“Are you German?” Professor of linguistics asked me as he reads my name aloud, awkwardly Anglo-Saxon after a litany of soft and beautiful Romantic names.
No, half my family comes from Norway and the other half comes from the south of Italy. Or Sicily. I never really got a straight answer, but I do have a picture of the boat my great-grandmother boarded as a teenager to come to the United States. I’m actually American.
This is all besides the point; I’m way head of myself. I arrived half an hour early for “Initiation to Linguistics” at monde anglophone. I sat in the empty room and read “Notes from Underground” by Dostoyevsky while my heart beat rapidly and my nose ran quickly. Two tissues left and no patience for the rambling Russian, I changed seats as the clock hands approached 2pm. Just after 2, the professor arrived. He had a pleasant and friendly demeanor. I sighed audibly.
After we introduced ourselves, passed out syllabi, and discussed the homework for the next class, we began a real introduction to linguistics, the different branches of study, and their sub-fields. Then we got into examples of syntax, lexicon, phonetics, and fancy linguistic words in French and English. The professor, with a penchant for getting side-tracked, going off about Hungarian while our example was in Chinese, and the all the people present spoke French, English, or Arabic.
And there I sat, basically drooling, eyes wide with hearts in them, breathing fast and taking notes. Eyes darting around, searching for a hint that other people get as excited as I do about the accusative case. In the middle of this room with high ceilings and old walls I felt very sure; full of purpose and drive, more eager than I have been in months to study something. Was I falling in love? Or falling in comfort?
As I grew up, I changed direction a lot. My early career goals were eccentric and fleeting: archeologist, Titanic researcher and explorer, orchestral pianist. I got more realistic as I aged: movie director, actress, playwright…all feasible with hard-work and dedication. As much as I desired these positions, I was lacking some true need, some raw passion and excitement that propels people who are destined to do something in their field.
But, I eventually made the decision that I wanted to travel and that I wanted to speak many languages. I married French and then I had an affair with Latin. Philosophy lived next door to me and visited often. I flourished as a student of language. I was confident and addicted to grammar. It feels strange it took me this long to find linguistics; I feel like I should have known all along.
I could have skipped home from my first class I was so giddy. I call it falling into comfort because going to that linguistics course feels like going home to a place where I am engulfed in positive feelings. I try to answer questions a lot, and I am often incorrect. But this has not discouraged me in the least. I read the assignments multiple times. It feels marvelous to want to try.
It feels marvelous to want to try.