Thursday, July 12, 2007

Language Expressivity

I love making up new words, words that certainly don't exist in any dictionary, but that anyone with a good grasp on the English language will understand due to the their construction. Case in point: "expressivity" in the title above. I'm almost certain (didn't actually bother to check in a dictionary) that this word does not officially exist, but you know what I mean, don't you? It's like a more expressive way to say "expressiveness".

I have expressivity in English because my language is strong enough. Currently, though I speak both French and Arabic, I DEFINITELY lack expressivity in either of these beautiful languages. BUT, and this is a big BUT that I'm quite excited about, I'm working to change this. For French, I've taken to listening to French radio basically all the time (in the car, as white noise at work (I work so much better with background noise)) and it does seem to be helping. My French teacher actually told me to "entendre sans ├ęcoute" (hear without listening) and just let it seep in. So this is what I'm trying to do. I don't concentrate, I just leave it go in the back ground, and once in a while, my ears perk up at a specific "je ne sais quoi" I find interesting and I pay attention for 23 seconds to the story. It's actually quite easy. Anyone who wants to try this and is a CBC junkie like I am, I recommend 90.7 FM in Ottawa, which is the French equivalent of CBC Radio One (91.5) and really quite a fun station...


For Arabic, my plan is much more elaborate. It's to talk talk talk all summer, and eventually the expressivity will come! You see, my Arabic is actually much much better than my French, but also significantly weaker than my English. I can say almost anything in Arabic, but I lack the 'thesaurus' element of extra vocabulary when discussing "deeper" topics (aka emotions, belief, philosophy". I have Zero problem discussing a recipe in great detail (chop, dice, simmer, boil, stir-fry, pan, pot, ladle, grater, etc... all of these I can say in Arabic) but the different words for "confounded" and "confused"? or "ecstatic" and "delirious with happiness"? or "thoughtful" and "pensive"? I don't know these. Every time I've needed to really "express" myself, I've switched to English, even if I've started off in Arabic.

Fortunately, I have something that will MAKE me improve my "expressivity" this summer, and that is the fact that I have 4 adult relatives around this summer with limited or no English visiting from Egypt, and I really do want to have these great, deep conversations with them. I know it won't be that easy at first, but language is something you only master if you use, and I'm okay with using it and making a slight fool of myself at the expense of coming out on the other side of this with expressivity... Those of you who live in Ottawa and speak Arabic, remind me of this when they leave in the fall and I laze back to almost exclusive English, please...

1 comment:

- K said...

Expressivity is a great word. I also quite like your plans for expanding your vocabulary. I'll have to keep this in mind for myself.