Chapter 7 “Language”
As a child, I remember playing some simple games based on using the language. Often enough, it was rhyming, which I liked doing on a daily basis or inventing new words of the “new language”, of which I was the author and the only speaker. These games were fascinating to me, although there was no accounting why such “meaningless” exercises could be fun. John McWhorter’s book The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language explains the role and meaning of language in an individual’s life and in the life of the humankind focusing on the aspects that every person should know as the user of one of the most precious gifts all people possess, which is human language.
The native language comes so early in human life and in such a way that its command seems to be one of the most natural, almost in-born human faculties. I have some early memories of using the language and experimenting with it. McWhorter’s tells his readers of his early experience of discovering the fact that there are different languages spoken by people, which was overwhelming for him. I also remember listening, with great interest, to people speaking other languages and trying hard to understand at least something of what they were saying. Later, I tried to recognize, from the way the speech sounded, what language was spoken. I tried to define it by certain typical intonation patterns, the ways vowels and consonants were pronounced, and sometimes by the speakers’ nonverbal behavior.
I came to understand language diversity as related to people’s cultural and national identities in the way similar to that described by McWhorter in his very interesting and useful book.McWhorter describes various facts relating to the earliest stages of the human proto-language in a compelling, easy-to-understand and engaging manner. The book helps me to realize how easy it is for a native speaker to be misled, by the system and structure of his or her own language, into thinking that the manner it uses to express the meaning is the only one possible. An example of rendering the same meaning in different ways by different languages is very useful and brain-stimulating (McWhorter 3). It shows how complex relations between human ideas and ways of expressing them can be. I believe this variability is one of the main things that should be remembered by a foreign language learner. Therefore, in my studies of foreign languages, I will not limit myself to traditional drill and communication exercises but will always strive to see the unique structure of the language and explore it as a subject of particular significance. I believe that in this way a complex and challenging purpose of becoming a proficient speaker of foreign languages gets its important intellectual facet, which is not always recognized by foreign language learners.
McWhorter’s book has taught me how the practice of learning the foreign language can be diversified and intensified by consciously exploring the universal and …