Looking Through the Language Lens
The Dialectician, Moriz Jung, 1911, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Looking Through the Language Lens

An Interview with Ireneusz Kania
Łukasz Kaniewski, Tomasz Stawiszyński
time 26 minutes

Is physical fitness important for learning foreign languages? How can one pass a university admission test in French without actually knowing the language? How does language affect our understanding of the world? Ireneusz Kania, a translator with competence in more than 20 languages, is interviewed by Łukasz Kaniewski and Tomasz Stawiszyński.

Łukasz Kaniewski and Tomasz Stawiszyński: You are a polyglot who translates [into Polish] religious texts that originate from very distant spiritual traditions. Can you tell us about how you got into such a fascinating field?

Ireneusz Kania: It is difficult for me to pinpoint any specific trigger that first sparked my interest, but I think it was something related to stamps. I started collecting stamps before I could read. This was mostly by ungluing them from envelopes, since in the small town of Wieluń where I was born, no one had even heard of a specialist shop for philatelists. Collecting stamps back then was something completely different from what it is today. Stamp collectors were almost like a secret sect, meeting and swapping stamps. A wonderful subculture, I feel hugely indebted to them. So even when I couldn’t yet read Polish, I could already tell Chinese writing from Tibetan or Thai characters. And it all seemed so fascinating to me. I had four Chinese stamps with strange pictures and two visibly distinct kinds of writing. It was a mystery no one could explain to me. I finally learned what was on these stamps only when I was 21.

Then I realized that what really fascinated me was other spiritual worlds. I wanted to enter those worlds, first via the languages. I thought I would master languages to be able to read the important texts I had heard about here and there. I wanted to read their original versions, because I intuitively felt what I later became certain of, that even very good translations are but a bleak reflection of the aesthetic qualities and cognitive content of the original. Another issue is that such really good translations are really scarce. So I started to learn languages.

You studied by yourself?

I learn everything by myself, even sports techniques. I would not, however, recommend this to others, because you can pick up errors which are difficult to eliminate later on.

Which language was your first?

I learned Italian when I was 16. I was in a sanatorium and incidentally came across The Divine Comedy in a Polish translation. It was an amazing experience that could be likened to an epiphany for me. I said to myself: “How beautiful it must be in the original if it has so much allure in the translation.” And I started learning Italian, which took me 10 months.

In the sanatorium?



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Professor Filutek, part 2
Professor Filutek

Professor Filutek, part 2

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