Language has always been with me. As long as I can remember. My earliest memory is that of my brother teaching me my first word – “Uhu”, the German word for “eagle owl” – showing me a picture of said bird on a Pairs card. I can almost feel the sense of achievement I must have had when I made the connection between a set of sounds, U-H-U, and a bird and somehow understood that they belonged together.
Language, of all phenomena in the world, has been the one I’ve spent the most time contemplating – language as a universal phenomenon that separates us humans from other animals, and language as a form of expression for cultures, families and individuals; language as a foundation of memory and consciousness, an intellectual tool, which enables us to conquer and explore the world understanding, and languages as cultural products and shapers of thoughts and worldviews…
Language, all my life, has given me comfort and happiness: exploring grammar and seeing phenomena that may be universal makes me feel connected to other language speakers, other humans; and discovering a new culture through the window that is this culture’s language gives me the freedom of a traveller, even if my travel only takes place in my mind, through a window built of words and syntax.
Countless hours have I spent learning vocabularies and collocations, the ways of saying things in different places, figures of speech and false friends, and I don’t regret a second of it. Not the time when I was that little girl curious to discover the meanings behind the colourful codes that different languages had for the same things – “Milch lait latte”-; not the time when I honed my language skills, eager to become a great translator; not the nights I spent studying sentence structures, production and comprehension in an effort to understand the psychology of language. These were hours filled with happiness.
And still today, I experience enormous joy when I come across an evocative word in a foreign language, the Italian “antilopi saltanti” for “springboks” for example, or when I think of the cute fact that in Arabic the words for “plane” and “bird” are almost the same; and common first names in my native language such as “Urs” and “Kurt” – “bear” and “wolf” in French and Turkish – have received new meanings, which every now and then, when I think of it, will put a smile on my face.
… AND IT WILL BE MY LAST.
Language has always been in my life. It is what makes me feel alive, what intimately connects me to the world and other humans. The day I die, my last thoughts may be about the people I love or the regrets I have, but language will be there at my deathbed too, maybe just silently, just as a few scattered words with no syntax in my mind, but it will be the one love that has been with me from the beginning till the end, and I will be reduced to nothingness when my language is gone.