Language groups for learning

I may have written about this topic before, but if so then it’s been a while. I’ve developed a list of languages I’d love to learn (whether I will ever succeed at it is a different question, but I’m trying!), in order of priority. I know why I want to learn each language. I’m interested to try to reverse-engineer for myself what priorities led me to choose and rank these languages as I have.

German, French. I think I’m mainly interested in these two languages because there is plenty of genuinely interesting philosophy and literature written in these languages and because learning them opens up a lot of secondary literature about philosophy, history, etc. I think I also hoped that learning German would help me understand English etymology a bit better, but having studied it for a while now I’m not sure that will really be an outcome of studying this language.

Greek, Latin. Obviously my interest in these two would come from a desire to be able to read classical and medieval texts that have been important in the history of Western thought (and again my interests are mainly in philosophy, history, and literature).

Hebrew, Italian, Arabic. I’m interested in these three partly because of their importance in contemporary world politics, partly for the historic works written in them, and in the case of Italian, partly for modern philosophy and scholarship. Hebrew has always felt like it is out of place here, ranked a bit too high for my actual priorities; it may have gotten a boost from the fact that I studied it for a couple years in college and on some level would just love to recover some of my knowledge of it.

Russian, Mandarin. These two interest me partly because of their importance for contemporary world politics, and partly from the hope that learning them could be a first step toward learning other languages (other Slavic languages, and older forms of Chinese).

Japanese, Hindi, Farsi, Turkish. These last four are not precisely ordered, although the first two do have a slightly higher rank than the last two. Hindi is a bit of a placeholder; I’d like to learn a language that is prominent in modern India that might also help me someday toward learning Sanskrit, and while I feel like Hindi would fit the bill, I also know India has many languages so I would want to confirm that this is the best choice for my goals before setting out on learning it. My hope with Japanese is that it might open some contemporary writing to me but also that it could be a bridge to reading older Japanese philosophy (though I don’t know for sure if older Japanese philosophy was even written in an older form of the modern Japanese language, so I’d also want to check that before setting out on learning the language). Farsi and Turkish seem like they might be interesting for understanding contemporary middle eastern politics and thought, and might also enable me to study older forms of the languages to be able to read some classic texts. Again, I’m not entirely sure about that last point; it’s more of an intuition at this point. These last four languages on the list are the ones that I have not yet started studying at all.

So it seems like my priorities for language-learning are something like: understanding western philosophy, literature, and history (in the originals and through modern scholarship); understanding contemporary world politics; and understanding world philosophy, literature, and history. I think that might be it. That was actually more straightforward than I realized. If I get to all these there are certainly others I’d love to add to the list as well, but for now even this seems much too ambitious for a single lifetime of study (especially with my having really embarked on it only in my thirties).

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