Sunday, 6 December 2015

On being a casual linguist

Disclaimer: For some reason this is what my muse decided it wanted to share - have at it: 


I love languages. It's a passion not so many people share, but I always have - although at first my fascination was limited to my glorious mother tongue, English, I quickly started deciding what other languages I wanted to learn. At the moment I'm only fluent in English and Afrikaans, and my Japanese is not too shabby, but I also know some French, German and Latin.

Languages just make sense to me. They are so intricate, but so much fun to decode; and if you start with one that's considered difficult, it's not so difficult to find your footing in a new one. Language has always been another kind of mathematics to me. Maybe the reason I enjoyed Trigonometry so much at school was because working out those equations was like conjugating verbs. When I got to university, I already knew I was signing up for Latin. It landed up being my second subject for my final year, along with Psychology which I had initially intended to pursue further (I didn't - I chose a language-based field in the end).

 Latin taught me a lot. How to change my thinking from the Germanic grammars of English and Afrikaans. How to think about the functions of words differently; how to think in a new language. I relate everything back to Latin now; I've even used Latin terminology to help me understand the way Japanese grammar works. It's a bit archaic to shove everything into a Latin model; but it's easy to see why they did - it works. Latin also created a nice bridge to other languages for me - I get French, even if I can't spell its ridiculous words sometimes. I can even understand about 60% of the conversation when my girlfriend is speaking Portuguese.

I decided on Latin for two reasons: I was heavily influenced by the Asterix comics via my dad when I was growing up, and I wanted to start making a conlang. What's a conlang? It's a constructed language. Think JRR Tolkien's Elvish, or Star Trek's Klingon.

Or, if you're like this ex-coworker of mine, Game of Thrones' Dothraki. This coworker is permanently crawling out from under new rocks. Despite having read The Lord of the Rings and watched the movies numerous times, being a self-proclaimed Trekkie and my telling her about the world of conlangs, she didn't know people could invent new languages and she insisted that the makers of Game of Thrones were so revolutionary - "Who would have thought to make a whole new language for a series?!"

Bitch, please - even Disney has done it:


Then again, given that she thought Japan was part of China when she wanted to go teach there, and didn't know the difference between a passport and a visa (at age 28), I guess I can't be cross with her that Game of Thrones was her whole life. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. By the way, she is the sole reason I point-blank refuse to watch that show. I don't need to, since she never shuts up about it and I already know every episode in detail...

But, I digress. I wanted to make a conlang that was a new Romantic language (Protip: Romantic means it's derived from the language the Romans spoke, not that they are made for wooing people. Have you ever listened to French properly? What an ugly-sounding language...). I thought it would be a cool challenge. One of my friends, who is also quite obsessed with languages, even tried to collaborate with me on making a conlang; but we didn't know where to start and it kind of fell aside. Now we both know quite a bit of Latin and Japanese and bits and pieces of other languages instead.

Latin was my second linguistic love after English, until I really started paying attention to the actual Japanese language when watching the handful of anime that I watched. And it was again so different, so interesting - and when I started learning it properly, I fell in...to a love-hate relationship. What a beautiful, different, and intensely frustrating language - there are always a million ways to say the same thing, becoming increasingly complicated depending on the nuances - an artefact of Japanese culture where you can never just call a spade a spade. I've been studying Japanese a little over 4 years (not very intensely), and it's been a wild ride. I can't wait to learn more.

I already have two more languages on my list, but for once I want to make sure I master my current language before I move on, so when I'm much more confident in my Japanese and maybe move it from a C language to a B language; I will start on Mandarin Chinese or Portugese. Hey, if I have a Portugese surname one day, I should at least be able to speak it!

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