Being Fluent

As a linguist, I love languages.

I’m enthralled by the broad nature of language, and how, through its words, an entire people can be reflected.  I’m a big believer that language is the first introduction to into the nature of a nation, a culture, a people—and not only by their words, but by how those words are expressed:  through pitch and tone, through speed and tenor, through inflection, nuance, and accent.  In Haitian Creole, the lively nature of even the most mundane discourse is a reflection of the vibrancy of the people who speak it.  In French, the very even rhythm of the language hints at the balanced essence of a people who equally celebrate and lament both the joys and sorrows of life.  By contrast, the German language is a structured, tightly woven tongue that mirrors a highly ordered, logical people in thought and deed.  In Japanese, inherent to every syllable to be uttered is a note of respect that defines the culture itself:  respect for self, respect for others.  Even in the dead vernacular of Latin, the language exalts the virtue of man and all things masculine, which is very much evident in the historical accounts of the relationships of men to women.

Yes, languages speak to us about who we are as people, why we believe what we do, why we live as we do.

I find it wholly enchanting.

Even English, with all its variations and dialects, tells the story of the people who speak it.  In Britain, English is very refined and clipped, with a strong, almost condescending accent that suggests privilege and high culture (I mean that in the best possible way!).  Australian English is to me as feisty and rugged as its speakers.  And of course, there’s American English—my own native tongue—with its many accents and reincarnations that are a reflection of the varied and diverse of make-up of our citizens (this would be my own personal shout-out to my great country:  USA!).

Yes, language is the great bridge that broadens my worldview and acquaints me to people everywhere.

I tend to find that pretty cool.

It is also the great bridge that I use to bring people to my world.  Of the languages I know–I speak English fluently, dabble frequently in the Romance languages, flirt sporadically with the German tongue, and dream wistfully of the Cyrillic vernacular–I am also very proficient in one language that is not always so obvious:  the language of writing.

Okay, I’ll admit it:  I’ve written about this topic before but as a linguaphile, it’s a topic that I’m drawn to again and again.  The idea that writing itself is a kind of language appeals to me, for various reasons, and because I’m still a couple of hundred words shy of meeting my word count for this post, I’m going to share them with you (oh, no attempt at meeting the word count in that bit of dribble there, no sir…hehehe…)

One reason I’m always fascinated by this is that not everyone is fluent in writing.  Oh, sure, anyone can pick up a pen or pencil and scribble words and phrases, but not everyone can write to communicate a clear, concise message or tell a story.  If we understand that this is the function of language, than writing itself—in its own unique function as a language as opposed to being a vehicle for language—is no different if it serves the same purpose.  It doesn’t matter if what we’re writing is real or imagined, fact or fiction, speech or story—in order to convey the message, a person needs to be a fluent, coherent writer.  If you want to share your tale, even when writing, you have to “speak” the language, and you have to “speak” it well.

And yet, interestingly enough, the great thing about writing is that it’s never wrong.  The nature of writing is such that though its form may sometimes be incorrect (a clear indication that the writer is not yet “fluent”), its expression is always true.  There is never a false aspect to speech or accentuation or tone because when I think of writing as a language, I understand that this particular “language” is an extension of the human experience itself that is so broad—if not infinite—there really is no flaw.  I can create characters, scenes, or settings with any breadth of tone or speech I want, and although there may be mistakes in grammar or syntax or punctuation, my story elements are always as real as I imagine them to be, written in a voice that serves to characterize the writing itself.

And like with any other language I’ve ever spoken or studied, the more I work at it, the better I become.  My syntax improves and my vocabulary grows.  I gain more and more control of nuance and meaning.  My words develop a signature rhythm, a particular style, a certain je ne sais quoi.  I manipulate more and more different registers, from humor to prose to verse to essay.  The more I write, the more fluent I become.

Because when you love languages as I do, spoken or written, it’s all about being fluent.

EMJ

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