Sarah (fernstrike) wrote,

Linguistic Endeavours

Today I've been caught up in the exciting business of learning languages!

As someone who grew up in a country that has four official languages, and a household that codeswitched between 2 and sampled from 2 more in nearly every conversation, under the upbringing of mother who is a literature and language arts teacher, linguistics has always been a niche - but integral - area of my interest. We've a bookshelf at home utterly flooded with books for the learning of several languages, many of which we shall likely never learn but are utterly fascinated by. I once bought a book about Beginner's Finnish - why on earth should I ever have reason to learn Finnish? Well, anything can happen I suppose, but surely French or Mandarin ought to take precedence.

I am currently living in Spain and so learning Spanish, both as a course in my degree and as necessity; I also take German for the fun of it (strange statement, I realise). However, in my personal time, I like to explore other languages and teach them to myself.

In particular, I find learning to read new scripts utterly fascinating. Learning to read the roman letters used in English was so organic, I didn't even have to think about it! Which was a boon, really, considering that I ended up reading decidedly un-childlike books like the Lord of the Rings when I was the slim age of 7 or 8. Now, learning other scripts is like actually following a process to learn something that once upon a time seemed to come so simply. It's always so exciting to learn to do so, however. Imagine how many things one could read, how many languages one could read, if one only had the tools! Several languages have similar scripts or sounds corresponding to these scripts, after all.
So, what two languages am I teaching myself in my spare time?

          1. Punjabi

I was born and raised in a Punjabi household, and yet I cannot read, write, speak, or comprehend much of the language at all. I can describe my cat, if that helps; if my grandfather asks something simple, such as whether we have milk in the fridge, or whether the cat has eaten, I can understand, but must reply in English.

In my defense, English was really the lingua franca of the household, much in the same way that it is also the lingua franca of Singapore. It was even proper British English (not the creole Singlish, which I shall likely discuss another day!). Grandpa speaks excellent English, having grown up under British rule, and can put on a spiffy Colonial accent if he should so desire. We were all educated in the language. Punjabi almost became a sidenote in my life - which was an utter shame, considering so many other cultural elements were more openly engaged in, such as going to temple from time to time with my grandparents, who we still called by their Punjabi titles.

With that in mind, I decided - now that I have experience in learning several foreign languages, and now that I'm living in Europe can pick up languages by association with existing knowledge and simple exposure, it is time to put my mind to learning the mother tongue that has been silenced. The script, Gurmukhi, has been one of the most exciting - and challenging! - parts. It's difficult to find a pattern in the construction of the letters; some letters, though looking very similar, represent sounds from completely different families, which doesn't help at all to make associations, distinctions, and categories! I resolve, however, to learn the script quite well first before improving it in tandem with learning the language itself. I feel it's the best course of action - when I learned the Cyrillic alphabet and basics of Arabic script (note - I can only read the languages, I do not speak them!), this process was recommended by the guidebooks. I hope that in time I will be able to reclaim this part of my heritage that has been lost to circumstance!

          2. Sindarin

What's this? A fictional language? Why on earth would you want to learn that?

Well, why on earth do students of Classics learn Latin, or Greek? You learn language because a language is integral to a country's culture and history. Language defines human interaction; it creates unities and divisions; it represents modes of thinking, evolutions of social structures, changes in development. To understand a people and their story, inside and out, you must understand their language.

The same applies to Tolkien. As someone beginning their journey into a deeper understanding and appreciation of Tolkien's work, perhaps even one day into casual scholarship (more on that another time!), learning the Elvish languages is utterly integral. The Professor, himself a philologist, made his legendarium for several reasons, and chief among them, as a house for his languages!

Sindarin, though considered less beautiful than Quenya and less noble, is nonetheless better-documented and, in my personal opinion, a little more aesthetically and aurally pleasing. I've begun the quest to learn it in all its complexity and incompleteness. Tengwar, I must say, is categorically a far easier script to understand than the aforementioned Gurmukhi! So far, the grammar hasn't tripped me up too much, and I'm pleased to learn that I already have some knowledge of the vocabulary, whether I knew in particular what the word or form of the word was.

So, with that all said, I suppose I should get back to my learning! It will take some diligence to master the scripts and slowly be acquainted with the languages. I look forward to sharing more of my progress and journey in learning these languages!


Tags: linguistics, punjabi, rambling, sindarin
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