Language as a Connector – Communication’s Essay (200 Level Course)
People often think of language as a connector, something that brings people together by helping them share experiences, feelings, ideas, etc. We, however, are interested in how language sets people apart. Start with the peculiarities of your own personal language— the voice you use when speaking most intimately to yourself, the
vocabulary that spills out when you’re startled, or special phrases and gestures that no one else seems to use or even understand—and tell us how your language makes you unique. You may want to think about subtle riffs or idiosyncrasies based on cadence, rhythm, rhyme, or (mis)pronunciation.
I believe language is a piecing together of thoughts to form an approximation of some mental apparition. Over time, this construction of the mind became standardized, but the primary mechanism has not changed. I have never been very adept at using words to convey any particularities in how I speak or write, so I will let my writing do that for me. My thoughts do not follow any kind of syntax, but behave like abstractions in the form of flying sheets, faint shadows, pointing arrows, halos of light, or jumbles of blocks. When I do think in words, I find a few snippets of Korean or Japanese floating amidst a queue lining up to be uttered. When I read, it feels as though some mental audio book is playing the words that my eyes translate, but sometimes my mind is so noisy that I have to read aloud to keep the distracting voices quiet. These are the voices of students, standing in a sunlit library atrium, their tenor sounds echoing chaos. Their strains are filled with random words and images that constantly shove each other away, vying for my attention. It is through this sea I must wade through in order to find the few fragments to assemble a complete thought.
Although I was born in the United States, I spent the first four years of my life in Korea, where I quickly learned its language and customs. Then when I moved back to the United States, it was difficult to transform my Korean thoughts into English words, so I used pictures to say what I wanted. Soon I learned how to speak flawless English, although at times I utter strains of broken phrases like “eating time eat” during dinnertime or “I study now.” Other sporadic delivery errors like the misplacement of a verb in a sentence or the mispronunciation of an ‘l’ sound get mixed in my speech and especially when I read out loud. I confuse my ‘which’s with ‘that’s and frequently use worn out idioms like “I find that,” “…like the plague,” or “bets are off” in my writing. The search for synonyms consumes most of the time it takes to write a paper or prepare a talk.
In an effort to encourage language learning, my parents bought me an electric typewriter when I was seven years old, which I used to punch out colorful sidebars on dinosaurs and spaceships or just plain nonsense. Occasionally I made mistakes during production which were then transferred to an eraser unit, which needed periodic replacement. So I took out the old cartridge and its contact film. On it were random letters, digits, and symbols that the mechanism picked up every time I hit ‘backspace.’ Then I called everyone into the living room and announced that I created a new language, reading the strip of film with made-up sounds. The only problem was that nobody except I had any idea what I was saying and quit trying to decipher my code. A seven-year-old’s pride welled up inside me as I discovered that I knew something that no one else did, even if it was silly and imaginary. This was the inner voice I was looking for, a chaos where I found order. At times I still find myself scribbling cryptic messages to myself in seemingly random arrangements of symbols in the middle of drawings of power lines, factories, and bridges when I do not know what to say in English.
Writing has always been the one activity I find the most difficult, since I constantly have to sift the objects in my head and then search for the right words that not only accurately describe what I am thinking, but also conform to accepted conventions. My situation reminds me of an old cartoon from a Dave Barry book with male and female brains side by side. The male brain is connected to a complicated apparatus of distillers, pumps, pipes, and a tiny faucet at the mouth dripping out words one at a time, while the female brain is attached to a big giant hose gushing forth words without restraint. I find myself having a bit of both qualities. It is often difficult to say what is on my mind, and it sometimes takes a lot of mental wrestling to get a point across. But when I am excited about what I am talking about, I forget about grammar and structure and just let everything pour out, bad ‘l’s and all.