Ok, I’m a wierdo. I love grammar. Not so much that I’ve kept learning English grammar since finishing school. Somehow, though, it came easy to me and stuck in my memory. When my husband started trying to teach me Latvian, I realized how much my brain relies on grammar. It’s a little OCD. If there’s no structure, I can’t learn it. He spoke Latvian from infancy, so as a native speaker, he just instinctively knew when it sounded right and when it didn’t. But he did NOT know the grammar terms for it. He couldn’t explain WHY it was right or wrong.
Here’s my classic example. I was reading aloud from an article in Watchtower magazine in Latvian. (Which by the way is a great resource if you’re learning another language because it’s the most widely translated magazine in the world.) My husband was correcting my pronunciation. The pronoun She was capitalized, so I knew it was referring to God, but it had a feminine ending. I was like, “whaaaat?! whyyyyy?!” And all he could say was, “I know it’s right”.
Thankfully, my official Latvian teacher was a wonderful grammarian. Her first language was different from her husband’s, and together they had lived in Latvia and learned Latvian. She needed grammar too. In the end I learned that the masculine possessive has the ending -a, which is usually a feminine ending. The text I was reading was talking about “His love”. It was not calling God a female. Now it made perfect sense!
1) So here’s my first strange side effect of learning another language: I’ve gotten worse at my English grammar! Now, the logic or spelling of Latvian sometimes creeps into my English writing or speech. The only problem is, it may or may not be logical in English too!
2) I became less polite.
All my life it has been super important to me not to offend or make waves. But when your vocabulary is limited to the very basics, you don’t have the words to be polite. You may not know how to say, “Please pass that delicious native dish you so hospitably cooked for us newcomers.” So you say, “Give me that,” while pointing.
Honestly, this has been a good change for me. I lived there almost 8 years, so I eventually learned how to be polite. I also learned that there’s a place and time for being straightforward and blunt. It doesn’t necessarily offend, but it may just help a situation. If I hadn’t been unable to couch my words in politeness, I may never have been brave enough to try the blunt approach.
3) I no longer enjoy baby talk as much in English.
If you know another language, you may realize the English language has something missing. I mean seriously! English has lost it’s edge a long time ago when it comes to diminutives. And how can you properly speak “baby” without diminutives! When it comes to making your speech seem more lovable and sweet, a diminutive form of the noun comes in really handy!
In the two languages I’m most familiar with besides English, they use diminutives a lot. In Spanish, it’s the ending -ito in masculine and -ita feminine. You simply tack that onto the end of a noun or even a person’s name, and presto, it sounds extra sweet and cute and lovable. In Latvian there’s more than one diminutive ending. There’s -iņš or -ītis or -ulis masculine and -iņa or -īta or -ule feminine. Then you also have the more colloquial -ucis and -uks. The possibilities to create adorable nicknames are almost endless! You can even combine endings in Latvian. For example lāčuks (little bear) can become lāčukiņš. Which would be literally ‘little little bear’.
I looked up diminutives in English when preparing this post, and they are, or were there. They usually only show up in words that are properly in their own right diminutive, like names for baby animals. The one that seems to have been truly English and not borrowed from another language is -ing or -ling, as in duckling. Then there’s -ie or -y as in doggie or daddy. But that one is borrowed from Scottish. Then there’s -et or -let borrowed from French as in ringlet. Probably the one most used currently is -o as in kiddo.
These are not used as much as in other languages. People don’t usually just tack them on to the end of a baby’s name or a word in general. So baby talk is much more fun in other languages!
One of the principle things I learned while learning another language is the way words carry emotion, and how words, emotions, and memory are intertwined. But that will be a subject for another post, so stay tuned!