I remarked in an earlier blog that I understood why Ezra Pound resorted to inserting foreign words into some of his poetry. Sometimes English doesn’t have the right expressions to convey an idea or feeling. Frankly, I’d like the freedom to make up my own words like Lewis Carroll did in the, “Jabborwocky.” But I might run the risk of being understood only to myself. Still, words fascinate me — how they are used, how their meanings alter over time or how they came into being. That’s why I immediately turned to an article in my alumni magazine entitled, “Birth of a Language.”
Katelyn Best is a college senior who studied a sign language invented by deaf Nicaraguan children. For some reason, they rejected the lip reading techniques they were taught in school and invented their own form of communication. Her study is important because, as far as we know, all languages spoken today are derived from a single mother tongue. But these Nicaraguan children were inventing a structure out of thin air. Would it have any similarities to established languages, Best wondered. Would studying its emergence help answer a question researchers have debated for years: Are words developed because of our experience of the world or is the brain programmed to invent a language?
So far the communication invented by the children, known as ISN (Idioma de Senas de Nicaragua) does share some similarities with other sign languages. For example, “shaking the head and lowering eyebrows [is used] to emphasize a negative. “(“Birth of a Language” by Chris Lydgate, Reed, June 2013, pg. 28)
We all know the power of words. They shape our thoughts as much as we use them to describe our world. Governments may twist words to sway us with their propaganda. Advertisers dispense them like bread crumbs to entice us to their products. But in the case of the Nicaraguan children who preferred to invent a language of their own, we see something of the human spirit. As the British linguist, Derek Bickerton has written:
…language itself resists power; it’s demotic, it’s subversive, it slips through the cracks of dictatorships, it makes fools of the powerful. (Ibid. pg. 29)
(Courtesy of christoph-grandt.com)