Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Polyglots have more fun

When I was little, I dreamed of growing up and being a polyglot.

Sometime in early elementary school, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be able to speak and think in more than one language when I grew up. I have no idea how that idea came to me - none of my friends or close relatives were bilingual, and where I went to school, the chance for exposure to foreign languages wouldn't happen until junior high school. Back in elementary school, I didn't know what "polyglot" meant. I didn't even know what "bilingual" signified until my dad told the joke about how if you know three languages you're trilingual, if you know two languages you're bilingual, and if you only know one, then you're an American. Now, I find myself in a Ph.D. program in Spanish, still working on the polyglot thing and having a wonderful time with it. I'm only fluent in two languages at present, but I hope to achieve fluency in one or more within the next several years. Here is the list of languages I have studied, in chronological order of when I began learning them.

1. English (my native language)
2. Spanish (fluent; I began studying it when I was 12)
3. Koine Greek (very rusty, reading knowledge only; I started it when I was 19)
4. French (intermediate speaking ability, decent reading knowledge; I started when I was 20)

Well, as the new school year begins, I get to add another language to the list. I'm starting language #5 this fall.*

For me, diving into a new language is always thrilling. It's hard to describe how it's thrilling; it just is. I am having a grand time memorizing new vocabulary words (yachachic = "teacher") and learning the most basic of verbs (cana = "to be"), and I can't wait to see where adjectives and adverbs can be placed in a sentence! Learning a new language is especially fun this time because there's an added challenge... no English cognates! The language in question isn't a romance language... it's not even indo-european.

Ñucaca quichuata yachacunimi.

That's Quichua for "I'm learning Quichua." Specifically, I'm learning an Ecuadorian dialect of Quichua (sometimes spelled "Kichwa"; also known as "Runa Shimi"). I've always wanted to learn a non indo-european language, and I'm thrilled that I have the opportunity to do so in grad school! It's times like these (read: learning a new language + taking a break from teaching) when grad school has its most fun moments - fun for me, anyway.

*After much deliberation, I decided that I shouldn't count Sindarin or Parseltongue.

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