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Literary Mama Rewind: Language

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Welcome to Literary Mama Rewind!  Every few weeks we'll round up some of our favorite essays, stories, poems, columns, and reviews from the Literary Mama Archives relating to a particular theme.  This week we're studying our use of Language. All you have to do is click and read....

Ezra has pica, which is a childhood disorder characterized by compulsive and persistent cravings for nonfood items, such as mud, paper, and dirt. The word "pica" comes from the Latin word for magpie, a bird known for its indiscriminate appetite.

When Francis Bacon first postulated that truth is learned through experience, he must have had the toddler in mind.

My mother bought The World Book when I was in the third grade, a beige, fake leather-bound set with yearly updates. I would sit and look up one of my current heroines, such as Madame Curie or Helen Keller, read the entry; then, seduced by words on the opposite page, curl into the barrel chair next to the dictionary stand, and read the rest of the encyclopedia.

One evening in early October, as Ellie was reading to me from Everyone Poops, Jeff called me to the telephone in our bedroom. And, even though it was only my mother, I flew down the hallway, happy to be relieved of this particular bedtime duty. In one breath, my mother told me that she had cancer, and that she was scheduled for a double mastectomy the following week.

"Budo-san, did you catch any fish the other day?" she'd asked. But the other women had nearly spat out their tea and erupted in laughter.

"Mrs. Grape?" one had said in English, stifling giggles with a cupped hand.

Budo-san had smiled sweetly at Chloe. "My name is Kudo. Budo means grape. My name means carpenter . . . and . . . how do you say . . . wisteria?"

When we went to my birthday party at an Ethiopian restaurant, he told me Amharic (the main language of Ethiopia) is closely related to Hebrew, being one of the very few Semitic languages left (along with Arabic, of course), and always encouraged my studies and travel.

But we are surrounded by evidence that young children get everything by any name. When asked by a Thai nanny to tell me korp khun kap, a Thai/American boy says "thank you." On a visit to a New Zealander's bathroom, our daughter quickly equated o-shikko with wee wees.

If only adult learning were so fluid.

Some language experts believe that your dominant language and culture is the one you love in. Like so many other theories or rules when it comes to this sort of thing, it only almost works.


Amanda Jaros is a freelance writer and blogger, focusing on nature and science stories. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and magazines including Terrain.org, Newfound, Life in the Finger Lakes Magazine, Highlights for Children, and Cargo Literary. She holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Chatham University.


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