My father is an linguist whose kidneys have failed. That doesn’t sum him up, but it gives the context.
I sat with him on Wednesday during the four-hour process in which he is tethered to a machine which cleans his blood. He was sleeping when I arrived at the dialysis center. On the table at his side was a book titled _Pashtoh_. Knowing Dad, I figured this was a new language he was studying.
Indeed. When I gently touched his leg to awaken him, I asked about Pashtoh. “Oh,” he said, “it’s the language of the Taliban.” So, in the last years of his life, my father is learning how to communicate with potential terrorists.
Typical. Not the terrorism, but the pursuit of communication. I’ve been with Dad on several ventures wherein he taught missionaries to speak Indian dialects, which then opened doors to homes far away from the city centers. When he presided over the Baltic States mission, he asked his missionaries to learn the languages of the specific countries they were in–Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania–not just the Russian they had been taught at the MTC. Sadly, many in the Baltics had strong feelings against Russians and refused to speak the Russian language after the Soviet Union was dissolved. It was important that the missionaries approach them in the language they most honored.
The implications of learning “home languages” (my own phrase) goes beyond rare and often dying dialects and into all sorts of communication. For years, I have used music in my creative writing classes to talk about voice and tone. But the music I use pretty much ends with Clapton. I am planning on updating it for next semester to include Jimmy Eat World (totally new to me), Sufjan Stevens (very cool) and maybe Bright Eyes. One of my missionaries graciously introduced me to these artists. I was playing “Hear You Me” at home on my laptop when my son started singing along. For the next half hour, he introduced me to more music he loved, and we talked about it. It was rather like learning a new language for me, and proved to be a wonderfully bonding experience.
As parents, neighbors, siblings etc., the challenge to communicate goes far beyond using common vocabulary (especially Mormonspeak) to learning languages these others in our lives respond to most completely, whether it’s conveyed in music, poetry, or in particular vocabulary. I love the fact that my father spends much of his dialysis time learning how to talk with members of the Taliban. That is exactly how I would’ve imagined he’d spend his last days.
Now, if this post is to be a conversation rather than a monologue, you’ll need to think of “new” languages you’ve learned in order to better communicate with others. I realize, for example, that I will need to learn the ominous language of TEXTING, because I need to text my Sunday School students. I am hoping we can revise the CES films of the eighties to decrease hair height and width and cheesiness factor and speak more effectively to our youth. I continue to explore new music. I still don’t know how to talk football. I understand the Lakers did something significant, but I don’t know what it was. I can talk Obama. Oh, so many languages to learn!