Language

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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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Play

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It is commonly known that play is a child’s work. That one should allow for unstructured play. That play is complete in and of itself, without requiring a result, although it may have one anyway.

It is also commonly accepted that in growing up you will “put aside childish things” and acquire the focused, result driven, consequence-tempered approach of the adult. What I have observed is that in our “civilized” world, where we work more than monkeys but are less content than them , where every second of life is held to ransom but we have to wear headphones for music to blast away the boredom of our task, play is making a resurrection in the adult world. The five minutes of wind-gazing while you’re supposed to be working is play. The sexting without expecting an answer is play as well.

Un-needed experiments are also play. Those are my favourites. They are un-needed as I can easily find the results. They are also safe because my survival does not depend on the result. I can then fail. What a novel idea! 🙂 Not that I start with the idea of failing, I am too competitive for that. I start with the idea that I will win. At least I will learn something. If I fail, I can throw away the failure. This is waste and I do not condone it, I just acknowledge my luck that I have enough so I can fail without major consequence.

This seems very strange to other people. I don’t think they always understand why I should even experiment. I also don’t think they understand why I am not very upset when I do fail. In other words, why I play and not take things (life?) seriously enough. They like it only if I get a result that they like as well.

There is gratitude in me that I should have enough raw material so that I may be free to experiment. Like milk, raw, fresh, safe and yummy. Sometimes I get to the end of the week and I have not touched the bucket. Tomorrow I will get another bucket. Hm… seems a waste to pour it as fertilizer for the plants. Right, I guess we could make cheese. I can buy cheese from the supermarket. Yes, that’s true, but why not make it yourself? Ok, let’s make cheese. What sort of cheese? Most of the time I am smart and try an easy/fail-proof recipe. But nice as the result is, the learning is small. So next time I will try something more complicated. Success again, the feeling is better! The next time I will try something even more complicated… drat, I failed! Where did I fail? I followed the recipe religiously! Hm… I guess it was step 2 out of 3 possible. I put the drained cheese to heat up in hot milk. I think I need to put them to heat up together, then the whey might have a chance to actually separate… and then I can make ricotta out of that… brilliant, next time I will succeed!

The result was a bit of rubbery substance, some funny-looking milk, an empty bucket and a heck of a lot of dishes and cloths to wash. Given that I am not a child, I have thrown away the rubbery would-be cheese, I poured the milk as fertilizer and washed and cleared away the evidence myself. Some wasted resources were acknowledged and a lot of learning was integrated. I was happy and did not understand why I was not encouraged to try again. How else would I learn? What do you mean, what is the purpose of that learning? As my beloved Heinlein would say, “specialization is for insects”.

No, I did not need that cheese. Yes, I could have bought it from the supermarket.

I just wanted to play. I could. No one got hurt, abandoned or suffered because I played. So I did.