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- Published: 18th January 2022
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Author, psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker once said, “Humans are so innately hardwired for language that they can no more suppress their ability to learn and use language than they can suppress the instinct to pull a hand back from a hot surface.”
At 3-years-old my grandmother taught me to read. As an English teacher she felt that a familiarity with literature would be of considerable benefit as I began my tenure in the academic world. Before I began primary school—before preschool even—I was a self-proclaimed bibliophile; my grandmother had instilled within me an appreciation for books, and more importantly, for language.
Of course, rather than nursing me on the prose of Tolstoy or Chaucer or Dickens, she would sit me down every day and with the assistance of her close friend Dr. Seuss, ween me into the world of literature. I had some trouble at first, as any toddler would, especially with Seuss’s nonsensical psychobabble. I would complain, But that’s a made-up word! My grandmother would laugh. All words are made up.
As a fledgling smart-ass, I then entered a period of peppering my vernacular with my very own made-up words. At 4-years-old I wasn’t aware than such things simply couldn’t be done. My grasp on the concepts of linguistic deconstruction and creative license were slightly underdeveloped. I spent two years learning to read before kindergarten. At times it was frustrating. I lacked the learned self-possession and patience I now have when teaching myself something new, but all that time and effort brought me to my first true love.
It wasn’t just the exercise of reading that pulled my attention, but the words themselves. As I grew into myself, both physically and psychologically, I was certain that I would spend my college years drowning in novels from all over the world; I had accepted that literature was the only thing I could do with my life, however unprofitable it may be. It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year that I truly found what I was looking for. My AP Language and Composition teacher, Stephenie Alban, introduced me to Linguists. She was my sential during a time where my academic poise was being systemically obliterated, she sponsored my learning, applauding my “affinity for and dedication to language.” Mrs. Alban also acquainted me with Steven Pinker when she gave me his seminal opus, “The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language.” I had heard of linguists before: read about them, seen them depicted by actors in movies and on television, but I had never really delved into the mechanics of it. Pinker was the guide that led me down the rabbit hole.
I had spent a decade of my life seeing the faculty of language in action, how it affects the mind, the heart, how it can capture the essence of a person that only exists in the imagination of an author. Language, in my opinion, is the backbone of every society that ever was and ever will be, it is the central pillar of human evolution. A scientist would argue that, but how could they even posit such a notion without language? There is no other natural mode of communication more advanced than human languages. I thought to myself, “How can I use a tool this powerful without truly understanding it?”
When I tell people that I want to study linguistics they always question what kind of job a degree in language studies will land me, and the truth is I have no idea. A postgraduate degree in linguistics would make me highly employable in the academic world, though I am not the teaching type, and I have chewed over research or criminal linguistic analysis, graphology and the like, but I know that things don’t always work out how we imagine they will and that isn’t always a bad thing. I choose not to limit myself by trapping my mind into one mode of thinking. Linguistics is a science at its heart, and like any science it teaches its students to think critically, analytically, and to question everything—to look into the innermost machinations of the world and ponder on how they might need improvement. I apply this ideology to my future, and when it comes time to pick what it is I will do with my life, I know that I will be ready.
Plainly, I love linguistics, language itself really, because it is more than just a subject, it is a living, breathing organism intermingled with our most basic genetic coding, it is imagination and science and art all mixed into the world’s greatest mechanism. And however difficult it may be to master, it would be impossible for me not to love.