I find the mechanics of language both fascinating and frustrating. The acrobatics your tongue needs to accomplish when making its way around different languages is something I’ve never really mastered. I know enough French to make my way around Quebec without getting arrested–in Japan… let’s just say if I was about to be arrested, I was totally oblivious. Yet in the case of speaking French, I barely do. I can read most of it, and I can understand a lot of it when someone is speaking to me, but actually forming the words myself? I trip over my tongue like it’s six feet long. When I lived on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River, my local grocery store employees were used to me. They’d speak French, I spoke English, everything was understood and there was no gross salivation to worry about.
Japanese is a much easier language to speak. There’s very little tongue rolling going on, and most of the consonants sound the same as they do in English. Reading it? Pfft. Although I got to know the kanji for place names when I was there (because at the train stations they’re displayed in English, kana, and kanji), and obviously I learned the difference between “Men” and “Women” before I stepped off Canadian soil, much of the written language may as well be Greek. Or Japanese.
Lip reading, on the other hand, is a whole different subject when considering the tongue. Try it: say “dada” and “data.” Concentrate on what your lips look like when you say the two words. No difference. What changes is the position of the tongue. Even trying to say it with your mouth open, it’s impossible to show the difference to a deaf person. I was introduced to this difficulty when my Deaf son, Alex, was about four years old. The local children’s hospital (CHEO in Ottawa) had him in a program to see if he could ever learn to speak. He had hearing aids at the time, but they only allowed him to hear very loud noises. Speech wasn’t one of them. Eventually it was determined that because he never learned to suck as a baby (he’s tube fed to this day and he’s 16 years old) he’d never have the muscle control to speak. We gave up on the hearing aids when he started getting ear infections every other week. But back to the tongue. There are a few sounds that we make when we speak that are impossible to discern from our lips.
Holy spit balls, Batman! I just realized where the expression “mother tongue” came from! Sucking as a baby!!
…and, now I can’t concentrate on my stream of consciousness anymore.
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