Tripping Over Language: A Brief Explanation

Ok, so, I really don’t have any idea what the proper way to introduce a blog is.  I’m pretty new to this whole blogging thing. I tend to get in on trends kinda late in the game.  So, I figure we’ll just jump in feet first.  I’m Amanda.  I’m a 27 year old college student extraordinaire majoring in Philosophy and minoring in Linguistics.  What I do, essentially, is study language.  How they’re made, how they work, and how they’re used.  Not just one language, but all of them.  It’s a little meta, using language to determine what it takes to be a language and how our language effects the way we think.  I subscribe to the belief that all the world’s languages are related, and that somewhere under all the cases and tenses there is a pattern, a basic shared structure.  That’s what linguists do (well, one of the things), compare languages looking for these patterns and identifying the rules that all languages follow.  It’s called typology.  Only problem is, to find a universal language rule, you have to look at all the languages, and so very many of the world’s languages are dying.  There are hundreds of languages on which we simply don’t have enough information to really understand their structure. It’s a sad thing, really.  Languages are beautiful, fascinating, a reflection of the culture of their speakers.  When a language dies, I feel like I’ve lost a potential friend.

And so I have taken on a project.  I intend to learn as many of the world’s endangered languages as I can, become one more speaker standing in the way of a languages extinction.  I will start with ones that still have enough speakers and enough information about them that I can find resources online (because I’m poor and can’t afford classes or travel right now), and I will study major languages that are related to help develop my grasp of the structures.  And I hope to someday get grants to travel to remote Amazonian villages and Australian outbacks, and study the languages of tribal peoples before they fade away. 

This blog will hopeful record the whole darn thing, allow me to reflect on not just the current language I’m studying, but the more meta realizations about language learning in general.  Because I don’t agree with Chomsky that language is innate, and I don’t think we acquire it.  We learn it,  and we can learn another at any age. And the more languages we speak, the easier it becomes to learn new ones. Our brains begin to recognize patterns even though we often can’t express what the rules are.  Maybe this project will help me or some future linguist verbally express those patterns.

Deciding where to start was tricky.  There are some really fascinating languages that could very well be extinct in ten years.  How to pick just one?  I decided it was best to pick an Indo-European language, since English is my native language and I speak a fair bit of German.  And since I’m of Scotch-Irish descent and very much look it, I settled on Scottish Gaelic.  And now, after scouring the interwebs for textbooks and video files and poetry with translations and movies without subtitles, I’m ready to start saving the world one language at a time.  Tomorrow we begin with Lesson One: Greeting people.