Saturday, August 2, 2014

Why I Love Language

As you probably know, my blog is about words, books and kids. I post lots of book reviews, but I thought it might be time to explain why I also talk about language.

I’ve been fascinated with language ever since I was a little kid. I was about four years old when my little brother was learning to talk. I felt very proud because could often understand him when our parents couldn’t. I now realize that’s because they were trying to decipher his words but he used intonation patterns to communicate.

Later when I was five years old we moved from New Jersey to California and was surprised to hear people used different words for things than we did back East. For instance we had a sofa, but our California neighbors had couches. Dialects are different in different parts of the country.

When I got a little bit older I thought it would be fun to learn  every language in the world when I grew up. Obviously that didn’t happen! I am fluent in American Sign Language, took Latin and German in High School and French in college.

A family from Germany moved in next door to us the first week I started taking German. Since they had little kids I wasn't embarrassed to try using that language with the children. However my first attempt was a big failure. I tried to ask their names but was actually asking them what color they were. However our communication did improve after that. Because I actually used that language I learned it better than the others I studied in school and plan to take some informal lessons to brush up.

Of course nobody speaks Latin today. However I once worked in a school where the kitchen staff were all from Mexico and had very limited English. I used Latin based English words to communicate with them and they could understand everything I said. Everyone else used the “simple” English, which is based on the Anglo-Saxon language and those words were the hardest for the kitchen crew to understand.

I took French in college in the 1960s. (Yes, I'm old.) The French professor was from Quebec and they were trying to get French accepted as an official language in Canada. She kept telling us French was the best language in the world and much better than English. Even then I knew enough about Linguistics to realize one language isn't better than another. I resented her attitude and flushed the French out of my mind once I had passed the tests. That was stupid since I had taken the classes in order to learn the language.

Later in college I took a lot of Linguistics electives just for fun.

Back in the 1960s my fiancé knew I was interested in languages and introduced me to a friend who was a Sign Language interpreter. That friend taught me ASL and I married him instead of my fiance'.
To be honest, I'll admit there were a few years in between but it makes a better story if I don't mention that.

I did become fluent in ASL, though I've been out of the Deaf community for a while and don't know the newer signs.

And, of course, I use my native language all the time, both in  everyday activities and as a writer.


Penelope Cole said...

Hi Jan, nice to hear all this word and language history. Blessings,
Penny (

Janet Ann Collins said...

Thank you, Penelope.