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August 12, 2011

Cultivating Your Voice

I love working with words - whether written or spoken - but it only really matters how we as individuals...

...use words.

Linguists have been debating for centuries whether language is primarily individual or social. When you think about it, language is a very strange thing. We use it as individuals and spend most of our time receiving it from other individuals, but we are all born into a language - and our language is only one aspect of the culture we are born into. And, for the most part, we learn our native language through a remarkably messy, seemingly incoherent, yet, for most of us at least, quite reliable and thorough process.

There are errors unique to native speakers - and there are errors specific to language learners, but my primary interest is beyond grammatical errors. I am interested in each speaker's voice - how we make our language truly our own - how we take a language we have learned or have been given and make it peculiarly ours.

And then, even more peculiar, some of us attempt to learn another language - one rooted in and expressive of an entirely different culture.

History could be defined as one language or another merging, conquering or withdrawing from prominence - or even disappearing entirely.

But our language, OUR language, is the language we make our home language. This may or may not be one's birth language, and it might be the language of opportunity or migration. But our language, where we find our fullest expression is the language that gives our individual voice its richest and deepest identity.

We may know the vocabulary and grammar of another language, but our individual voice only emerges through constant practice.

Like a singer who makes his or her mark on the world through a distinct singing voice, we all make - and leave - our mark by our unique tone, vocabulary and personal style. So take every opportunity to speak, write or even sing in your new - or even not so new - language.

Your voice will emerge.

Memorizing vocabulary and mastering grammar is one thing, but making a language - any language - truly your own is a breakthrough that will serve you well in every area of your life.

I confess to being a word nerd, but there are seemingly infinite possibilities in a language as flexible and fluid as English. Send us any words or examples of voice or tone that you discover and be sure to let us know what it is about English and language learning that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing , constantly shifting linguistic landscape.


About the author of this entry:

Morf has a B.A.from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and an MAT (Master's in Teaching English) from the University of Washington (Seattle). Morf is currently a radio host (http://www.tacoma.fm/) and a newspaper columnist http://www.thenewstribune.com/opinion/columnists/morf_morford/ and would love to do either one of those somewhere else in the world.

Posted by mmorf at August 12, 2011 11:42 PM


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