January 8, 2013, by Rosamund Aubrey

Language week – a German standup counts sheep

Sheep jumping over a fence, but sometimes it’s too muddy for them to jump safely – such are the dreams of Henning Wehn, doing standup in English. And then there is the sheep which is passed it – he didn’t sleep for 5 nights after it had to be put down. But then again he was on all fours in a kebab shop at 3am in trousers he had pissed down, just like a Brit. There was no telling where Henning would go next, but who would have guessed he was part of the British Academy Festival of Languages.

Nicola McLelland’s collection of German language textbooks from 1850 to 2000, offers a fascinating take on stereotypes of Germans, as presented to generations of British school pupils, but also a slice of 20th century graphic and social history.

Professor Emeritus Elizabeth Boa’s lecture, Languages: speeding towards the future and remembering the past, gave us a diversification, not by reducing risk and spreading investments, but by creating a sense of risk and excitement by the power of languages. Exotic, erotic, ‘losing your virginity is Paris at least once’ – learning languages for pleasure, not for economic benefit. Not denying the economic benefits of learning languages, Elizabeth said firmly that economics should serve people, not people serve economics. English is the universal language, but she gave us stats to illustrate the amazing growth of other major languages via the internet, but took us back with late 15th century tapestries, The Lady and the Unicorn depicting the five senses. The picture displayed throughout the lecture was Bruegel’s Tower of Babel, but then Elizabeth talked about her love of literature which is an integral part of her love of languages. She translated a German poem line by line which described the five senses which she illustrated with the tapestries, which are brought together in the sixth tapestry Mon Seul Desir– where the five senses become one in eternal love – the allegory of the lady with the unicorn, rather than the discontinuity of babel.

The British Academy’s Language week http://www.britac.ac.uk/policy/Language_Week_2012.cfm

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