Ou est ma lingua franca?

I am losing language.

This is quite serious. Today I read down the list of entries I’ve made in this blog. The writing goes downhill the closer I get to today. Even as I type this, I keep tripping over Hebrew words and failing to translate them into English. I’m not talking about technical neologisms here, today I couldn’t remember how to say ‘decline’. I feel like a dimensiatic. What was life like before language matured, when the complexities of conceptual speech were far off and the limits of our interpersonal communication were the limits of our daily experience? Where the herds are. Who is hurt. I’m hungry. All this exposure to foreign languages makes me appreciate my command of a mother tongue, though it’s too bad kids aren’t taught more languages. Language acquisition isn’t just a matter of communication. When we learn to live in another language we learn to think in that language. Think differently. Helen Keller used to say that before she was taught to sign, her life is all a faint blur, a burgoo of senses. She retained concrete memories only after she acquired language. I am dreaming in Hebrew now, and I think I might even be remembering in multiple languages. On the other hand, I can barely spell friend most days.

Today I got back from the excavations in the Valley. Another beautiful round of digs. We found some interesting artifacts (a pendant, censer, lots of flint blades, axes, scrapers and awls, a basalt door-hinge post, etc.) and cleared up a number of questions regarding the design of the site. Today the cute Bedouin kids that come to watch us dig lost control of their herd for a moment and one of their sheep pissed on my backpack. In other news, the CT of the jar I found came back, and it looks as though we have a fetus in a jar. Apparently, this is relatively rare and has some ritualistic implications. Everyone in the lab is rattling off fanciful theories about returning the lost child to the womb or burying a fetus under the foundation because a fetus comes before the beginning, etc etc. Basically, archaeologists can write anything they want and it’ll fly. What I found most interesting (high gross-out factor) is that the CT even shows the path of some sort of burrowing worm that invaded the jar at some point, heading straight for the fetus’ skull. Then the thing ate its way into the skull, had lunch and left the way it came (unless it died in there, we don’t know). The world is full of wonder.


~ by jonlib on April 1, 2007.

One Response to “Ou est ma lingua franca?”

  1. Yeah, what you’re suggesting, I definitely agree.
    There’s a guy by the name of Benjamin Lee Whorf who developed a hypothesis he calls linguistic determinism, where he basically puts forth the argument that language determines the way we think, sort of like the grammar, syntax, idioms and whatnot of a language reflect the cultural values of the people who speak it. So for example English, coming from an individualist culture, has more words for self focused emotions, and puts the person or thing doing the action first in a sentence, while japanese, coming from an collectivist culture, has more words for interpersonal emotions (e.g. seven different kinds of empathy), and puts the person or thing being acted upon first. I don’t totally agree with him, but its easy to see how the language influences thought.

    Did helen keller really use the word burgoo?

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