Editor's Note: Other entries from Story Slam 2019 will be published daily, so watch for them.
I was only four years old when I became aware of French as a language distinct from my own. My uncle married a woman from Montreal and she didn’t speak much English at the time. I can remember her being at a complete loss for words that time a goat hopped up on our picnic table while we were eating lunch, and relieved itself quite thoroughly.
I studied the French language in school for years without much progress, in true Ontario fashion. But I thought I was pretty good at French. I started university in a linguistics program at a bilingual school and thought that language was my big thing. As it turns out, it really isn’t my big thing. Throughout a bilingual program in psychology, I've had far too much opportunity to understand the inner workings of my mind and why exactly I have trouble with language.
You know, to this day, I’m pretty sure I still can’t say phoque without laughing. I stopped trying to grow up years ago. But as a Canadian, I don’t really need that word anyway; I just mix the two languages together whenever it’s convenient, like when I’m tired and have to speak French, but the language is way too expressive for my lazy Ontarian mouth, so I just mumble incoherently in monotone phrases that sound vaguely like English or German, but are mainly constructed from French words. So, if I ever need to talk to a French person about a seal, which I hope is unlikely, I think I’ll probably just use the English equivalent and call it close enough. Blame my accent if necessary.
Language is not really my thing. It’s stressful. English is, in fact, a stress-timed language. French, being an intonation-timed language, confuses me. But at least their rhythm has to do with tone. The rhythm of my language is stress. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t all that interested in speaking it as a kid. I was a few years old before I said a word. On the other hand, when there are two babies in the house and one happens to be a Labrador retriever, other factors might be at play.
Jason – my twin brother, the black lab – wasn’t very good at English, if you’re wondering. But I couldn’t wait for him forever, so I started speaking, in full sentences right off the bat, and the words just kept coming ever since.
I like aspects of language, but that doesn’t always help to learn a new one. I like words. I especially like the sound of words.
I like the look of ‘tortoise’. I also like ‘turnip’, ‘container’, and ‘superfluous’. I would likely never use them all in the same sentence though, at least not to say that the amount of turnips and containers was superfluous, because I actually really like turnips.
I struggled through my last French as a second language course. I get very stuck on phonetics. For one of my assignments, I asked my experimental psychology professor if I could attend one of the classes in the French section of the course. I sat through three hours of a lecture I could barely understand but, when she said échantillonage aléatoire, I almost immediately registered for a statistics course taught in French. I had so far done research in English; I never thought I`d be so happy about random sampling.
I think the reason I gave up German in first year was gemütlichtkeit. What a shame. I truly value the feeling of coziness and warmth and good company, as the word somewhat implies, if I understand it correctly. But the feel of this word in my mouth is quite different, so I decided that the German language doesn`t make sense.
I guess I like the feel of words too, not just the sound. Ukrainian feels good in the mouth. It feels like a warm perogy.
And that, of course, brings me to Yorkton. I drove here faster than my stats professor could say échantillonage aléatoire. So, maybe I`ve stopped trying to speak French, but maybe I took a bit of the intonation to calm my English sense of stress. Maybe my commitment to bilingualism blew away somewhere in the prairie winds, but I still love sunsets. Watching the sunset in Saskatchewan, it reminds me of the comfort of coming home at the end of a long day. Lately, on days when I can hear my Eastern accent start to change already, I hear echoes from a distant past, the voices of ancestors I only visit in my dreams, and I can`t help but smile. It feels like home.
The full article on Story Slam 2019 is seen here.