Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Power of Language

We recently returned home to visit family. It was nice setting foot on U.S. soil again and understanding the words all around me without effort.

I’ve studied four languages so far. Only one besides English have I felt truly comfortable conversing in although I feel I'm getting close with my new one. I’ve found at some point in my language acquisition I have to stop mentally translating things into English and just take the new language as a separate, almost living, part of me. Some words just don’t translate. 

There’s a feeling to language that goes beyond the series of letters or lines. Words, even sounds, create emotion separate from the firing of the synapse that translates the symbols into recognizable meanings. 

During our visit, I had a wondrous opportunity to attend church near my in-laws home and watch sign language translators at work. Religious text and songs are already infused with passion. It’s cosmic watching it played out on the faces and hands of skilled translators as they add yet another layer of language to the mix. 

I fell in love with watching sign language during my folklore class in college. I had a classmate who came to each class with her ASL translator. His hands flew as he wove the words being said into words being seen. I remember his face more clearly than my professor's. 

In my in-laws' congregation, one gentleman walked in with his hands firmly placed on the shoulders of the person gliding slowly in front of him. It didn’t take long to realize that his vision was impaired in some fashion. I was confused, however, when he sat in the ASL section until my father-in-law explained that he was deaf and blind. 

I watched in awe again as the translator placed her hands under his and signed the words into the palms of his hands. He literally felt the “words” being spoken. The emotion cycling through his face, as the translator signed familiar hymns, showed me that his connection to the "words" went beyond mere flicks of the fingers. 

I've read books that have change me so fundamentally I'd be foolish to deny the power of those squiggles on the page. That's what I want. I want to write in a way that moves the reader beyond the words, that releases the magic off the page and into the readers' hearts. 

Wishing you all a great week.