Qet!

TlhIgan Alphabet

Yeah, some of you didn’t need the caption to know what the image is, did you? It’s okay if you didn’t, I won’t tell anyone. The language-loving Trekkie in me recognizes the language-loving Trekkie in you, friend. Qapla’!

I am hereby outing myself as trying to learn Klingon. Yes, that is the language created for one of the fictional races in Star Trek. Yes, it does have a lot to do with the fact that Lt. Commander Worf is one of my favorite characters from Roddenberry’s creation. But there are two other reasons, one that should be plain if you know me and one that might not be so plain, but will make sense, again, if you know me.

Reason the First: I love languages. When I was little, I had a book – it was called The Book of Knowledge – and the book had listings of most of the nationalities of the world and their languages, and gave a few sample words in each language. It fascinated me to know how you say “Hello!” in Spanish or “Pardon me,” in French. And then there were the languages that did not use the same alphabet that English does – languages that use Cyrillic characters, for example – it was like code! Trying to see similarities that weren’t there between those characters and the Latin script that makes up the languages I understand filled my afternoons as a kid. It was a true tragedy that my school system didn’t teach languages before high school as so many do today, or I would have taken every single one I could fit into my schedule.

It is no wonder that I do what I do for a living – one of my best memories of the time I have been in my current job was a day that my co-interpreter and I were watching music videos in American Sign Language on YouTube and being just overcome with the choices the performer was making. We were out of our first language altogether and just allowing the beauty of our second language to live and breathe on the screen and then on our own hands as we tried to recreate what he had done first – the efficiency of his sign choices and the beauty of the meaning that he conveyed was just more than I could take. ASL to me is like magic – linear language becoming three dimensional and alive.

Who is surprised? No one, I’m sure.

Reason the Second: I am a very mousy person. Very few people have experienced truly ANGRY me who is so ANGRY that she expresses that ANGER. I am introverted and shy, and I hate that about myself because it seems that it is NOT THE RIGHT WAY TO BE, according to most of the people in my life. I am more expressive in ASL than I am in English, oddly enough, because ASL lends itself well to that sort of communication. There is no whispering in a visual language.

Klingon is harsh. It is a gutteral language. It is loud. There aren’t words for Hello or please or thank you. I still won’t speak it out loud unless I am asked how to say a particular word. It is a language whose culture is completely opposite of who I am every day, and I love that. But y’all, the best thing that has happened since I started this process has been the ability to understand some of the Klingon used on the different programs in the Star Trek world.

This new understanding of aggressiveness and harshness is helping me with some of the races that I have created in my novels – and it is helping me create languages for those races. While Sath may seem like a pussy cat, he has another side to him that is more rough and animalistic, yet developed – that is how Qatu’anari should be, and to date, it isn’t really. Maybe the Klingon will help me with that, as well as with other races that live on the Dark Side of the World that has yet to be discovered, or with D’leesh spoken by the dark elves, or even Eldyr. This makes my heart so happy.

Conclusion: Am I nerdy? Oh, no question. Most definitely.

Will I be able to fire back at you in Klingon when you call me a nerd, with that derogatory tone in your voice? ‘oH net poQbej Har SoH!

In which my inner language geek speaks…

GEEK spelled in British Sign Language.

People ask me all the time why I do what I do – lately, my answer is to carefully shrug my shoulders whilst trying NOT to reinjure my right elbow or smack my right hand against anything – but the answer, if I’m honest, is language, or languages. I did not go into interpreting because I have a need to help people. I did not go into interpreting out of some need for social justice or a desire to work in a disability-related field. I don’t see Deaf/HOH people as needing help or as a disability community – I see them as a language minority. I went into my current field because it means I get to work in my second language every day – to the point that I think, dream, and even speak verbally in ASL (take a moment and feel sorry for my husband, won’t you?).

Well, today I had a moment when I just got all giddy and, since interpreting tends to be solo work for the most part, I had no one to share it with that would understand it. I was watching some British Sign Language videos on YouTube in the name of professional development and I had just watched a video showing how to sign ‘meeting’ in BSL – and I got it. I don’t mean I could see and understand the sign and then reproduce it. I mean I looked at it and due to my knowledge of ASL, I could understand WHY that was the sign for ‘meeting.’

Last week, hubs and I had a discussion about why it is harder for some people to learn a second (and third and so on) language than it is for others. I likened it to the reason why it is hard, at times, for Deaf/HOH kids in school to learn English without a firm foundation in ASL first. If I had not had such a good education in not only vernacular spoken (American) English, I would not have been able to understand ASL to the point that I could then extrapolate that onto BSL and that video. You cannot learn a second language if your first language isn’t strong enough to form comparisons and, to use my favorite metaphor, hooks. You can’t learn ASL without a strong foundation in English, for example, to hook that new set of grammar rules and vocabulary to what you already know.

For people who say that isn’t true, and that as long as you have a rudimentary understanding of your native or first language you can always learn a second language through study and repetition, sure, you can I suppose. But think of it this way: I never had a good grasp of mathematics. Never. I mean I can’t even do the four basic functions without having to get a calculator to check my answers. I have no confidence in my own ability in that subject. I have no solid foundation in maths, so when I went to hook my new level of maths (Algebra and the like) into what I already knew, the hook fell. The foundation wasn’t solid enough to hold it.

But my borderline obsessive love for learning languages has come from the fact that growing up I not only knew that you say ‘I was going to the store’ but also that it is not acceptable to say ‘I were going to the store’ and why. Miss Pritchett and Madam Gring-Whitley would be proud to know that they were right – I hated those verb conjugation sheets, but they helped me understand why you must change the form of the verb in order for the time component of your message to make sense. It helps me now when I remember to add the sign that indicates when the verb is happening, has happened, or will happen – so that I am clearly understood.

So back to the BSL video – it was because I know the ASL signs/classifiers for a person, the concept of ‘meet’ and ‘meeting’ and because I know what the word meeting can mean in English, that this sign made perfect sense to me:


That is building on your foundation. That is what made my inner language geek so very happy. I love it when I come across things like that and often don’t make that connection until afterward but man. That is why I do what I do. THAT RIGHT THERE.

In which the language nerd…and proud American…in me rejoices

This was the clear winner, in my mind, for best Superbowl commercial this year.  I’m distressed, but not surprised, at the vitriolic backlash that it has received on social media and in the press.  Let me tell you why I loved it…and the one fault I found in it…

In spite of what is apparently popular opinion, the United States of America does not have an official language.  I will give you a moment for that to sink in.  English, therefore, is NOT the official language of the United States of America.  In fact, recent statistics show that English is spoken by 80% of the population, not 95% as in the United Kingdom where they DO recognize English as the de facto official language (and make you pass an English Language test to live there).

What makes me so proud of my country is the ability for people to come here from other countries and love this nation as their own while still being able to keep their language and culture of origin fairly intact.  While I know that those outside of the USA may look at that statement and scoff, it is true in some parts of the USA.

There are voices, at times LOUD voices, that disagree and would like for the USA to be a bit more homogeneous…more English speaking…dare I say more white?  But I would like to say to anyone thinking of visiting or relocating to my country that those opinions are not shared by all of us.

The places shown in the commercial last night were clearly chosen due to the fact that in those areas, there are higher concentrations of immigrant populations who speak Spanish, Hindi, Tagalog, and even native languages that were here before the English speaking explorers arrived.  Why shouldn’t they be able to express their love for their country in the language of their birth and heritage?  Seriously?  Am I the only one that got the point, that this commercial represents what America is at its very heart?

Be sure to click on the link above to watch the commercial and then watch the interviews with each of the language representatives heard in the commercial.  This speaks to the language nerd in me as well as the interpreter…the meaning is the point, not the language or culture.

The fault I found?  No ASL.  American Sign Language is the fifth most used non-English language in the United States.  And yet, it is left off, again.  My second language and, by association, my adopted culture is often left out…did anyone that was only watching the Superbowl on television see the ASL translation of the national anthem? Three or four signs maybe.  But I’m growing accustomed to that being the norm.  Doesn’t mean I think it is right and I hope that it will change.

If you’re one of the ones “disgusted” or “outraged” by the Coca-Cola commercial (literally, people are saying those specific words and worse…have a look at Coke’s Facebook page and Twitter feed) or you are thinking of boycotting the product, take a moment and look at your own family tree.  I bet you’ll find branches that came to this country, eager to live in and experience and love “America the Beautiful” even though they may have had to express that sentiment in a different way.  Was their love for this country any less because they spoke a different language?  No.  Absolutely not.