Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

Every person has a few moments in life which, when you look back, point clearly and firmly into the future. Here’s one of mine:

I was a very young child, maybe in 1st or 2nd grade (6-7 years old). I had been “put to bed”, but was laying in bed thinking. We had just been exposed to the idea of “how to say X in another language” in class for a “travel the world” week. Anyways, I was still amazed (and a bit scared) by the existence of other languages, and started wondering how deep it went. I thought and thought about that, until, unable to sleep, I stood up, in pajamas, and marched downstairs to my father’s study.

“Dad.” (I paraphrase) “How many languages are there?”

I don’t recall what his answer was, but he gave a large enough number to impress (and scare) me.

“But English was the first one, right?”

He told me “No”, and explained what he knew about language genesis (which, as an Anesthesiologist, was a bit out of his purview). After a minute or two more of discussion, I went back upstairs, thought for a while more about it, and eventually went to sleep.

It wasn’t until High School that my Dad publicly declared his prediction that I was probably going to be a Linguist, and that I would teach. I had no idea what a linguist was, and didn’t much care for school, so I dismissed the idea. “Studying languages for a living, but not translating?” I thought. “That’s silly!”

He SO called it.


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