The Book of Human Langauges

As I've mentioned before, I'm learning French. I'd like to thank the Horde on this one. Because of you guys, I was directed to Alliance Française here in New York where I'm enjoying classes. As always, I'm faced with my old weaknesses. It's an actual physical labor to hold myself in a seat in a class and not start dozing. I have always been that way. But as a 36 year old man, aware of that, and hungry for knowledge, it's a lot easier to manage.


One thing I've mentioned, off-handedly in the pass, is how learning a new language isn't merely learning a new vocabulary or syntax, but actively learning a different way to think. "Et alors"(Pronounced roughly--"Ay-uh-lohr") is similar to our "So what?" But "Et Alors" doesn't simply sound different, it feels different, it carries another connotation, another music. 

I don't know if that means anything to people who don't write professionally, but for me it means a ton. Words, and their organization, always carry more than their literal meaning. Rappers have always been aware of this, and understanding the secondary meaning of words has always been the work of poets. It seems only right, that a writer should explore languages and try to spend time with as many as he or she can. That I should arrive at such an obvious conclusion at this late date is humbling.

Beyond writers, I wonder what it means for the broader country. My understanding (correct me if I'm wrong) is the rest of the world tends to be more bilingual than America. Does that have any impact on how we think? On our imagination? On our ability to see? I'm sure linguists and psychologists have spent some time thinking about this.

At any rate. I am at the start, again. Walking, again. Here we go.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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