I took a couple of linguistics classes in University and they nearly slayed me with ennui. And I’m the type of person who loves doing a lot of things that other people find agonizing: reading law, discussing grammar, filling out surveys, memorizing things (just for the heck of it). Give me a statistics formula to sink my teeth into and I’m a happy man.
My issue with linguistics was that it took what was, at essence, a really deliciously messy topic and boiled it down to a science, scrubbing it clean with words that sounded like they were made up just to annoy me (agglutinative, antonomasia, litotes…). It’s like when your Mom has some sort of departure from her senses and encourages you to play in the mud. It takes all the fun out of it.
It has been my observation that travel, international commerce, and the internet have done wildly bad things for languages. It seems no matter where I go, everyone is speaking my language. That doesn’t sound like a bad thing and, I admit, I have benefited from it on many occasions. Travel is exceedingly easy when I don’t have to learn how to say “where is the toilet?” in multiple foreign languages. But it feels wrong. I feel like I am trampling all over someone’s language and culture with my big anglophonic boots. It feels especially wrong because I’m really not trying to do that. My thought is: if I’m going to place where a different language is spoken, I have a responsibility to do my best to speak the indigenous tongue.
I believe language and culture are inseparable, and that an erosion of language or dialect is an act of assimilation. It takes all the colour out of the world. Who are we but for our differences? Many years ago, I spent a couple weeks in Greece and was inexpressibly annoyed that, at one of the hotels, there was not a single authentic Greek dish on the restaurant menu. Fish and chips, hamburger and fries, even the Greek salad was North Americanized (traditional Greek salad doesn’t use lettuce). I am not a “turtle” traveler, wanting to carry my country, my culture, my home on my back everywhere I go. I want to immerse myself in what others are doing, and how they do it, and forcing myself to communicate in a different language is part of that experience.
Today, I am thankful for language. The lyrical rhythm of Italian; the classical cadence of Greek; the smooth, romantic tones of French; the dark whispers of Spanish; the melody of Mandarin; the haunting, clandestine sounds of Japanese; the colourful expressions and dialects of English; the pleasant cacophony of the Germanic branch; the pure music and sheer variety of African languages; the aspirated sibilance of Arabic tongues; the palatable pleasantry of the Slavics — I could go on forever. Languages add colour and music to my experience of the world.
What has been your experience of the different languages of the world?