The meaning of “to see”

I have written many times before of the need to throw away vocabulary lists when learning languages. Languages do not consist of sequences of words on lists which translate exactly to each other; but rather they consist of words and combinations which have a range of meanings depending on context. That range varies significantly (as explained in the linked article). The consequence of this is that our language learning becomes stilted, and the target language seems to be nothing more than a type of formula to be dryly learned consecutively as we go through a school textbook, rather than a real living means of communicating things, ideas and feelings.

To which you may respond: “Oh, I see.”

Which is interesting, because what, precisely, do you see?

To pursue this further, we are taught that in French “I see” is “Je vois”, but you could not possibly respond to the above with “Je vois”! Genuine misunderstanding would inevitably ensue, as the French speaker demanding to know exactly what it is that falls within your line of vision!

By the way, why do I appear to me putting random words in italics? Sequence, consequence, consecutive, pursue and ensue are among many words in the English language which derive ultimately from the Latin sequor “I follow”, either more or less directly in the first three cases (and indeed absolutely directly in the legal/logical term non sequitur), or via French in the latter two (modern French has suivre).

What has this to do with see? Well, see ultimately shares the same Indo-European origin as sequor, and therefore has the fundamental meaning of “follow”. It was only later than Germanic languages came to assign the more specific meaning in most contexts of “follow, with the eyes”.

Do you see now?!


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