A Hidden World

Language is all around us. We’re constantly bathed in it yet we rarely notice it. When we do, it’s because something’s gone wrong, and even then it’s very brief. And we don’t really see it for what it is, not naturally. It really makes you wonder how linguistics even happened at all. Or you could say language is like a window so well cleaned we walk right into it. It’s like your face if you never had a mirror: you might occasionally see a distorted reflection on water, but you don’t know the complete physical reality of it and you really don’t care. Though we feel this way about the way we as an individual talk, that’s not the verdict on just about everyone else. We’ve steeped in language so long we’ve grown bitter. People have accents. People talk funny. Some people sound stupid. People with an accent are less intelligent. People can’t say in their language what we can say in ours. People over there can’t convey complex thought. The list goes on—the tea is more than bitter, there are far worse things that are starting to grow in it.

The tragedy of human history past and present is that we keep drinking it. Like bleu cheese, we’re told that it’s supposed to have mold in it. Now it’s a teacup that has been left out on the counter for years. What would it look like? What would be in it? More importantly, why is it still there!?

We have to notice it. This is how linguistics is conceived in your mind, a rebirth of what you think language is. Be interested in the speakers—they’re just people. Be fascinated by the sounds—it’s music. Get close enough to the glass for it to fog up. Step to the side and notice how the angle catches the light. Wash that damn teacup.

You don’t have to be a practicing linguist to know linguistics. Linguistics is just knowing about language, like math is knowing about numbers. You can add and subtract, so you can know about the stuff that’s pouring out of your mouth everyday. This is linguistics. Welcome.