Thursday, March 6, 2008

Howdy! The Language Fan Introduces Himself

Greetings, readers of this brand new blog. I have decided to try my hand at this mode of self-expression. I don't know how it will evolve, but for now it is enough to just get started.

I have loved languages ever since I was 7 or 8 years old. That is nearly 40 years now! When I was in elementary school, I would spend hours tracing the Greek and Russian alphabets, and some Chinese characters, from books in my school's library. I traced them over and over. It was fascinating! By the time I was 9, I found I could read both of the alphabets. I would copy phrases in such exotic languages as Twi from the back on children's books on the countries where they were spoken. In junior high I copied lists of Latin and Greek roots used in English. I graduated, by 8th or 9th grade, to copying lengthy explanations of writing systems, such as several pages on the Thai alphabet from a Thai dictionary. I copied probably a hundred Navajo verb paradigms. I cared little about sports, so while other boys were spending their time on things like that, I was busy accumulating myriad details on languages.

(To be accurate, I was not a total geek and bookworm as a kid. I played plenty of informal games with my friends in our various neighborhoods--chicken, football, basketball. I was also an avid member of the marching band throughout high school. And I was in Boy Scouts from 5th-9th grades. But I did spend a lot more time than most kids on intellectual activities.)

Various serendipitous events have provided unexpected good turns in my life. The first such even was the one that led me to my interest in languages. One day when I was in second grade (I can't remember if it was before or after my eighth birthday), my dad came home from work with a little challenge for my brother and me. [Note to all you hypercorrectors: "me," not "I," is the correct pronoun here, since the phrase "my brother and me" is the object of a preposition, not the subject of a sentence.] He had written a short message using a cipher. He gave us the message and the key to the cipher. We worked through the message, which I have never forgotten: "I have four pennies for both of you." The idea of writing something in a secret way absolutely enthralled me! The idea of writing things in a secret way soon led me to foreign languages. After all, if I wrote something in another language, no one else (that I knew) could understand it! Both cryptography and languages fascinated me for years, and I wrote some ciphers and even rather voluminous codes. I also devised increasingly sophisticated artificial languages, though my interest in doing this waned before I reached anything too advanced; real languages had started to occupy my attention. Finally, about my freshman year in high school, my interest in cryptography pretty well fizzled. My interest in languages had grown greatly, and I was more interested in communicating than in disguising communication.

This is probably quite enough of an introduction to the development of my interest in languages. I will close with the note that during all my years growing up, I only met one other person my age with an interest in languages: David B. We met in eighth grade and kept in touch through college, but eventually lost touch. Languages: fascinating, wonderful, but sadly underappreciated in the U.S. of A. But popular or not, they are my thing!

No comments: