The joys and quirks of language (or not)


I’ve talked about my absolute love of languages on this blog before, so I’m sure the regular readers don’t need to be reminded of that. But just in case: I love language(s).

I love how the same word can mean something different entirely to different people. I love how it allows you to be creative – to make stories, jokes, connections. I adore how connotations and denotations can completely mess up a conversation. I find it absolutely fascinating that what seems absolute jibber jabber to one makes absolute sense to another, and I love the thrill of that moment where you succeed in expressing yourself with words you didn’t even know existed before.

Still, there is a part of me that clashes with that love sometimes. A perfectionist part.

See, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about learning languages, it’s that you shouldn’t be afraid to speak. Yes, you’ll make mistakes, and yes, you’ll be misunderstood on occasion, but that’s part of the deal, and the satisfaction of hearing yourself make less and less mistakes as you speak more and more, is one of the best things about learning a language – or anything, for that matter. But while I advocate that philosophy with a passion, I find that not only do I not put it into practice myself (I flee into English faster than you can say ‘jibber jabber’ when I’m supposed to talk Swedish), I don’t exactly encourage it in others, either. Strangely enough, this happens most often for English.

Exhibit A: today, one of our master students came to me with a ‘question’.

Yes, so, do you know centrifuge, because, I have LBG, yes, that is, 5000 g, but, unfortunately, centrifuge is booked until three, but still, I cannot use it, so I don’t know.

For the confused reader, this meant: I need a centrifuge at 5000g to spin down my LBG. The one I normally use was booked until three, but despite the fact that it is way after three, it is still in use, so I can’t use it. Do you know where I can find another centrifuge?

Frankly -and with all due respect-, it is exhausting.

If this would have been in Dutch, I would have probably given him a big smile because Dutch is not an easy language, and at least he’s trying, right? Now that it is in English though, I can’t help but shout in my head – How long have you been studying English for? There’s something called grammar, use it! Make a sentence! How am I supposed to know what you mean with keywords only? And although I am well aware that a) not everyone is gifted for languages and b) English is so much easier for me simply because my mother tongue is in the same language group, I cringe and shiver and shudder whenever certain people talk to me because their definition of ‘a sentence’ seems miles away from mine.

It makes me feel like a bitch, because I know I have no right to judge them in the first place. So when I saw the following animation of (a part of) an article by Stephen Fry on language, I couldn’t help but smile (the text is quite long, but absolutely worth the read if you have the time!). Because maybe, just maybe, their “wrong” use of the English language is simple creativity, a re-invention of rules and words. And when I really, truly love language and everything you can do with it, I should be thrilled, not annoyed, when people explore other ways to convey their story, right?

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  1. Pingback: Articles – Ten tips to help you land a market research dream job « Meyers Research Center: THE BLOG

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