On Language

Hello, boys and girls. It’s your friendly neighborhood Jamelah here this week to make sure that while Levi is away on vacation, nobody sets fire to the couch. Oh, and also, I’m going to write some things. So on all counts, I’m sure we can all agree that it’s going to be an exciting time.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything here; I’ve taken the time off to do some other things, which means that I’ve mostly been holed up in my room doing Arabic homework. Since I last wrote about my language learning experience, I have taken a midterm and a final exam (and I have my second semester midterm on Wednesday of this week), I have learned hundreds of words, and I can write paragraphs. They’re not brilliant paragraphs, but they are paragraphs. In Arabic. Go me! Strange things have happened, too, like I now find writing and reading left to right to be somewhat awkward and bizarre. I’m sure I’ll readjust soon enough, but last month when I was writing my rent check, I really tried to write it backwards. I try to write all kinds of things backwards, actually. It’s becoming a habit.

Anyway, after about five weeks of muttering things about how illogical and weird Arabic seemed to my Western brain, something finally clicked and it started actually making sense. (Besides, all languages are quirky as hell, and I can write this with confidence since this is foreign language #3 for me.) It stopped being so difficult for me to wrap my brain around the way Arabic works and I was finally able to accept it the way it was, weird sentence structure and all. I started seeing that it really was logical in its own way, despite the fact that it’s not, well, particularly logical. And once I started to understand it a little (I’ll never understand it entirely — I don’t think anyone can ever understand a language entirely), once reading the words stopped being such an incredible chore, once I was able to think in sentences instead of individual words, I knew that I was in love.

Adrienne Rich, who is most definitely my favorite poet to quote, wrote “A conversation begins with a lie.” It’s a fascinating line, and one that I think of frequently, one that I thought of even before I was immersed in language study. And though I do agree with points Rich makes in her poetry, about the inadequacy of words to express what’s there, I also know that it is all we have. Perhaps it’s never so clear as when I’m in a language outside of my own, and in speaking I have to approximate what I mean with substitute words that are close enough, just because those are the words I know. But even inside of English, my native language, I do the same thing, not for lack of vocabulary, but because it seems that close enough is the best I can do.

3 Responses

  1. DeconstructionMaybe you could

    Maybe you could some day write an article about deconstruction. I’m fascinated by the subject, but am also annoyed by the obscure way in which people like Jacques Derrida explain the term. My understanding of deconstruction is that words have different meanings to different people, so anything written can have multiple meanings: (1) The conscious meaning of the writer, (2) the subconscious meaning of the writer, (3) the interpretation by each reader, and so on.

    Derrida said, “There is nothing outside the text.” In other words, no text refers to reality, but merely to other texts.

    Jamelah, you never fail to spark my synapses.

  2. I think the texts are an
    I think the texts are an excuse for what was really meant.

  3. Texts are imperfect
    Texts are imperfect representations of reality but they are all we’ve got.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!