I am a Computer Scientist (more specifically a Systems Administrator) by trade but also a language lover to the core, and I am always thinking on topics relating to words, writing, and their connection to life and culture. I have been particularly enthralled for quite a while with Germanic languages (including my own ancestral Scandinavian) and also ancient Hebrew and Greek. It is however particularly sad to say that three semesters of taking Spanish classes did not accomplish much in helping me to learn that language. That’s a language for the back-burner, at least for now, until I can lick my wounds. Although partially limited to what interests I have on the immediate horizon, who knows what other languages my palate will expand to include in the future.
My brain, since at least my teeneage years, has seemed rather geared toward investigating languages and associating language with historical and cultural things of interest. There is hardly a week that goes by without there being an occurrence of some word, spoken or thought, jump-starting my brain into trying to parse it and determine its origin, meaning, and etymology. I will often try to find cognates of words in other languages and determine if there is a common usage or meaning.
Since we think and speak by means of words and language I figure that I might as well dive as deep as I can to discover what riches our words might reveal as they have been used throughout history. This often becomes a point of interest as well when one tries to understand or translate a historical piece of literature into another language, from which we are perhaps significantly removed in culture and time, within the context of our modern day world. The more that we explore language the better we may become at discovering such writings’ original meaning and intent.
My initial love for the Biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew became significantly broadened when I saw in person very early fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls written with the paleo-Hebrew script and early New Testament Greek papyrus fragments from the 2nd century. Along with that, my existing love for exploring and parsing my own native language of English (which explains why I love playing Scrabble so much) was fueled when I had the opportunity to connect it far back into the past when I saw some of the world’s oldest English Bibles on exhibit. Some of those Bibles dated back to the time of John Wycliffe in the 14th century (the age of Middle English and Chaucer) when books still had to be written by hand since the Gutenberg printing press was still almost 100 years away from being invented. I have even seen a full size model of the Gutenberg printing press itself, which gave me a greater appreciation for the printed book.
Suddenly, after seeing those things, what had previously seemed like disparate interests in language, history, and culture all appeared to meet together at certain crossroads in history and offer up concrete examples of language like sign posts of cultural, historical, and linguistic development through time. So even now with modern languages I still always associate a deep historical significance to whatever I endeavor to learn, as with English and Germanic languages.
I am not yet a polyglot but German will most likely be the first “second language” under my belt. I think it was the sound of the German language that first drew me to it, as well as having close contact with a German family since my childhood who were good friends of my grandparents. It only helped my interest in Germanic languages that my family itself is thoroughly Scandinavian, a mixture of Norwegian and Danish on my father’s side and Norwegian and Swedish on my mother’s side.
I suppose that I am more Norwegian than anything else as regards ancestry, and what heirlooms that have been passed down from either side of my family are all books written in Norwegian with the exception of a fairly old Danish book published in 1754. That old book provided me even yet another way to attach a modern significance to my own ancestry and to history itself since the book seems to me to be of historical value as a Protestant Scandinavian book. As regards my Norwegian heritage I think one of the best cultural inheritances of coming from a Norwegian family has been the Thanksgiving and Christmas tradition of eating Lefse with butter and sugar! Hey, food definitely counts as culture!
This is enough prattling about myself for now though. I hope that what little discoveries I may make here and there along the way of my own language and culture explorations will spark someone’s interest, and maybe also help them understand some of those languages better and understand their own culture in the context of others.
I will also make one final note that, particularly as I am addressing an English audience and writing as an American myself, that in America it is far less common to be bilingual or a polyglot than it is in Europe. As a result there seems (for us Americans) to be a lot more language and culture to “rescue” and appropriate in our own understanding. I will try to share some stories about the brick walls I have hit in learning languages and perhaps it will be particularly helpful to people who have encountered the same experiences as I.
Well, you’ve been a wonderful reader if you’ve read this far, and I wish happy language exploring to you!