I should probably start by saying it’s a real fight not to turn this post into a 50 page dissertation complete with a cover page and works cited, but for the sake of all of our sanity I’ll avoid this. I wanted to do a quick post about my recent experience in language learning, and some of the quirks I’ve experienced with moving fields for the summer and encounter a different dialect. The danger is that linguistics and languages brings out a weird combination of nerd and adventurer in me, maybe that’s why I studied it in the first place.
When it comes to the Arabic language, my head is an absolute mess. I studied a formal dialect that nobody speaks for a year in college, then another dialect (still in college) from a region I’ve never been to. After that, I moved to the horn of Africa and learned the dialect of a refugee population that would be the cultural equivalent to back woods, Louisiana English; and now, I’m in a giant metropolis in North Africa that has yet another dialect they proudly hold on to as their cultural distinction from the rest of the Arab world. And here I am in the middle of it, linguistically speaking, and Arabic mutt. What fun!
Right now communication goes something like this: a native of the city says something, I look confused and ask for a repetition, and hopefully by the second or third time I finally understand. I'm then faced with two options: 1) try to answer in my limited knowledge of their dialect, mess everything up, and neither of us understand…OR 2) I answer in the glorious Louisiana Arabic I learned in my former country, they understand, and then crack a humored smile as they try not to laugh and our clumsy waltz of communication continues.
The good news is, there’s a population of the refugees I was working with in the former country in this city too! I met one of them yesterday, and it was refreshing to sit down and have a far less clumsy conversation in Arabic. It helps me to sympathize with them, if speaking in a dialect that isn’t even my own heart language brings light heartedness, I can’t imagine how important their language has become to them as they’ve fled to strange lands far from their country. It’s funny, the Tower of Babel was initially a judgement of God when he linguistically dispersed the population of the world, but we see, through Pentecost, God’s grace in removing language barriers to shine his love. Learning a language constantly reminds me of this. We learn a language to better love people while relying on God to speak through us despite our flawed conjugations and blundering phonetics. The Bible says God will be praised in every language, so we cling to and hope in that promise while catching small glimpses of this future spectacle as we learn, grow, and (of course) make many many mistakes! Please pray for me as I begin classes to adjust to the new dialect of this city. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get the hodge podge of Arabic in my brain sorted out, as we say in Arabic: insh allah (God willing!).