Functional Form

Avoiding side-effects since 2004.

Monday, October 11, 2004


She looked at me. "Dude. I don't want your Kleingeld," as she shook her hand in my direction. Most anyone would have no idea as to the meaning of her sentence. But I didn't even think extra about it. I learned to use it with her.

As foreigners conversant in German, Emma and I naturally receive a sort of collective vocabulary that hovers in the intersection of our experience. All our time together is spent spinning linkages in our associative memories. When we're groping through our pockets for that last ten cents, we ask one another for Kleingeld. Here in Berlin at least, it's wired more firmly into my consciousness than the English equivalent.

So I have to think of our experience as just a small part of an invisible process. Between neighboring countries with sufficiently porous borders cascades innumerable such reactions, and over time, two languages become one as vocabularies merge and words are purged. This idea isn't anything new, I know. It was however entirely different to realize that I was taking active part in it. I feel the language part of my brain in a whole new way, as if my cognitive muscles are flexing new winnings of this battle to understand the foreign world around it.

I love it. I feel it changing both expression and perception, widening the reach of my mind around sentences. The cursor is considering more words behind it and steering to utilize more words that lay ahead. I am also enjoying writing more deliberatively–pondering structural issues just a second longer and spending a bit more time to clarify my idea before pressing the keys. It's more like writing in a programming language, and perhaps also like writing when I was still focusing on improving my English.

But at least with language, I am from now on my own taskmaster. And beyond having someone pushing me to revise, I haven't found effective sources of improvement from inside the language. But with German, there's a new set of rules. I can keep pushing my system. My brain gains new discipline as it mints thoughts into this new medium, and I am finding it possible to carry that improvement back to my native language as well. But its way beyond sheer style and choices and technique. Its the kind of learning that reaches back into the subconscious and asks the brain to do something fundamentally new, a complete paradigm shift. I'm exercizing in a way my brain never really knew it could. Cool.


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