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» Wednesday Linguistics: Memory


Wednesday Linguistics: Memory

2006-08-9 @ 11:06

Language and memory are like conjoined twins: they are so intertwined, the interaction between the two are so complex that they are hard to separate. There’s obviously no possibility of language, on an individual basis, without memory. On the other hand, some of our memories are processed through language; depending on the person, there are memories that lose details because they become tied in to words.

We could even argue that, in a way, our first memories are words. We remember, for instance, the word “mama” from where we were one. But it’s not a memory as such, but something that is ever and always reactivated.

With language to remember and learn from one generation to the next, we built civilization. We can learn from people long dead. Even without written language, oral tradition tells the story of our family, our tribe, our people.

On a more global scale, can be seen as the collective memory of a people. It traces its movements (the homeland of the Proto-Indo-European people can be more or less determined by the common words for specific species and geographical features), its political conquests (the influx of French words in English post-1066), its sociological make up (the fact that Quebec French accents mainly come from Paris, but the words come from Normandy, Poitous, Champagne, etc., tells us that the women were from the capital – we get our accent from our mom – and the men from the regions – the words of the field, or the trade, come from our dads), its geography, etc.

Just like our genes can help tell the story of our species, the words, the structures, the grammar of a language opens a window to the vicissitudes of its speakers. Although every speaker owns, in a way, his language(s), interiorise it, it is beyond his control, as if it had a (collective) mind of its own. The way it reacts to pressures (both internal and external) is, in part, predictable; and this knowledge helps us delve into the hidden clues of its memory.

One comment to “Wednesday Linguistics: Memory”

  1. Hi, Interesting idea to remember. It reminds me of a time about 10 years ago, four years after my father had died; the time frame within which your actual memory, the fresh memory, begins to fade and the person who you haven’t seen in a long time becomes a member of your long-term memory (well mine works that way, at least) … I’ve digressed. Sorry. I remember listening to my mum talking about my dad and I felt like I had to fill my head with sound to block out her words, because I had noticed that her memory of him and my memroy of him had begun to seperate from its origin (my father’s life) and begin its life as a story (words) rather than firm (objective) memory. Instead of him being the memory, he began to inform our memories and that’s where the ‘tale’ of his life began. I remember asking my mum if she could stop talking about him unless she could assume that my memory of his was different. For some reason I needed wordlessness in order to remember him clearly. This was very hard for her, but I really needed to preserve him in my mind, almost as an abstraction, or more specifically certainly NOT as my mother’s perception/memory. She eventually understood and the stories returned.

    Tonight I wondered, while putting my little girl to sleep, “Why hasn’t she forgotten to call me Mamma?”. She learned it so young. She has added to Mamma, but never subtracted it. Ie, She mostly calls me Mamma Da-lella, and she calls her father Daddy James. It almost seems that the word ‘mamma’ is the sound of a feeling rather than a word that names a relationship.

    hmm. thanks for the food for thought.


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