Spence Green

التكرار يعلم الحمار

I work at Lilt. In addition to computers and languages, my interests include travel, running, and scuba diving. more...

On English

without comments

The process of learning a another language has many ancillary benefits, not the least of which is the insight derived from a different mode of expression. Arabic, for example, reflects the Islam’s cultural import; many common words incorporate the word “Allah” or other religious vocabulary. Muslims also believe that a genuine Qur’an, which itself is ontologically sacred, may only be written in Arabic. Adam and Eve, they posit, also spoke in gutteral, throaty tones, a position that Christians and Jews may find sequacious. Similarly, the French protect the Gallic tongue with a maniacal zeal and take umbrage when others do not mimic their enthusiasm. They view English as a disease that has already subjugated much of the world and left local cultures in a distempered state. The incorrigable French culture, they believe, turns on the universal acceptance of French as a medium of exchange. Similar examples exist elsewhere in the world.

As I have focused on Arabic for the last four months, I have noticed a simultaneous deterioration of my English. Perhaps I am most attentive to this change because of GMAT/GRE preparation this past summer. At that time, I was studying grammer, vocabulary, sentence structure. I corrected thousands of idiomatically incorrect sentences. I learned tenses and the appropriate use of them. As a result, ‘fluency’ became an operative term, not simply slang for ‘he can get his point across.’ But language is by nature a difficult thing, and without constant practice, comprehension of it deteriorates. Who but an engineer or mathematician can solve a simple integral after several years away from the subject? How much more difficult is the process of instantly selecting particular words from thousands of memorized options?

My English has also been impacted by the presence of parochial speakers here. English is used as a common language–like numbers–in the UAE, since over 80% of the country is expatriate. Almost everyone speaks English competently as a second language. Few, however, have resided in either Britain or America. Thus knowledge of idioms, of expressions and argot, is not ubiquitous; often I must pedantically rephrase sentences to be understood. Over time, I have thus unconsciously excised slang from my vocabulary. I noticed a difference while at home last month and so did others. One person who I had not seen for at least a year commented immediately on my accent: “Your speech is peculiar. Where did your accent go?” Well, I know where it went: it hid in the same shed that it fled to when I moved to Pennsylvania.

Written by Spence

February 24th, 2007 at 11:21 am

Posted in Language

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