When I think about language – the words I speak, the style they take on, the little idioms that get me through the day – I find it very interesting to try and recount where all of this came from. It’s equally interesting to think where my language skills may someday take me, and what will be added to the dictionary of J.D. King. Of course, everything starts at home.
My first experiences were like most people, from my childhood home. I grew up in rural Oregon, in a small, cut off valley in farm country. English was the only language I was exposed to in my childhood home, with no other dialect variations brought into play through specific family members. My parents were however, big on public television and international movies. So, there was the occasional exposure to languages like German, French, and Spanish. Basic counting, hello and goodbye phrases, and exclamations of surprise were picked up. One phrase that stands out in particular is from the book to movie adaptation of “I Remember Mama.” It revolves around a Norwegian immigrant family and my mother was a huge fan of the book and movie alike. There is a scene when the old uncle is helping the boy get over his pain, and he teaches him a swearing phrase: “dum geit,” pronounced “doom yate.” It means silly goat and I used it a lot to my own amusement as a child.
Looking ahead in life, I can finally see a shift in my accessibility to new languages. When I was in the fourth grade, we had a few Spanish lessons from a local resident, and put on a small play, singing songs in a language I do not recall to this day. I didn’t have much exposure to other languages until I was fourteen or fifteen, after I had left home. Once I was out and about on my own, I met of a lot of people different from myself with unique dialects and languages. Of course, like any rotten teenager, I went straight for swear words, exclamations, and food descriptions. Another interesting point in my teens years was my involvement in traveling Renaissance fairs. It was fun to try and shift your language to old, long expired phrases and accents. Around this time was also when a friend introduced me to anime from Japan. A linguistic love child I have yet to abandon. I later lived as a housekeeper when I was nineteen for a year and a half with a first-generation American whose family had come from the Philippines – whose language was as I’ve learned, heavily influenced by Spanish or local tongues. I was taught a lot of words relating to farming, cooking, family and sewing from her during my time there. Like kalabaw (buffalo), tocino (cured pork or bacon), adobo (pickled), ulan (rain), sakahan (farm), ina (mother).
Unfortunately, I have very little contact with my family to inquire about my ancestral language and history. But I do know the following few things from memory. My paternal grandparents were first generation Americans, having lived several generations in the Quebec-French region of Canada, and further back, in France and Ireland beforehand. My surname at birth has a French origin as well – Cormier. My mother’s family was primarily from the Missouri region of the United States, although most migrated to the Northwest just after World War Two. Sadly, I have no other information.
In terms of dialect, I think I speak what is often referred to as “Standard American English,” but I’ve lived many places and often find myself incorporating the language of that new area. Still, my accent has remained much the same. A bit faster than it should have been for the Northwest, and generally easy to understand. I was, as I mentioned, born and raised in the Oregon and Washington area. When I was in my early twenties I moved to Northeastern Pennsylvania, about an hour north of Philadelphia and frequently traveled to New Jersey, New York, and Delaware. Picking up many nuances of language along the way. Cheesesteak, whiz, wit and witout, shore, ignert, the unholy thing known as scrapple, and hon (a word I still use daily). I have noticed regional differences in the way I identify long sandwiches, fizzy carbonated beverages, and my own state name. Subway, soda, Ore-gon like hexa-gon not Ore-gun. I can say that since entering higher education and working before in the software programming industry, my vernacular has shifted a lot. I use a lot of technological jargon. I utilize a lot of words typically found in political, logical, rhetorical, and literature courses. I also pick up slang easily, whether from YouTube, or others around me from the local region I’m living in. I’ve also taken two semesters of Japanese, expanding my abilities into one additional world language. Watashi wa motsu to manabitai! 私はもっと学びたい(I want to learn more!). I would eventually like to tack on Korean, and maybe German or Italian. If only to communicate better with worldwide friends, and have better access to media materials.
When I think about how I perceive or have perceived linguistic diversity and language, I can’t point to a specific moment, but when I was around sixteen I was working in a call center and can recall hearing so many voices from around the country. It was also the first time I was told I speak fast, people used to frequently ask if I was from the Northeast. I also know when I first started educating myself, and when I first started meeting new groups of people unlike myself – I defiantly did some judging. That was of course, before I understood the beautiful nitty gritty world of linguistics. I would judge grammar and spelling like a “grammar nazi” and touted my own skills, not realizing how diverse the world was and the harm that came from doing so.
I too have also been judged harshly though. I have a neurological disorder that causes my nervous system to decay and cause sporadic movements and fluctuations. I’ve also suffered extreme poverty and homelessness which has affected my physical self in many ways that affect my ability to speak clearly. As such, I have a heavy lisp at times and utter words out of order sometimes. It hurts, but it makes me try harder to speak up and be a voice for others who suffer from similar issues. I think as my interest in literature has grown, it has been my biggest linguistic influence. I’ve been fortunate to read books by many authors from a wide array of diverse backgrounds, ethnic origins, and forms. I also hope as I grow older and travel more, this exposure will continue. I have little use for my ancestral language, even with the little I know about it. However, I think one thing I’d like for my future children is exposure to other languages – something I believe I missed out on by not going through a traditional high school program. I also think whatever their own background is comprised of (since I will be adopting only), will influence my language acquisition choices. I would like to continue to pursue Japanese and I very much want to pursue American Sign Language, but have not been lucky enough to attend a college with a program just yet.
I think I have like every other person on this planet, I’ve become a product of my environment. From the family I grew up around for a time, to the many thousands of words and phrases I’ve encountered with friends, coworkers, and media. I can’t imagine that I will go from this point in my life and not add even more to my experiences. I would be quite sad if that were the case. It was fascinating to look back and try to piece together my linguistic origins. I think it is the kind of thing that really exposes your history to others and yourself in such a unique and interesting way. I hope I can utilize this information in my future work with linguistics as I move out into the world.
I’ve shared this brief language autobiography first to give some insights about my own experiences with language in the world.