Languages are fascinating. At least, I’ve always thought so. I also want the ability to communicate with everyone, human or animal, to be my superpower. It was therefore frustrating for me to find myself stumped by Cyrillic when I find Russian to be a beautiful sounding language–I have an online friend in the Ukraine with an unbelievable capacity for languages. I can understand her English (and she had to get used to our alphabet), and now she’s learning Italian. And she has a three year-old. And is building a house with her husband. Talking with her has been fascinating, because one of the most wonderful things about learning a language is the ability to learn more about a different culture, other perspectives, another country. The Ukraine doesn’t look all that different from where I live, really. She sends me pictures and we have chats on WhatsApp. All because I bought a headband from her on Etsy, I made a new friend.
People in the United States seem, some of them, determined not to learn other languages for various reasons. The one that annoys me the most is the one that if someone comes here, they should speak English, d***it! Then they make fun of people of other nationalities and their broken English. I just think, man, they speak English a lot better than I speak _insert language of choice._ If I even speak any of the language they speak at all. I speak a few things enough to be partially understood, but nothing fluently anymore. You don’t use it, you really do lose it. My best friend, a German native, speaks English better than I do–he even knows all the grammar rules, which I’m pathetic with. I speak by ear; he had to learn and memorize all the rules when he moved to an English speaking country.
I think that’s what so many people don’t appreciate. English is a hard language to learn. Every time you turn around, there’s an exception to the rule, and pronunciation–phhtt, forget it. Other languages have rules about pronunciation and stick with them. English is all over the map with how things sound (and many things have been written phonetically to show this). It’s no wonder English confuses people. Yet it’s one of the most learned languages in other countries.
We are a little (ah-hem) ethnocentric in the US. I found an absolutely beautiful language map a while ago, drawn by Minna Sundberg, that is a work of art. In fact, you can purchase framable copies of it here: http://www.hivemill.com, under Stand Still Stay Silent, the webcomic she writes. There are other cool things she has done there as well.
I just found another language map that presents languages in a less beautiful form, but an interesting one nonetheless. I found it on http://www.themindunleashed.org, and the creator of the graphic is Alberto Lucas López.
I think it’s worth taking a good look at them and then thinking about English as a language, and just how many other languages–and cultures–there are out there. And then thinking about how many different perspectives there are on things. Supposedly this country was founded on the freedom to express those different perspectives–we were called the melting pot. But we’re not. We’ve become a bunch of globs that won’t cohere because of coatings we’ve put around ourselves that blind us to what other perspectives have to offer. The beauty that is the sound of Russian. The interesting things there are to learn about the Ukraine. The fierce unwillingness to unloose ourselves from our globs and reach out because it’s easier to stay in a lump.
Isn’t it worth a try, though?