Tuesday, November 29, 2016

I Have to Know

One of the great advantages of life in Qu├ębec is that English is a minority language.

It is never the language you expect to hear automatically in stores or in hospitals, on buses or at protests, at voting centres or at police stations. Few of your neighbours can speak it well; many can hardly understand it.

As a result, in the places where you live and work and play, English can seem foreign.

For me, the beauty of this arrangement is that I, too, began to think of English as something that I hardly understood, and something I could barely use with competence. I began to see with clear eyes all the limitations, all the clumsiness, all the imprecision of my writing, and I realized that I would have to sit down and study the language I had once taken for granted.

I realized, too, that English is more than just a way to speak and read; English is a heritage. English is a gift that you can cherish or neglect, respect or abuse. If I neglect basic usage and grammar, if I speak without clarity, none of my neighbours will point this out, because none of my neighbours will know.

For that reason, I have to know. I have to learn. And I have to value what was given to me, because what I was given is not valued here.

-- Notes to myself, November 29, 2013.