05 July 2012

Language Acquisition

So I wrote a lot about my coma in the beginning and I'm going to return to it again because that's what I do. That's what any writer does, they return to threads that keep showing up in the great tapestry of their life or their work.

I'm going to start with what I do now. I am compelled to study and talk about and discover how people acquire languages and this is languages in its broadest sense to its most specific sense. Over my life I have asked questions such as: How does one acquire the language to fit in to a certain social group or profession? How does a child learn to read and write? How does someone discover the context it takes to translate a poem into English well? How do I describe in language that everyone can understand my own unique and half-terrifying, half-comforting experience of being trapped inside yourself, your body a prison you later have to relearn to trust, your body a planetarium for your mind to project all its fantasies onto the wall of?

I address the first question in the English composition course I teach for the University of Alaska. In it, I have the students collect empirical data about the writing conventions being used in their field so that they can see through empirical research how to write within their field. Otherwise, they're left to guess half-consciously, and learn through trial and error. I use the work of John Swales and several genre analysis studies to not only describe this process and model it, but also to help dtudents engage in this part of their learning.

I addressed the second question when I worked at the Boys & Girls Club. I had the honor of working with a particular child who, not only had some behavior challenges, was also struggling with his literacy at school, so much in fact, that he may have been held back. I took it upon myself to learn the components of early language acquisition (alphabetics, fluency, and comprehension) and then to use a multi-tiered approach to his learning these principles about the language. By the time he was through my classroom, he was reading and writing at the approriate level.

I address the third question when I translate a poem, particularly one in a language whose culture I'm not familiar with. I work heavily upon notes from my Romanian friend when I am helping her with assistance in translating from or to Romanian. This process involves a lot of clarifying emails back and forth across the ocean, a lot of suggested substitutions and deviations from the literal translation. I learn bushels full of valuable enculturation with every translation.

The last question though, that's a tough one. Ultimately, my mind has a distrust of its body, it fears it and its unreliability, but also sleeps well within it, like a coccon, encased by it, protecting the imagination from escape, from sabotage, from disruption.

Talking was difficult after I came out of the coma and it is often difficult today, when other's are present. When I am alone, when I am with just my thoughts, my imagination, I am able to speak, under my breath, seamlessly with no stutters, with no hems and haws, and "what do you call its." A person's presence, even those I trust more than myself, have a silencing effect on me.

And I wonder sometimes if I wouldn't function better on my own, a hermit, with no connections to other humans, just so I can feel freer with my thoughts and able to make what I imagine happen.

But I crave that human connection, even if I fail or connect poorly. I am like the computer seeking the internet but shutting itself off from it because my firewall is on.

Which is about as close as I can come to a metaphor for saying the following conclusion about what my life has been leading up to. I say it without sorrow, without a need to be pitied, without pride. I say it as a matter of fact only.

I have experienced oblivion first-hand. I do not fit in this world, nor do I belong outside of it.

Maybe there's a bit of sorrow in that.