Thursday, November 26, 2015

Everything Has a Name

As a writer, I'm interested in how language works, not just English. Mind you, not interested enough to be good at grammar.[1] But motivated enough to be able to play with/make up words and even fake fantasy languages.[2] So, that's why as I was running my errands the following story on NPR caught my attention. It was about a man who, at age 27, had no languageIldefonso had been born deaf and had been isolated. No one taught him language. Susan Schaller ran into him at a university and ultimately began to teach him. As fascinating and depressing and inspiring as Ildefonso's story was, the podcast then moved on to other interesting, but related ideas. Questions about how language affects how the human brain works. Questions about how communication happens--even to a certain extent, empathy and even internal thought. As someone who is interested in dialog, communication, and psychology, it was incredible to hear and consider. has two podcasts on their site. The first is primarily about Ildefonso. Listen to it. Then move on to the next podcast. The second is about a group of children living in Nicaragua. In 1978 Nicaragua didn't have an education program for the hearing impaired. Like Ildefonso, these children didn't have language. A program was established for them, and they were grouped together. They began to communicate with one another, but everyone had different gestures and short cuts. That's when a wonderful thing happened. They began to form a new language. The interesting thing is that no one had ever seen a language being born before. The first generation of speakers had a limited vocabulary that involved more movement of their bodies. By the time the fourth generation of speakers came along, more words were added and the guestures became more efficient. What interested me the most was the part where they discovered a connection between having multiple words for something and understanding it on a deeper level. I'm not really doing the story justice. You really should take the time to listen. It's incredible.

It's also inspiring in all sorts of science fictional ways.
[1] I'm dyslexic and pretty much universally bad at grammar, punctuation, and spelling. [pause] Yeah. I said it. And hey, I'm a professional writer. It just goes to show you what one can do with a more than healthy dose of bloody-mindedness.
[2] Only a little. Not much. I'm no Tolkien. But it is part of the gig as a fantasy writer. If that's what you want to be, I'd highly recommend taking some non-English language classes. You don't have to be fluent, not even remotely, but you do need to understand how other languages function.

No comments: