Kate: Why I Love Language

Why I love Language

I think I’ve always loved language (singular, more than plural – more of which later). I remember when I was about 13 walking to school in the morning and repeating to myself “p”, “b”, “p”, “b”, trying to work out why they were different – they use exactly the same motion with the mouth but they’re different. Then, later, sitting in a lecture at university and mentally slapping my forehead when I was introduced to the concept of voicing. How had my thirteen-year-old self not worked out that “b” uses my voice and “p” doesn’t?! Whoever had worked that out was a clever egg indeed.

The aforementioned ‘later’

My fascination has always been not with learning individual languages, but with language as a concept – bugger the language itself. I don’t want to be able to use it; my brain has never latched onto language-learning like other people’s brains have. I just want to understand how it works, I want to pick it apart piece by piece and see what makes it individual, see what connects it to all the other languages. I love the feeling that linguists are like detectives, piecing together clues until we see the big picture. Or maybe a clockmaker. Or some other trade for which I am utterly unqualified. Maybe a jigsaw-completer, identifying the pieces, working out their shapes, and fitting them together to make a whole.

My chief interest is with the remote, be it historical or geographical distance. I studied aspects of some Pacific/Australasian languages and found it amazing that the rules of language that we’ve established by observing the Indo-European languages can be applied to those which have never had any contact. I love that they work in ways that are so different and yet the same.

Most of all though, I love historical language issues.  The fact that you can see the beginnings of Modern English in Old English. It’s simultaneously remote but at the same time instantly familiar. I love etymology, semantic and phonological change. Cognates. Language family trees. Reconstruction. All of it.

My research now is into the history of English, currently focusing on late Old English. This brings with it the awesome areas of research that are place-names, language change, manuscripts, and the relationship between the spoken and written language in Old English. Oh! The fun I have. In conducting this research I’ve had opportunities to read about Middle Egyptian poetry, Neuroscience, Folklore, Archaeology, Geography, Economics and Geology. Language is inherently human, and as such inextricably connected to everything we are and do. And that’s just marvelous, innit.

So – please talk to me about it! What do you like? What would you like me to talk more about? I am at your disposal.

4 responses to “Kate: Why I Love Language

  1. Hi Kate! I would entreat you to discuss gender nouns. We don’t have this in English (mercifully!), but why in other languages do inanimate objects have a gender assigned to them? What makes a chair male or female? Or a screwdriver (ok, actually, bad example there)? Why are certain objects male in one language and female in another? How does this impact how the speaker uses the nouns?

    • I most certainly can write about this! I have a great many things to say on this topic. It’s added to my list and should be up in a few weeks.

      Thank you for tracking this blog down and being awesome!

  2. I look forward to it! I’ll append one more question: when a new noun is created (e.g. internet router, space shuttle, fiber optic cable), who decides whether it’s male or female?

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