Language is my Mistress

Now, I know my blog posts are normally about things I’ve been doing, stuff that happens to me, that sort of thing, but right now I kind of want to step outside the nice little box I’ve made for myself and write about something completely different. Well, not completely different. It’s something that’s been on my mind recently, and has plenty to do with the whole idea of youth exchange/studying abroad. So bear with me, please 🙂 Now get ready….take a deep breath, aaaand……GO!

Language. The thing about language is that it is so amazingly important, even fundamental, to human civilization, and yet we hardly even think about it. That’s one of the miracles of language, of the brain; the fact that I can be sitting here, writing this, without even having to think. The words simply flow from my fingertips and onto the keys, just as they’d tumble out my mouth if I were speaking to you face-to-face (although face-to-face, we wouldn’t get to use the “delete” key! ). I don’t even have to think about it, it just happens. You don’t have to think about it either, as you read this; you immediately understand everything I’ve typed, and you use language to think about what I’ve said. No sweat.

Oh you lovely mysterious bit of grey matter...

I’m not going to get into the inner workings of the brain because I have no idea what they are, so let’s talk about this language right here, English, and let’s talk about the planet.

English is a language spoken all over the world. It’s become such an important language that in many countries, it is taught as a second language as soon as elementary school. It’s convenient, a common language enabling people everywhere to communicate, regardless of what their first language is. It’s especially convenient for those of us from English-speaking countries. We can go virtually anywhere in the world without knowing the language, and still be sure that there will be someone (and probably more than one!) with whom we can communicate. It sounds good, doesn’t it? It certainly is convenient, and yet I can’t help but be a bit annoyed. Well, maybe annoyed is the wrong word…for me, the widespread use of English makes me see Americans as a bit spoiled. As an American, I don’t need to learn the language if I visit foreign country. They can attend to my needs, in my language, with no effort needed on my part. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining; like I said, it is wonderfully convenient! There is a beauty in language, however, that your average (yes, I’m generalizing. Deal with it.) American (who is required to take hardly any foreign language classes in school, thus hardly encouraged to seek out learning a foreign tongue) is really missing out on.

Countries were English is the official and/or predominant language. See that little smudge of an island off the coast of the European continent? That's where the language comes from. And don't get me wrong, I love English. English is a great language. English is brilliant.

I don’t ever want English (or Esperanto, or French, or Spanish, or Chinese, or anything) to become a universal language. I don’t want there to be a common tongue so that everyone can communicate perfectly, with no more misunderstandings or need to interpret. To me, that’s boring; to me, one of the greatest things about the evolution of human language is the fact that developed into as many languages as it did (about 6500 of them). There is a profound beauty in the diversity of that thing we call language. Language is diverse, like plants of animals. If there were only one species of dog, it wouldn’t be as fun, would it? There wouldn’t be big dogs, little dogs, cute dogs, ugly dogs, fluffy dogs, scrawny dogs….there would just be “dogs.” It applies to inside each language, too; the diverse dialects and accents within a language spice it up so wonderfully, I don’t know how we’d manage if it were uniform. The myriad of human languages just goes to show the way that single 3 pound organ of ours, the brain, evolved with such an aptitude for communication. And not just for communication; language is so integral to our being, it allows not only to coordinate and organize (likely its original use, evolved in our hunter-gatherer days) but to philosophize, imagine, create, remember. All the wonderful things we can do thanks to language, and we can express ourselves in so many ways (6500 different languages, remember!). That’s one thing I find so beautiful about language.

The evolution of language (click t enlarge)

I mentioned earlier (much, much earlier) that this is all relevant to youth exchange. You can probably see what I’m getting at. Through youth exchange, the student has to leant at the very least a little of a foreign language. I believe that a country’s language is inextricably connected to its culture, making the concept of youth exchange all the better; it offers the most complete way to get insight into a foreign country, culture, lifestyle, and language.

Language really is essential to humanity, as a species, and our planet’s linguistic diversity really is a wonderful thing. I used to think some languages were more worth learning than others, since that language is more widely spoken, or more useful, or whatever. Yes, maybe it is more practical to learn some languages over others (you can talk to many more people with Mandarin Chinese than with Dutch, for example), but you know what? Language is language, and each has its own beauty, history, culture…

I don’t care if you speak English, Spanish, German, French, Basque, Portuguese, Gaelic, Dutch, Chinese, Romanian, Arabic…whatever it is, it’s brilliant. You’re expressing yourself in a beautiful way, thanks to the evolution of our species over all this time. Languages will keep evolving, and growing, with our species.

It really is brilliant.

AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH I’m so glad to get that off my chest! If you gotten this far, well done. You are officially a Good Person. It is nice to get all the strange things that swirl around in my brain out there. I do have to warn you that the next few months are going to be a bit mad for me, as I am going to turn 18 in less than a month (WHAT!), and leave Brazil a couple months after that, and since I have a hyperactive brain filled with teenage existential angst (think Holden Caulfield, except female and not quite so screwed up) these weird, raving posts about life may occur  once in a while.

Now, a word from the guy who inspired this post:

Stephen Fry is the greatest.

“language is my mother, my father, my husband, my brother, my sister, my whore, my mistress, my checkout girl…”

And one more.

Okay, I’m done now. Sorry for all the words. Thanks for reading 🙂

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8 thoughts on “Language is my Mistress

  1. Yes, I made it to the end. You did a wonderful job sharing your understanding of the value of language, learning cultures by way of language, and trusting that your thoughts are worthy of sharing with others. Well done, truly. Oh and the videos are wonderful!

    ❤ Mamá

  2. Gabriela, I am so gald you got to do exchange. As a 2x former exchange student, an avid host mom, and a once-upon-a-time Translating/Interpreting MA student, I am soooo on your page about the value of exchange and of linguisti diversity. Can’t wait to see what you do next. Look out Cambridge, here she comes!

    XO Angela

  3. you make some excellent points. Each language and the way it is used has a lot of influence on each culture’e music, social values, esthetics, etc. To have one language would certainly erode diversity. And who’s to say that English will ever become a universal second language? Look what happened to Greek and Latin. Hmmmm “Chinesperanto”?

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