My journey into full blown ‘language is my very best friend’ status started off as a slow burn, and ended with a good old thump in the face.
Words have always intrigued and delighted me. I think my earliest memory of such is being in a classroom aged about 7, and learning about palindromes; the teacher used my name as an example, and I remember feeling so proud because ‘hey, check out my name – it’s super cool!’
I was English-y throughout school, and eventually applied to study English Literature at three of my four university choices, and English Language at the fourth. By some twist of fate (and by ‘twist of fate’, I mean ‘getting rejected from the three other universities’, those bitches), I found myself on course to study English Language. And the thing was, I was delighted about it. My English Language A Level classes had sneakily planted themselves as my favourites and I realised just how much the entire concept of language fascinated me.
I think what got me the most, and probably what I love most about language to this day (though that honour changes almost hourly, to be fair), is that language is about people. Language is everything about humanity – the way we think and speak and write and even act, so much of it is about language and meaning and trying to communicate things and not quite communicating things and communicating things really, really badly. People, society and interpersonal relationships are all about language, the way it’s used and misused, the way a choice of words can make us beam with joy or completely crush us, the way in which the language that enshrouds us every day of our lives has such an effect – overt and covert – on the way we think.
So, anyway, as I was starting to have these stirrings about language (aided, as it has been throughout my schooling, by thoroughly excellent teachers whose enthusiasm I admired and whose passion I inherited), I picked up Linguistics as a minor subject at University and began studying it in tandem with English Language. Then came the thump in the face. About a week into University I found myself beaming at the prospect of attending my classes (more than I ever had before – which is really saying something, as I bloody loved school, in that annoying, obnoxious way that made people throw stationery at me), and I realised ‘this is it – this is the most fascinating subject of them all and I want to learn everything I possibly can about it’.
I’d never realised just how far-reaching study of the topic could be – we were learning about the biological evolution of language capacity; the way children acquire words and speech; language and gender constructions; language in advertising, poetry, education, news media, television, text messaging, music, everything! And every aspect had something new to deliver, a different way in which language is melded and manipulated and messed with and beaten into submission.
And there came another great revelation, perhaps my favourite of all – speech! I’d never studied the technicalities of speech, accent, dialect and spoken language before, and it fast became my favourite. I love listening out for the tiny technicalities of people’s accents; finding out about words and phrases from a certain dialect/sociolect/idiolect and where they came from; discovering the differences between the pronunciation of various languages and the sounds they do and do not have; and looking at – on a meta level – people’s perception of accents, both conscious and unconscious.
When people have looked at me with an ‘eh?’ expression when I mention that I study linguistics, I tend to describe it as the science of language, which I think is pretty accurate. It’s evidence-based study of language phenomena, with rationale and statistics and in-depth analysis like any other science, yet it’s also all about words and feelings and communication and life and so much more and I am going to end this sentence here lest I carry on forever.
In short, language is my very best friend, for all these reasons, and others I have inevitably forgotten, but delight in remembering day after day.