Dan Cross

Did Ayn Rand remain fluent or often speak in French?

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I recently finished reading Ayn Rand and the World She Made. The shortcomings of the book have been documented in another thread (the shortlist: many errors of logic in criticizing Miss Rand's ideas; virtually all criticisms of Miss Rand's personal life built entirely on anonymous hearsay and/or the Brandens with a rare sprinkling on occasion of a named or unnamed source disputing those claims. Also, Leonard Peikoff is treated ridiculously unfairly). Still, for the most part it was a well-done and overwhelming positive biography (considering the author's background and the current culture).

Anyways, my question as it relates to the book is that it never explicitly stated whether Ayn Rand stayed fluent in French or ever spoke it later on in life. It did say that she learned it in school as French was the intellectual language of Russia at the time and that she would listen to Hugo's novels and other stories in French and could understand them. Obviously she was always fluent in Russian and I would be surprised if a mind like hers could forget a language it had learned unless by purposeful inattention. I'd optimistically estimate my French vocabulary at 100 words or so but I find it to be a very euphonic language. I'm also interested if anyone knows her attitude towards the language as compared to Russian and English.

Thanks.

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Anyways, my question as it relates to the book is that it never explicitly stated whether Ayn Rand stayed fluent in French or ever spoke it later on in life. It did say that she learned it in school as French was the intellectual language of Russia at the time and that she would listen to Hugo's novels and other stories in French and could understand them. Obviously she was always fluent in Russian and I would be surprised if a mind like hers could forget a language it had learned unless by purposeful inattention.

Ayn Rand learned and spoke French at home. "Her mother -- insisting she become accomplished in French -- subscribed to a French children's magazine." (Who is Ayn Rand?, HC, P.152)

In a letter to European actress Wera Engels, she discussed coming to France to write the French screen adaptation of her play, "Ideal." (Letters of Ayn Rand, March 22, 1938, P. 43).

In a letter to Henri Glarner (Letters, June 26, 1948, P.388) she wrote:

You may write me in French. I understand it perfectly, but find it difficult to speak, having had no occasion to speak French all these years.

Please excuse my halting attempts at it over the telephone. I understood every word you said, but I could not think in French fast enough to answer you.

In 1962 she wrote to Vera Glarner (Letters, P. 594)

Please excuse me for answering in English -- I hope that you can still read it or have it translated for you. As to my French, it is too uncertain to attempt to write it.

In her essay, "The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution" she wrote:

Personally, I speak four -- or rather three-and-a-half -- languages: Engligh, French, Russian, and the half is German, which I can read but not speak.

I also recall that in 1966 or 1967 there was a show of paintings by Jose Manuel Capuletti, the Spanish painter, at the Hammer Galleries in New York City and Capuletti and his wife were staying at Ayn Rand's apartment while they were in town. The only language they had in common was French, and I overheard them chattering away quite easily at the show.

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I recently finished reading Ayn Rand and the World She Made. The shortcomings of the book have been documented in another thread ...

Anyways, my question as it relates to the book is that it never explicitly stated whether Ayn Rand stayed fluent in French or ever spoke it later on in life. It did say that she learned it in school as French was the intellectual language of Russia at the time and that she would listen to Hugo's novels and other stories in French and could understand them. ...

I have not read and will not read that book. If someone does not respect Ayn Rand, I do not respect them.

If the book does claim that Miss Rand learned French at school, that is certainly an instance of slipshod, incompetent research. Anyone who had read the available records would not make that mistake. Nor would anyone make that mistake who had bothered to study the cultural milieu. Offhand, I can't recall a single Russian intellectual who learned French in school (Dostoyevsky, Nabokov). They were immersed in French at home, from an early age. Hence the high level of fluency that was taken for granted in intellectual circles.

Each of the 4 novels Miss Rand remembered reading at the age of 8, is written in nearly adult level French, with a huge vocabulary. When Patricia Lechavalier of the Atlantean Press looked at the newly discovered copy of La Vallee Mysterieuse in 1993, she told me that, though she could read French, she couldn't read it. I could read it--but only by frequently referring to a dictionary for the many unfamiliar words per page.

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Oh, and Betsy, thanks for the info. Wish you would share more of your memories of Miss Rand. However slight they might appear to you, they will be welcomed by many of us!

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I recently finished reading Ayn Rand and the World She Made. The shortcomings of the book have been documented in another thread ...

Anyways, my question as it relates to the book is that it never explicitly stated whether Ayn Rand stayed fluent in French or ever spoke it later on in life. It did say that she learned it in school as French was the intellectual language of Russia at the time and that she would listen to Hugo's novels and other stories in French and could understand them. ...

I have not read and will not read that book. If someone does not respect Ayn Rand, I do not respect them.

If the book does claim that Miss Rand learned French at school, that is certainly an instance of slipshod, incompetent research. Anyone who had read the available records would not make that mistake. Nor would anyone make that mistake who had bothered to study the cultural milieu. Offhand, I can't recall a single Russian intellectual who learned French in school (Dostoyevsky, Nabokov). They were immersed in French at home, from an early age. Hence the high level of fluency that was taken for granted in intellectual circles.

Each of the 4 novels Miss Rand remembered reading at the age of 8, is written in nearly adult level French, with a huge vocabulary. When Patricia Lechavalier of the Atlantean Press looked at the newly discovered copy of La Vallee Mysterieuse in 1993, she told me that, though she could read French, she couldn't read it. I could read it--but only by frequently referring to a dictionary for the many unfamiliar words per page.

I may have misremembered the book, I don't have it with me right now to reference. Her mother spoke French and was well-educated and did instruct her daughters, which I believe the book mentions. The book details the period where Miss Rand was educated at a prestigious middle school type institution where she was friends with Nabokov's younger sister. Whether it says she learned French there or not I cannot recall. It did say French was the language of the Russian intellectual class.

About the book itself, it was given to me as a gift. I intentionally avoided the two new bios because while they were intriguing, I knew they would almost certainly be a lot of [insert expletive] mixed in with any interesting or illuminating information. Having read it, I'm glad I did. There was a lot of factually grounded, well-researched information about Ayn Rand's life. On the whole, in my opinion the author was very respectful towards Ayn Rand's ideas, and was very rigorous in presenting them and even in critiquing them (her critiques of course were full of holes but they were seemingly respectful and honest, as compared to nearly any other criticisms you'll find of Objectivism). Her treatment of Ayn Rand the person did not apply the same standard and was certainly full of disrespectful speculation, insinuation, etc. I understand your position.

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I almost forgot... thanks Betsy for all that great information! Everything I wanted to know and more.

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In her essay, "The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution" she wrote:
Personally, I speak four -- or rather three-and-a-half -- languages: Engligh, French, Russian, and the half is German, which I can read but not speak.

Dan also asked

I'm also interested if anyone knows her attitude towards the language as compared to Russian and English.

The quote on 3 1/2 languages above was actually in her essay (from Ford Hall Forum on April 10, 1977) "Global Balkanization" in the anthology The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, not the title essay. She also said a little more, which I remembered from Ford Hall and which concludes with a partial answer to the rest of Dan's question:

The learning of another language expands one's abstract capacity and vision. Personally, I speak four—or rather three-and-a-half—languages: English, French, Russian, and the half is German, which I can read but not speak. I found this knowledge extremely helpful when I began writing: it gave me a wider range and choice of concepts; it showed me four different styles of expression; it made me grasp the nature of languages as such, apart from any set of concretes.

(Speaking of concretes, I would say that every civilized language has its own inimitable power and beauty, but the one I love is English—the language of my choice, not of my birth. English is the most eloquent, the most precise, the most economical, and, therefore, the most powerful. English fits me best—but I would be able to express my identity in any Western language.)

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Thanks ewv. I had vague impression she would say something along those lines but even so the insight of Ayn Rand is predictably surprising in its precision.

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I recently finished reading Ayn Rand and the World She Made. The shortcomings of the book have been documented in another thread (the shortlist: many errors of logic in criticizing Miss Rand's ideas; virtually all criticisms of Miss Rand's personal life built entirely on anonymous hearsay and/or the Brandens with a rare sprinkling on occasion of a named or unnamed source disputing those claims. Also, Leonard Peikoff is treated ridiculously unfairly).

Oh, but we wouldn't let that get in the way.

Still, for the most part it was a well-done and overwhelming positive biography (considering the author's background and the current culture).

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... Obviously she was always fluent in Russian and I would be surprised if a mind like hers could forget a language it had learned unless by purposeful inattention. I'd optimistically estimate my French vocabulary at 100 words or so but I find it to be a very euphonic language.

The earlier you learn a language, the more it sticks with you. I grew up with Hungarian. I started "high school" German, the summer before 7th grade at a university demonstration school for teaching teachers. I took German through my junior year of college. My German SAT scores were higher than my English achievement numbers. In college, I had a hard time finding classes becauser I started at the 300-level. As an adult, I had two college classes in Japanese for business and two community ed classes in Italian for tourists. I taught myself classical Greek and Tibetan and have published using both. Working in security on a college campus, I learned enough Farsi to get myself invited to dinner at the Persian Poetry Club ... though they thought I was a Turk because of my accent....

All of which is to say that if Ayn Rand learned French as a child at home, she probably learned it pretty good, eh?

What do you call someone who speaks two languages?

Bilingual

What do you call someone who speaks three languages?

Trilingual.

What do you call someone who speaks one language?

American.

I grew up expecting to learn as many languages as I would need for business, science or education or for travel or recreation... It was not unusual in my neighborhood for the old ladies to gossip in three languages...

Did Ayn Rand know three-and-a-half languages? Yeah... only because she lived most of her life in America or she would have learned six and a half like any other educated European....

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I always felt a bit of a kindred spirit with Ayn Rand and her knowledge of French. I became fluent as a teenager and have maintained my French over the past 26 years. Unlike Miss Rand, I had an easy time learning to pronounce and speak like a native.

I love French as a language and certain aspects of the culture, though definitely not the politics. English is obviously the richer of the two languages, but there is a poetic quality to the French language that I don't get from English. Like Miss Rand, I have found my thinking was aided immeasurably by knowing another language fluently. Because I've also studied several others to varying degrees, and even learned Slovak reasonably well when I was a teacher in Slovakia, I have a very easy time picking up languages in general.

I don't fault Americans for being uni-lingual, though, because it's not a necessity for the most part. I think of it as a nice to have, but not a requirement.

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I don't fault Americans for being uni-lingual, though, because it's not a necessity for the most part. I think of it as a nice to have, but not a requirement.

It's not even "nice" if you don't need it so you can devote your efforts elsewhere, where they do you personally more good. That is a big advantage in America. Some may validly find it nice even though not necessary if they have the inclination, but the snarling anti-Americanism from swaggering, psychologizing stuffed shirts has no place here.

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I don't fault Americans for being uni-lingual, though, because it's not a necessity for the most part. I think of it as a nice to have, but not a requirement.

It's not even "nice" if you don't need it so you can devote your efforts elsewhere, where they do you personally more good. That is a big advantage in America. Some may validly find it nice even though not necessary if they have the inclination, but the snarling anti-Americanism from swaggering, psychologizing stuffed shirts has no place here.

I couldn't agree more.

In a side point, when Australians sometimes cite the factoid that fewer than x% of Americans have passports, my first reply is: maybe Americans have reasons they don't travel abroad as much as Australians or others. And then I clarify that as much as I love Australia - and I do for sure - America is an incredibly vast and rich country to explore. Nearly all of its 50 states have big cities teeming with activity and culture, whereas Australia has three or four major cities. A drive across America is an adventure that is impossible in any other nation in the world, regardless of its physical size.

I will state that most Australians I know are lovely people full of adventurous spirit themselves, but they too can fall prey to the nonsense repeated ad nauseum in the MSM. I consider it my job (though not my duty) to let them know that the America I grew up in is not what is portrayed by the naysayers.

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Are Ayn Rand's works such as Atlas Shrugged written in her third, or her fourth language?

I'm wondering if she learned German before English.

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