I kinda discovered my passion for linguistics by accident. On starting to study Spanish and Russian language at the University of Auckland in 2003, I added courses about linguistics. Socio-linguistics was less my cUp of tea, but I really enjoyed learning about grammar, semantics, syntax, phonology and morphology. I really barely even knew what those words meant before I started! I think it was the highly technical nature of the subjects that really appealed to me.
In hindsight, I realise my interest in other languages started at a very early age. My parents had a two-part dictionary that included a section at the beginning with an explanation of various scripts, including Cyrillic. I recall spending many hours familiarising myself with the Cyrillic text so that I could identify each character, often practicing by spelling out English words but replacing the characters with Cyrillic equivalents. It seemed somehow like a secret code that held mystery and fascination. Funny how life works out, with me learning to speak, read and write in Russian with the Cyrillic alfavet 25 years later.
My interest in Russian was given an extra boost when my high school English teacher gave me a Russian-English translation dictionary. I promised myself I would learn that properly one day. Sorry Marty, if you are reading this, I don’t think I ever gave that back to you! Get in touch and I’ll buy you a replacement.
Anyone who knows me well will also know that I really enjoy mimicking accents in English. Name one, and I see it as a challenge. My favourite, of course, would probably be Russian, however Mexican (Spanish), Chinese, Japanese, Australian and several others are also regular targets. Hey, I like goofing around with language. The accents thing is my own personal discovery tool for phonetics.
Here’s an example of what I find interesting about accents:
A native speaker of Japanese will find some difficulty in combining consonants into a coda, like -lks (as in the word “walks”) for example. To me, it’s fun knowing why that is so. It’s not that their mouths are incapable of making the sound, it’s just that they never practiced it as a child growing up and learning to speak. There’s really no difference between the vocal capabilities of one race versus another. Pronunciation comes down to practice that flows into habitual use. I love this stuff. In moments of reflection, I love to think of new linguistic theories. One day, Noam Chomsky, wish I could meet you, old fella.