Little by little…
Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nit
Little by little, the bird makes its nest
Ndank ndank mooy japp golo ci naay
Slowly slowly, one catches the monkey in the bush
This Wolof proverb sums up my experience learning the language, and was a sentence that I once I had down pat, I could throw around in front of Senegalese people and get a warm laugh. Bad pronunciation, but at least she’s trying!
A proverb is a common saying that is based on a common sense or practical experience had by all speakers in a community. These three proverbs all have the same meaning: Don’t fret, with a little patience and time, it’ll be okay. But in English or French, would we ever use a monkey for a such an everyday expression? No, probably not, because for us monkeys are only available for view in a zoo and aren’t enough part of our daily life to merit metaphor. A bird is much more fitting in the daily life of an English or French person. In this sense, language says so much about a culture and this makes my head spin in the best way.
It’s thoughts like this that have made me decide to start this blog, which I should have started long ago. I kept a diary for all four years of high school, and while it makes me cringe to re-read all my teenage suburban chick problems, my commitment to writing in it and keeping track of my thoughts and life was pretty impressive. A few years down the road, I think I’m ready again to get my thoughts out, although this time it won’t be in a spiral notebook I keep hidden from my mother.
Speaking of my mother, I in part owe this blog to her. My mom, Louise, is a corporate language instructor, self-proclaimed grammarian and language enthusiast. She speaks Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese (the cooler, sexy version of Portuguese), is fluent in French and German, and in my lifetime has dabbled in Russian, Croatian, Japanese, and a brief stint with Norwegian inspired by some Nordic neighbors. I was at time an exasperating child, and Mom would scold me in Spanish or French, just to switch things up: Por favor, Alicia! Ca suffit, ma cherie! I remember her and my brother in his stroller singing “The Bear Necessities” in Swedish. She used to tell us a scary story in German about a man and his shoes. Couldn’t understand a word, but maybe we loved the heightened suspense of not quite getting what was going on.
Mom instilled in me a curiosity for languages–as a kid in subway rides around New York City, Mom would nudge me and make me guess what language the tourists next to us were speaking, and usually then try and finagle her way into their conversation, jumping on the opportunity to use whatever of their language she knew. While this was sometimes embarrassing (Mom, stop eavesdropping!), it did unconsciously give me an attuned ear to different languages being spoken around me. Plus, people usually get a kick out of Mom and appreciate hearing a bit of their language when they are far away from home.
This blog is going to be oriented towards my thoughts on language. Whether its just thoughts or queries about English or other languages, funny videos or interesting articles and trivia, it will all be posted here. I hope it makes my friends and blog readers question the way they speak and realize that the language they unconsciously shapes they way they perceive and envision the world.