During the past year or so, I’ve been gradually downsizing my personal library. I was first motivated to do so a few years ago, when some of my cousins and I had to liquidate dad’s collections of books. The majority of his books were of no interest to anyone, including my family. We even had boxes full of them offered at dad’s estate sale–there were no bids on them at all. With that in mind, following my own death, I do not want the person or persons who liquidate my belongings to have to deal with unsellable stuff like books and papers.
That said, there are some reference books around the house that are used regularly, so they will remain in a more efficiently sized collection. Among those, are a few antique books and a selection of dictionaries.
While dusting shelves the other day, I impulsively pulled out a vintage English to German/ German to English dictionary. It was gifted to me by a friend who grew up in Heidelberg, Germany. Because it is a token of our friendship, I intend to keep it. I paused the cleaning chore for awhile and studied a couple of pages as a sort of review. After placing the dictionary back onto the shelf, I closed my eyes and remembered the first time I thought thoughts and concepts in another language.
It’s fascinating how using words from another language with their traditional grammatical rules can cause a person to view the world in a different way. It’s almost like having another personality when this happens. This is the result of not only needing to learn another vocabulary, but learning the grammar and discovering another way to think.
“Like music and art, love of nature is a common language that can transcend political or social boundaries.”–Jimmy Carter
Linguistics or the systematic study of language is a fascinating field. Although I’m not a linguist, I derive a fair amount of enjoyment from contemplating language. How it came to be and how we produce and comprehend it have been researched tirelessly. Sometimes I wish I had more time to study the nuts and bolts of language. It would also be great if I had the necessary discipline, skills, and time to become a polyglot.
Isn’t it fascinating how our personal learning and development of our native language allows us to develop our personality? We are largely who we are by what we talk about inside our minds. We talk to ourselves practically all the time. This internal monologue is how we form our opinions and beliefs. When we talk aloud to another person or write, we are extending our internal monologue into a dialogue about our thoughts and understanding with other people.
If I tell a German speaking person, “Ich will eine Tasse kaltes Wasser”, she will instantaneously know what I want. By the same token, when I share the same desire with an English speaking person, I say, “I want a cup of cold water”. He knows right away what I want. It’s fascinating to ponder that each language is the basis of its own culture and world-view. Without the spoken words or the squiggles and lines of written words, we would be different creatures. Our way of life would be much different without words as our tools.
Human language is a process of cultural creation with certain rules that are understood by each individual user. People may choose to practice strict obedience to grammar, or not. Yet, the basic structure of words and how they are strung together enable us to communicate.
Although I haven’t written anything groundbreaking or new here, I simply wanted to share a few of the opinions I have about words with you today. Perhaps these thoughts will also cause you to think about words.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Nelson Mandela. “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”