Impractical Linguistics

It’s no secret that I love languages.  It’s also no secret that I think learning languages is a royal pain in the fundament.

My students know that I study Japanese and Spanish, although I freely admit that I usually only study the later when I am thoroughly sick of the former and can not stand the site of another kanji or double-particle.  They also know that I am an advocate of the preservation and renewal of small or dying languages.  In higher level classes we often talk about preservation methods and the reasons for and against the active, mandatory learning of these languages.

Recently, however, the discussions have grown an off-shoot:  Which impractical languages would you like to learn?

And, of course, by “impractical” I’m not trying to slight any language, but the reality is, that in this day and age, it is simply impractical to study some languages.  I study Japanese because I live here, and Spanish because it is one of the more common languages in the world and spoken in many of the places to which I would like to travel.

But, given a choice; given the freedom just to learn with no need of any practical reason, I would study Cherokee, Hawaiian, and Yiddish.

These three languages fascinate me while being completely irrelevant to my life (even if just for the time being), not to mention that my reasons for wanting to learn are somewhat frivolous if not downright silly.

I would love to take the time to give Cherokee some serious study.  I have roots in the language in that I have Cherokee ancestors, and I think it has immense historic value, especially for Americans.   But the reason I want to study it?  Just so I could seem cool by muttering cryptic sounding phrases to myself and then refusing to explain them in English.  Frivolous, right?

My only reason for wanting to study Hawaiian is that I maintain a fantasy of sitting on one of the more secluded, less touristy beaches in Hawaii, plunking away at a ukelele and singing Hawaiina love songs.  (Oy.  Like you haven’t got something equally idiotic bouncing away inside your happy, little skull?)

And Yiddish.  Why would I like to study Yiddish?  Is it because I’m Jewish?  No.  Because I live in New York or Eastern Europe?  No.  Because I’m studying the history of the middle East?  No.  I just think it has some of the best kitsch* value in American culture today.  We constantly use words like chutzpah and schlep; I would like to have some solid grammatical footing under me the next time I call some one a  schmuck.  That’s it.  That’s all.

Student’s have given me a good list as well – Navajo, Okinawan, Thai, Tagalog, Swahili, Etruscian, etc. etc.  All for their own reasons, all as awkward as my own.

Care to add any to the list?



Filed under The Language We Speak, The Languages We Don't Speak So Well

2 responses to “Impractical Linguistics

  1. If I could have them implanted into my brain Matrix style: Old English, Latin, and Huron.

  2. chris

    A man after my own heart. :0) Gaelic, Afrikans, Chinese, Hawaiian, Yiddish, Hebrew, and Arabic.

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