatic success, but got the idea across despite the disconnect 😊.

Here’s to communication – in whatever form it takes.




75 thoughts on “Alphabet Soup – Weekly Photo Challenge

  1. French, Spanish, Latin, German, Swahili, English..That’s quite a few, Tina! These apart, there another language which I feel you’re really, really good at — the language of photography! Interesting post 🙂

    • There is something so exotic about the Asian characters and symbols, don’t you think? I love those old Japanese prints with writing on them. Appreciate your stopping by Adrian.

  2. Wonderful post, Tina. I didn’t know you have studied many languages. I’ve studied French, Spanish, German, and Italian and taught ESL for many years, but I’m not fluent yet any Romance languages. I hope that as we travel more, I’ll be able to do that. Are you fluent in any?

    • I’d say I’m fluent in French, especially if I have a day or two of exposure to it. And yes, traveling really helps. I do have an ear for languages and can mimic accents really well. But I’ve pretty much lost all of my German and most of my Spanish (altho it too comes back to me when I travel, which is great fun!)

  3. Like you I’m a sucker for languages in all its forms! Besides French (my native tongue), I learned English, Spanish and French Sign Language (and I’m working as an interpreter in the lattest today). When studying linguistics, we learned about Hungarian the way you learned about Swahili. how fun!
    I now try and have a copy of “The Little Prince” in each language of the world (have French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Mongolian, Hungarian, Czech and Littuanian so far!)
    Enjoy the word!

    • Lovevd your comment Juls, for so many reasons! First, Le Petit Prince is one of my favorite books of all time and was the first I ever read in French. I have it in French and English but never thought of collecting it in multiple languages – what a great idea! And I love that you learned Hungarian vs my Swahili – Hungarian was my grandparents’ native language on my father’s side so it was the first foreign language I ever heard. Finally, my best friend growing up had deaf parents and we used sign language to communicate with them. Our mutual best friend ended up teaching sign language she was so inspired by them. It appears we have MUCH in common my friend!

  4. Excellent interpretation Tina. Now I know your love of and study of language and linguistics makes me appreciate the depth of feeling and the just right quotes you put with each post.

  5. I absolutely love the quote by Mandela. How true. It takes something to touch one’s hard with the language you speak, and I suppose you have to express that language with feeling too. The only language I am fluent in is English. I do speak a bit of Cantonese at home, but that’s about it. Perhaps one day I will be able to pick up another language 🙂

    • I loved it too Mabel – it certainly resonates, doesn’t it? They say if you’re exposed to a second language early you have a propensity to be able to learn additional languages more easily the rest of your life. Might be time to give it a try!

  6. Pingback: Alphabet: Side Street 2 | Chris Breebaart Photography / What's (in) the picture?

  7. Tina, I loved your post! And you’re right. We both had a similar line of thought. I did consider learning Japanese, then Mandarin, and then Korean. Sadly, I didn’t learn either. Love the calligraphy shot! 🙂

  8. Very enjoyable and interesting post, Tina! Thanks for sharing more of you along with these interesting pictures. I wish I could speak Swahili without studying it…would come to good use next month 🙂

  9. ii have found the last couple of challenges very challenging. too challenging, actually, so i opted out. will look back to see what you came up with.
    but as for your interpretation on alphabet, this is brilliant Tina – and it is nice to meet a fellow linguistics scholar! i fell into linguistics by accident and ended up making that my major at university. too funny. it’s 100 years ago now, more or less, but some of the things i learned back then still are with me now.
    enjoyed your insights about life and culture which i also believe are necessary components in learning a language. i especially love that bus image. very poignant. thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks so much for your visit and comment Kris. I see we share a love of languages. It’s been 100 years or thereabouts for me too but you’re right, much of it remains altho much is lost as well. So glad you singled out the bus photo – it just screamed to be shared!

  10. Hi Tina- Great post. I agree with Linda, sometimes your text draws my attention away from your photos, which are terrific. Love the mahjongg tiles. Interesting thoughts on language and a reminder how accomplished you are in so many areas.

  11. Your first quote struck a deep chord – these days, people speak to me in French, in English, in Dutch and occasionally in German, all head languages to me. There is no one here to speak to me in my heart language. How ironic that it is Nelson Mandela who points this out. My mother tongue is Afrikaans.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment Margaretha. I can empathize with your yearning to converse in your heart language. But mon Dieu, if one has to speak in a second, surely French would be the best choice!

  12. Perhaps I’ve forgotten a former exchange with you on this topic, but I was also a language major in college (Spanish, French, and Greek) and went on to get my master’s in linguistics. Language is a fascinating topic, one I will never grow bored with!

    • Amazing how many of the comments this week were from bloggers who also have language and linguistics backgrounds. I bet the masters work was really interesting. I too love languages of all kinds and learned it is closely related to talents in music and technology. What a nice set of skills, don’t you think?!

  13. I love words and language, Tina, so I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I really like the second and third shots, but signs in English in other countries often have the ability to amuse, so that last one was fun. Have you read “Anguished English?” If not, I think you’d love it. It has brought me to literal tears more than once because of the hilarity of it. The author, Richard Lederer, has written many other good books as well.


  14. I always thought I’d take the time to learn a second language but never did it. I know it’s not too late, and I’ve actually been thinking about trying a Spanish class to see if I have aptitude for it. I’m thinking maybe with the challenges I still experience with English that I may be lucky to be able to do what I do now. 🙂

    • LOL – we all have our challenges, don’t we Judy?! Actually we learned in linguistics class that children are born with an aptitude for language and if they are not exposed to a second language by the age of 4 or 5 it becomes much more difficult for them. Found that really interesting.

  15. Oh T… Sometimes I get so caught up in your ” language” I forget that I am on a photography blog and have to go back to look at the pics! Always insightful and a teachable moment .

  16. Love your alphabet soup! I too was a bit of a linguist in the past, even tried Russian at one point which was challenging, but fun. Sadly I remember very little now. Learning Swahili is impressive!

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