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Katarina Begović, Ph.D, Member of the Department of Serbian with South Slavic languages, University of Belgrade Faculty of Philology

Language as the Measure of All Things

With Daničić’s words that the language of man is a mirror of the human spirit, Protagoras’s claim that man is the measure of all things gains a new interpretation. Language reveals the way we think about the world, both as individuals and as a society. I had an inkling of this even before my Serbistics studies at the University of Belgrade Faculty of Philology, when I discovered the depths of civilisations articulated in ancient Greek and Latin while attending the Philological Gymnasium high school

As someone who deals with the relationship between language and culture over time, I was drawn in particular to the phraseology of the Serbian language, which enables the reconstruction of the traditional folk view of the world, and at the same time the naïve, mythical image of the world around us. In this reconstruction, the language reveals the rages that haunt us, the kind of god we swear by, what we’ve inherited from our ancestors and what comprises the ethno-national specifics of our community. We discover the former morphological form of the language, how it used to sound, how we constructed sentences to convey our thoughts, which complex grammatical and semantic laws had ruled it back then and speak now through language. I earned my doctorate on that archaeological plain of language, fascinated by everything that’s waiting to be interpreted in language.

The lecture halls of the Faculty of Philology are places where I encounter inquisitive young people. However, I’d be lying if I said that I don’t experience every such encounter as a challenge. In this challenge, all the complexity of linguistic depths should be associated with the general Zeitgeist, which defines everything that isn’t direct as being anachronistic. Perhaps more importantly, I see the true value of my job in constant questioning – of both myself and the existing paradigms of reality. What I’m gradually coming to realise is that the most important thing with young people is to cultivate a critical detachment from everything presented to us in the intellectual and public media space.

It seems to me that I’m striving, again and again, to present one important truth to my students. Disagreement shouldn’t make us feel threatened – in the civilised world, it is a call to dialogue that can teach us a lot

Between research and the classroom, a person needs to find their intimate life. I feel fulfilled by the people who surround me, by occasionally fleeing the crowds of Belgrade, which I love so much, and, finally, by sport. The lake, river, sea, mountain and forest, tent and clear sky – those are places where I find peace. I enjoy swimming, sailing, running, skiing and lifting weights. Every activity helps me to distance myself from the unrelenting pressure of daily life, as I try to remain in harmonious balance with myself and the world around me.

I believe it is the responsibility of us academics to talk about important social issues, because we thus contribute to shaping the culture and consciousness of our community. It seems to me that I’m striving, again and again, to present one important truth to my students. Disagreement shouldn’t make us feel threatened – in the civilised world, it is a call to dialogue that can teach us a lot. In a world filled with communicative babble, being capable of holding a real conversation is the most important thing. I try to use my activism, which is based on an attempt to shed light on socially important topics from the perspective of linguistics, to contribute to the community in Serbia. I am ready to listen, learn and attempt to help those who are on a journey to knowledge. That’s my way of giving back a part of what Belgrade gave me: this rich language with the culture that it reflects, and the people I’ve encountered in my life.

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