Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blogging the love of language

The following is from PRI's The World in Words program. The featured blog,37 Languages is still going strong. The about page also includes a video of Keith explaining his raison d'être.

"The World's" Patrick Cox talks to Keith Brooks -- he's 24, he works in web design, lives in Louisville, Kentucky, and he's looking for the perfect foreign language to commit to.

As a kid, Brooks was an unusually quick learner -- he was also just plain unusual. At the age of nine he would devour language text books from the library: "Like for example if I got a Russian book, I would just go through cyrillic and memorize the alphabet, and then hey I'd be done ... and then I'd go to Arabic, and then French ... it was a really interesting childhood I had."

Spanish was Brook's first love, but he's just not that into it now: "I really loved speaking it, it was probably the first thing I really devoted my time studying; but I just feel like there's not a draw there anymore."

At college Brooks studied linguistics, but try as he might -- with French, German, Russian, what have you -- he couldn't settle on a language.

Now though, he has a new plan: He's trying out a new language every week -- studying its history, its culture, its writing system, its grammar, and of course the richness of its vocabulary. Then he writes it up in his blog called 37 languages. Since December, he's done this with 13 languages. And this is just part one of his process -- the "speed-dating" part. After he "speed-dates" 37 languages, he'll drop all but ten of them.

The ten will get a real "date" with Brooks: "Those ten languages, they'll get a call-back, and I will do a more extensive review of those languages. I'll use the writing system, I'll speak in the tongue of those languages -- and that will probably be at least a week per language."

Brooks illustrates his blog with embedded videos -- of songs sung in each of the languages he's checking out.

He hopes to spend quality time with all ten of his finalists this Spring, then will come what he calls the hardest part -- leaving nine of those languages behind and committing to a single tongue: "I am ... worried that I may make the wrong choice and pick the wrong language, but if it happens then I'll just go to another language that I probably like just as much as the one that I selected."

There are after all, plenty of fish in the linguistic sea. An early favorite for Brooks is Norwegian: "I love the way it sounds, I love the vocabulary, I love little features like the retroflex that's kind of trilled."
The languages he has looked at:

1. Romanian
2. Macedonian
3. Spanish*
4. Vietnamese
5. Norwegian
6. Bulgarian
7. Slovenian
8. Malagasy
9. Japanese*
10. Moldavian
11. Hindi
12. Finnish

13. Azeri
14. Arabic
15. Czech
16. Albanian
17. Cambodian
18. Serbian
19. Chinese
20. Xhosa
21. Portuguese
22. Armenian
23. Korean
24. Croatian

25. Afrikaans
26. Greek
27. Swedish
28. French*
29. Thai
30. Turkish
31. Dutch
32. Hebrew
33. Danish
34. Filipino
35. Polish
36. Lao
37. Catalan

Anonymous. 2009. "Blogging the love of language". PRI's The World. Posted: February 11, 2009. Available online: http://www.pri.org/science/technology/loving-language.html

Brooks, Keith. 2009. "37 Languages" Keith Brooks at Wordpress. Available online: http://37languages.wordpress.com

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