Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Importance of Language

I went and visited my Nana in hospital last night. She has just had a hip replaced and was moved from a private hospital with her own private room to a public hospital where she is sharing with at least 5 other people. I think she enjoys it more as she loves to talk! She has already made friends with all the people in her ward and can tell me about all of them, except for one person. In the bed next to her is a woman who cannot speak English. While I was there she kept trying to talk to other people, but of course no one new what she was saying. To me it sounded like Turkish or something like that, but unfortunately, although I always wanted to learn it, I never have... Anyway, I asked the nurse there where she was from and she said Armenia. On a side note, do you know who is Armenia's most famous person? Yup, you guessed it, it's Andre Agassi... Well maybe you didn't guess it. I am wandering.... She kept trying to talk to me, maybe she thought I was a doctor? I don't know, maybe doctors over there wear jeans or something. Of course I didn't know what she was saying and she got very frustrated and began to cry. It was awful. I decided to go home and print some Armenian language off from the internet. is where to go if you want to try some. After about 40 minutes I came back and sat with her and tried the phrases. Some she understood, most she didn't. I don't think I could get the pronounciation right! Still, she was so happy. She reached out and hugged and kissed me. I think she was so happy that someone was trying to talk to her, even though we couldn't communicate properly, it was just the fact that we were trying to connect that was important. Then dinner came and I thought I would leave her to it. She wasn't happy about that and wanted me to stay with her. I think she wanted me to eat with her, but I tried to tell her that she should eat it all... About that time, her daughter came. Her English speaking daughter! It turns out that she is actually from Iraq, and that she is an Iraqi Armenian. Or is that an Armenian Iraqi? The accent of Armenians in Iraq is different than that of Armenians in their country, so that must be why she couldn't understand me! Well, that's what I tell myself. I felt so bad that I couldn't speak her language. I really wish I could speak all the languages in the world, it would be so useful, but of course it is not possible. All she needed was someone to try to talk to her, so I think that was my good deed of the day.

I have been reading this book, Spoken Here by Mark Abley. It is about the author's travel to different areas of the world where languages are in danger of dying out. He talks about Aboriginal languages in Australia, First Nation languages in the USA and Canada, Yiddish, Welsh, Manx and Provencal. It is really interesting and at the same time very sad as with each speaker of these languages who passes away, more of the language is forever gone. While many people in the world understand the need for biodiversity on our planet, meaning the protection of endangered animal and plant species, (As long as they are cute or delicious of course!) not a lot of people think that the protection of language is important. As long as everyone can communicate it English, then what does it matter? Well it matters as with each language we lose we are losing the thing that makes this world such an amazing place. Who wants everyone to be the same? I thrive on a multicultural society and cringe at the thought of times gone by when I new nobody who spoke another language or even had a non-Anglo Saxon / Celtic background. Back then we couldn't eat different kinds of food and so it was a Fish and Chips lifestyle instead of the Kimchi Sushi city I live in now. Each language spoken in this world represents a different way of thinking. Isn't that what life is all about? Different ways of thinking, different opinions, different values? It seems that with the economic power behind English, everyone wants to speak it, to the detriment of all others. Often people have asked me why I learn a particular language or any language at all. There apparantly is no money in language speaking so why do it? I have to tell you it is not for the money. Occasionally Korean will give me the opportunity to make an extra buck, but if it didn't I wouldn't care. The joy I get from understanding a foreign language or conversing with someone who speaks that language surpasses any possible economic benefit. It is about knowing where you come from, where others come from and why things are like they are. What can be more important than that? For each language that disappears from our world every year, so goes another part of our humanity... Truly this is one of the great tragedies. This is the importance of language.

San Nakji for President!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think that you need to talk as much as your Nana!!