True Life: The Downfall of a Former Grammar Nazi
I am a lover and defender of words.
I always have been and I thought I always would be.
I used to speak and write with confidence and efficiency. Though I am admittedly long-winded and wordy, a grievous annoyance to many a prof with a stack of Freshman Comp I papers to sort through, I was thankful to never have a problem conjuring up artistic and scholarly metaphors, similes, or allusions. I was extremely careful to maintain the proper tense throughout a short story and I never wrote in the first person for an expository essay. Piecing together phrases and allowing the English language freedom to be its original, organic self is as thrilling for me as a chef working with new cutlery. I, too, want to create something delicious, to craft words that melt smoothly in the mouth and settle finely in the mind, layered with flavor, spice, and profundity.
I may seem to be bloviating but I assure you I am merely stating a fact, using every word in my vocabulary to make this shabby blog entry appear better than it really is.
The only semblance of a talent I possess lies along literary lines. I can carefully pluck alliterative strings like any other college graduate who managed to pass Creative Writing 101. I can skillfully satirize, theorize, analyze, and philosophize (haha) along with the best of the wannabe academics my age (thank you Drs. and Professors at university).
I vaguely remember the not-so-distant past, when I was sought after by classmates and professors alike to proofread their papers, power points, and syllabi. I remember winning spelling bees all throughout my early school days and meticulously crafting compound-complex sentences for the speech and debate team. I remember multi-syllabic words with fondness and with pain as they are now so far removed from my daily life.
I am feeling less articulate and intelligent by the minute in a country where I am at the speaking level of a ten year old and the reading/writing level of a six year old. How is a lover of such a weighty, wordy language as English supposed to maintain the accustomed level of intellectual dialogue in a country where the language is minimalist and brief?
When I translate conversations line for line, I continually find how many fewer words the Japanese use to convey meaning. In fact, sometimes they don’t even use words at all. “Ne” and “saa” are merely sounds, able to reiterate an entire statement or convey an atmosphere or feeling without saying anything in particular. Adjectives and verbs are entire sentences unto themselves and if the subject or object is even possibly understood through context then the Japanese omit saying it all together. Somehow learning Japanese transitioned from vocabulary acquisition to an exercise in telepathy.
Sarcasm aside, Japanese is a beautiful language. I am studying it intensely. I am speaking it endlessly. I am writing it painstakingly. With all of my practice I have inevitably become accustomed to the rhythm and cadence of Japanese sounds. I can perfectly recite the syllabary in proper sequence and am picking up more colloquialisms and idioms everyday. The linguist in me thrives on this conquest.
…there is something even more terrifying than being struck with illiteracy lurking around the corners of Japan.
The decay of my own English ability. *Deliberate use of a sentence fragment*
Upon moving to Japan, I have found myself lapsing in coherence when I finally get the chance to converse in English with other native speakers. I find that my intonation and innate sense of inflection have changed. The fluidity and ease with which I always articulated myself has stopped flowing and now ebbs along my tongue, tripping over the quaggy bumps of prepositions and plurality.
When I returned to America for the first time after five months, I found myself mixing Japanese words into my English without realizing it. Blank stares and soft sniggering shook me to the core as I realized not only am I making mistakes when speaking in Japan but now I am having the same problem in my own country, in my own language. How embarrassing!
I rarely get the chance to speak to anyone in English now. If I do have conversations with friends back home I am always writing to them, allowing myself time to think and prepare my words a moment ahead of time. Face to face, fluent conversation is few and far between. I’m quite determined not to start prattling to myself when I’m alone in my apartment just in order to stay sharp. (Don’t you think that would be a little crazy?) So now, my use of singular and plural is inconsistent. My command of conjugation is sluggish. My ever accurate spelling has dwindled down to a pitiful percentage. Last week I spent a solid five minutes trying to decide how to spell “whether.” The first “h” just looked so wrong. I don’t even want to think about how many comma splices I’ve abused in the last month.
How do I climb back up the ladder of language and regain my place among the English majors that are all condescending me from the top rungs? How do I manage to better my Japanese and maintain my grammarian ways? The answer escapes me and I fear I shall forever wallow in the middle ground of the mediocre and the moronic.
Well hey, at least I still have a flair for the dramatic. 😉
(Note: In true spirit of this essay, I have proofread this several times. If you find any grammatical or spelling errors, please comment accordingly. However, do so with caution as I am in a very feeble state of mind and too many errors may in fact lead me to begin talking to myself. Schizophrenia is sure to follow…)