Disclaimer: languages come easy for me. I like them and they like me 🙂 It comes, I guess, from being sure of who I am. I have never been in a position where my native language put me at a disadvantage, so I did not have to cleave to it as a defence. That, and opportunity plus whatever natural ability I had made languages easy. Attitude also plays a part. I love playing with language and can retain a sort of fascination for years to come if a language allows play. Say, for example, English (no, really? 😛 ). I still remember the first time it struck me as beautiful: it was my first year learning it, with a teacher whose first language was mine and whose second language was not English 🙂 But she used appropriately the phrases and one of them stuck in my mind: to learn something by heart. Far from the common meaning of memorising, I remember being amazed at a language where memory is associated with the heart, with feelings and ultimately, with love. So it pleased me to learn it, and I did.

If that sounds just a tad idealistic, well, it is 🙂 It hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Pronouncing English is a minefield (my stumbling block was “comfortable” – hint: a “table” was involved), I still count better and faster in my language, as for spelling, writing is good, saying it not so much.

My language is Latin where it needs to be, Russian where it had to be, French where it wants to be and English where people were too busy to invent another word or adapt an existing one. This explains the trouble with spelling – my language doesn’t even have the word, it doesn’t need it as it’s phonetic, so what you hear is what you write. And yet if I had to choose a favourite it would be Victorian English with its extravagantly direct compliments and barbed subtle insults.

The way language evolves, how it borrows words from other languages and adapts them over time… this can keep me occupied for days! For example, you might want to check the difference between “to sack” and “to fire”. We use them almost as synonyms but as you may suspect, originally they were very, very different.

I even describe my profession as translating bureaucratese into common language… and a lot of the time it is!

Yet for all that I don’t like jargon and big words. I do use them, and try to use them appropriately, but they make me uneasy so I tend to avoid them when I can. I go all anti-snob and deliberately try to dumb them down (mostly) in my head and sometimes the results are hilarious, sometimes the perceived problem goes away when you put it like that and sometimes they just roll off my tongue with an ease that gets me even more determined to rein them in 🙂

For language is a world of its own, and people have spent time, nerves, money and occasionally sacrificed lives to get to the bottom of it all (try to look for perfect language/original language experiments when you have some time). Gods and first-made people are said to have created the things and life around them (in what language, one wonders?) by making words to name them and saying certain names has always been dangerous to life, soul and country.

And still, with dictionaries bulging at the seams, with new words accepted every year and very few becoming obsolete, still we play…

Anyone for charades? 🙂


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