The Linguist

When I learn other languages it takes time for the words to rise along my throat and tongue the way I want them to, lined up like children in a museum holding hands, or like dogs along an obstacle course jumping, leaping, point A-to-B-ing for the prize. There is a small art to the success of pronunciation. The tongue and throat and teeth and nose and cheeks and even the fingers and the eyebrows and the way you pull back your hair or arch your back and flex your shoulders as you step up to the podium in your mind all affect the delivery, not only in tone but in the access you have to the most basic sounds. If you stand wrong some sounds are cut off completely and you have to readjust your posture. Sometimes you need to go to a chiropractor and have them put their fingers in your back to unleash an a, a u, a gh, a Welsh ll, an Irish string of consonants with no direct English equivalent, the waterfall of a Finnish verb, sharp Russian rs, the French glottal, the Spanish everything, the Swahili you speak with your head raised high. Be mindful of the clothes you wear, the jewelry you choose, the way you sit down to write. The kind of breakfast you had. The air you breathe, what smells you are used to and the smells you are not familiar with. The way you interpret a dog’s bark. The light. The air conditioning. What is on television. Learn about the world around you and observe, because when you learn a new language, you lose track of who you are and what you might become. It puts your body in danger and scrambles your memory. The act of learning a language is an axe. The act of learning a language is a sledgehammer to the brick wall of the self. The act of learning a language divides you.

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