Saturday, October 17, 2009

Language Goals

Regular visitors to this site will note that some of my language efforts are a bit scattershot. I've never been a very linear person, so my learning efforts both toward individual languages and toward polyglottism most often resemble filling in a puzzle, not completing a project.

This post, linked in the sidebar, keeps track of what I am currently working on. It is subject to revision as my goals and approaches change.

At the moment, I have two big language goals, partially intertwined:

1) Modern Languages as an access point to the world
Both in my work and in my reading I encounter a number of languages and cultures. Starting with English and French and moving outward in Western Europe, I am trying to make more of the world familiar and accessible to me following on the map below:

Black: Fluent to Highly Proficient: English and French
Dark gray: Fair reading and speaking competency: Spanish, Italian, German
Lighter gray: Basic communication skills: Portuguese
Light gray: Basic survival skills: Greek, Farsi, Dari, Turkish and Uzbek

Note that the map does not show the world: Knowing English, French, Spanish and Portuguese pretty much gives you the Western Hemisphere. It's heartening to see, when contemplating how far these languages will take you, but also a bit gratuitous.

It will be noted that most of my modern languages are Indo-European. The exceptions are Turkish and Uzbek, both Turkic. Other languages, including the dread Mandarin, pop up on my radar screen. But they're not part of my core focus.

2) Indo-European
For at least fifteen years now, I've taken an interest in the Indo-European family and the relationship between older languages. Sometimes, this is just for curiosity's sake. Sometimes, it helps me better understand modern languages. While my interest in "modern languages" is as an access to the world and its cultures, my interest in Indo-European is rooted more in seeing how languages interrelate and evolve. Right now, there are four areas I'm exploring:
  1. Celtic: Old Irish vs. Latin; Old Irish as ancestor to Irish; Irish vs. Breton
  2. Romance: reviewing Latin; reviewing Old French
  3. Germanic: reviewing Old English
  4. Greek: reviewing Classical Greek with a peek at Homeric

Most of these explorations are by way of 1) The Early-Indo-European Online site (linked at right) and 2) Fortson's Intro to Indo-European. My Celtic stuff is supplemented with Stifter's Intro to Old Irish and various resources for modern Irish and Breton.

Much to my dismay, nobody is paying me to study this stuff. It's mostly for my own satisfaction. Consequently, my studies are geared to what pleases me. It is my long-term aim to develop a reasonable degree of confidence that if dropped anywhere in the sweep of territory on my Modern Languages map, I'll at least be able to acquire a hot meal, a bed and, if necessary, a consular official who can arrange my safe departure. Among the light grays, I'm actually there with Turkish, Uzbek and Farsi. As for my Indo-European interests, that's a more progressive thing. People say that Italian and Spanish are so close that if you know one you can easily learn the other. The same goes for Spanish and Portuguese. If you know what to look for, you can easily add French. And if you've got a handle on these, a lot of the Latin they came from will look familiar. I'm finding the same thing happens when you go back further. So while I don't intend to learn all the ancient languages any time soon, it's fun to put things together and I'll continue to do so off and on.


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