I love language. I do. I wonder sometimes why our american version of the english language has felt so limited to me at times even though it is, sadly, the only language I speak with any fluency.
I was thinking the other day about my high school German. I have not retained much over the years but there was this one thing, this one thought that struck me and never went away.
In German there are two words for the verb “to know.”
Kennen and Wissen
Kennen is for concrete things, persons, places (to be familiar with, to be aquainted with)
“I know that road leads to Brighton”
Wissen is for abstract items, concepts, ideas (to have an understanding of or to have knowledge of)
“I know that everything will be alright.”
They are not interchangable, they truly have their own specific meanings, however subtle they may appear. When I learned this concept sitting in German class I did not know what it was about kennen and wissen that was so appealing to me. I just knew that it held me somehow and then I lost it in the conjugation, I mean that literally. I cannot remember how to conjugate these verbs.
It’s interesting that only now in my life do I really know what it means to not just “kennen” but rather to “wissen” especially as it pertains to people, to relationships, to being known myself. I seek out, I desire, I require, I yearn for wissen…
I’m ready to move away from the kennen…although it’s where we do need to begin, I suppose:
“I know that you are 30 years old.”
“I know that you work at Borders Books”
“I know that you were born in the Midwest.”
It’s the wissen though…this is where we don’t just greet but where we live:
“I know that you have a beautiful soul.”
“I know that when you laugh my heart sings”
“I know that when I am old I will want to still be your friend.”
this is where I am today.