I have always been fascinated with language. It blows my mind. Language is something I’ve always thought about, but ever since I started learning Slovene, I cannot get my mind off it.
I never would have thought that learning another language would cause me to think so intensely about my own. I find myself constantly comparing the two languages and looking up things like “irregular verbs in english” or “how many tenses are there in english.” Learning a new language has made me more interested than ever in English. Sometimes I find myself just thinking about how English has no gendered nouns, no cases, no ending changes, and no conjugations. Just a lot of weird spelling and pronunciation. I think of how the past tense of “go” is “went” instead of “goed” and how weird is that? I even imagine myself teaching other people English in all its weirdness, including their reactions and my smugness. Other times I’m simply amazed at how a specific jumble of words and letters and sounds means something to a specific group of people, but absolutely nothing to another group.
These thoughts mostly occur when I first start practicing a new set of Slovene vocabulary. It can be both frustrating and a bit exhausting. It all just sounds like a bunch of jumbled letters and random sounds, but the thing is, they’re words. And these words mean things to people. They are engrained in their memory, just like English words will forever be engrained into my memory. Then I again am hit with that same thought; language is incredible.
Not only does the concept of language fascinate me, but the thought of the Slovene language (or any language other than English, really) being someone else’s normal. A few weeks ago my cousin told me about a professor that once asked her class, “What is normal?” This question brought me back to my IB Theory of Knowledge days and I found myself really craving a discussion over the question after it was asked. Sadly, no discussion followed. I pondered the question for a long time though, and still find myself thinking back to it.
I really like that question because it makes you think outside of your bubble. Outside of what you are used to. Makes you realize how malleable the word “normal” truly is. In Europe, it’s normal to drive a stick shift car. In the US, it is not. Snow is normal for people who grew up in the North, for Texans, it is so not. For Slovenes, thinking and speaking in Slovene is normal. For me, it is not.
Continuously, I find myself wonderstruck by the idea of Slovene being normal for the person that scans my groceries, or that I pass on the street, or sit next to on a bus. Their world is completely different.
I know I sound a bit dramatic, yes of course if your native tongue is French then French is normal etc, but it truly does amaze me. I think part of the reason is because we have no control over this. We are simply born into what we are born into.
Language will never cease to amaze me. Our abilities to pick them up as children but how we struggle to learn new ones as adults, the way that language can shape the way someone thinks or behaves, the enormity of each language and all the words that each contains, the way each has evolved over time, the infinite creation and death of words. So. Many. Words.
Don’t even get me started on tones (a recent interest I’ve discovered to the point of looking up basic Chinese lessons on youtube) or really Chinese in general. 语言很酷 You mean people can read and understand that?? And for many it’s their normal??? Wild.
I could go on and on. I could ask a million questions about English like, “Why do we call a phone a phone? Why does ‘ph’ even make a ‘f’ sound? Who decided what the letter ‘e’ should look like and what sound it makes? And who decided to put it at the end of so many words even though it won’t make a sound?” and then a million more about Slovene. But I will spare you.
As much as I marvel over language, I have also found that it can create quite the barrier between you and someone else. The obvious barrier being when you and another individual do not speak the same native tongue, and neither knows the other’s well enough (or at all) to effectively communicate. Therefore getting to know them is either a challenge or impossible. Which is sad. This has been the story for most of my life when interacting with my mother’s side of the family. So much awkwardness and difficulty in communication. It’s no wonder I’m so fascinated by language, its ability to both connect and divide.
It can often be a chasm between people. A chasm so wide no matter how loud one speaks, their message will never get through to the other. A bridge must be built. Building a bridge over a large chasm will take a long time and require some hard work. But the closer you get, the better you will be able to hear and understand. And one day, you just might make it to the other side.
Am I going to make it to the other side? I highly doubt it. But perhaps over time, I won’t have to yell as loud.