A Predator of Information

Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing.

On acquiring a vocabulary

5 June 2016 8:35 PM (musing | language)

When I was newly minted, I was not the skilled hunter of meaning that I am now. I hadn't quite figured out how to traverse the English language. Long ago I thought that ‘native’ meant ‘foreigner’. Why? Look at an old book or movie. When the brave explorer crosses an ocean, who did he meet in that strange, foreign land? Natives.

I once believed that ‘purpose’ meant ‘accidentally’. Why? Because I often heard one person accuse another of an intentional misdeed with “You did that un-purpose!” I was no fool. I knew that the opposite of ‘un-purpose’ is ‘purpose’. This ended badly when, after accidentally hurting someone or breaking something, I would say “I did it purpose!”

I can remember not differentiating phonemes properly. I thought houses had ‘chimleys’. When I heard someone praying I thought they ended with ‘fur etching Jesus name whisk it Amen!’ (yes, I knew even then that was a strange way to end a prayer, but they seemed really confident about it. I assumed it would make sense eventually and thought it might be Greek.) instead of ‘For it's in Jesus' name we ask it, Amen!’ I was corrected very soon because I would, even when very young, enunciate every sound and syllable precisely; if I said the wrong word, everyone knew it was the wrong word.

It's fun imagining childhood as a neverending factory of eggcorns and mondegreens that slows and finally shuts down as one's mental map of the the language lines up with everyone else's.

One response

  1. Digital says:

    I wonder how much, if at all, this plays into our personality and traits.

    I remember struggling less with the sounds of the words (asides from very early on where I lost all speech for something vaguely around a year), and more having difficulty with the actual meaning or intent. I'd interpret everything in an exceedingly literal way despite most folks around my age understanding the words in question. There's a lot of phrases that don't make sense when taken literally...

    Granted, I'm not entirely sure I'm speaking to the same range of time as you are. It's kind of fuzzy in my mind.

    I do like holding on to an imaginative view of language, partly by choice, partly a slight limitation of my current abilities. It lets me notice arrangements others might overlook in their leap for the end conclusion, allowing me to instead explore the path less traveled. Oftentimes it's a source of light humor, too. Life can become dreary if you're not able to laugh at your temporary foolishness :)

    This comment was originally posted on 2016-6-6 around 7:18:13 am EST, and restored from my local backup after the Great Server Reset.

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