Cultural perceptions of study: is study work or work is studious?

spiros · 3 · 2248


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This dilemma came up when I noticed that the British commonly referred to the tasks they had to do for their University studies as “work”.

Indeed, a mistranslation became apparent when an Anglo-Italian friend of mine (in fact, more Italian than Anglo) when talking to a full-blooded Italian, referred to his homework as:

—Stasera devo lavorare per gli esami.
—No lavorare, studiare!

The full-blooded Italian rushed to correct him. I wonder though, is there something deeper behind this? Why certain cultures differentiate between work and study, whereas others don’t?


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In my opinion, study is work without payment and work is studious, especially the translator's work - who has to study, to read to do a lot of research. If the work is not studious - not all the works -  then the result is not frutile. Maybe, there is no result at all!
Referring to my first phrase that the study is work without payment, perhaps the payment is the degrees or a good job later or even the tutor's good comments on somebody's work. Yes, this is a good payment, a moral payment for me.


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What struck me years ago about Greek was the use of the word διαβάζω for what in English I would call study/work.  (I know "read" is used in a restricted and old-fashioned way here in the UK as in "she read chemistry at Oxford, but that's not typical).  A lot of what I had to do at school and as a university student was not reading as such.  We often had to write essays, do reports on the experiment of that day's chemistry class, prepare a written translation, think up arguments; probably relatively little reading, especially at school.

As for the use of work in English, perhaps partly influenced by "homework"; perhaps also by the idea that work contrasts with play, or with free/leisure time.  Study is syntactically different in English - it generally takes an object - study some French, study chapter 5.  And there are certain collocations:  we had "free study" periods at school when we were expected to get on with some work unsupervised; and "exam study" (what you do before the exam) is different from "exam work" (what you do in the exam, usually a qualitative judgment).

Culturally, it might have something to do with the nature of the task that is set.
But how shall men meditate in that, which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknown tongue?

Preface to the King James Version 1611


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