The Hidden Village of Aspergers

April 2, 2014

The English Language Let Me Down

All my words done failed me
Every line derails me
This is the day that the English language let me down

Words. Language. Etymology, definitions, wordplay, translation, stories and poems, word puzzles, word games. English, French, German, Spanish, Hebrew. Language is both my friend and my enemy. In I Am Unlike A Lifeform You’ve Ever Met, I talked about books and the imagination. This post covers speech and language.

Somewhere, there is a tape of me reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, aged about two. My first word was ‘duck’. I’m not sure when I learned to talk, though I wasn’t a late developer or non-verbal. I do remember, however, that I spoke in a monotone, and that efforts were made to correct this and have me intone words like ‘normal’ people. Mum also told me my speaking voice was too high-pitched and that I should try and make it a bit deeper, and that I was too loud. “Turn the volume down,” was a comment often directed at me. Years later, in synagogue, the rabbi took me aside and asked me not to sing so loudly at Friday night services as I was drowning other people out. This upset me a lot; I was just enjoying the service and had no idea that what I was doing was wrong, and as it was not an Orthodox synagogue, the principle of kol isha did not apply. Was it because of my Aspergers? How the fuck should I know? Maybe it was. I have no idea how I sound to other people. When I hear my own voice played back to me, it sounds horrible, like a cross between Morrissey and Henry’s Cat. I hate my singing voice as well, possibly because Jack always used to tell me to shut up whenever I sang along to music in my bedroom. I have a bit of a complex about it. How it could turn any nice Jewish boy on, I do not know.

Anyway. Tangents aside, I apparently went to see a speech therapist at some point when I was younger. In terms of writing, I was doing OK – I got team points for stories and essays I’d written at school (I even wrote the script for our class’s production of the story of Pandora’s box), I was in the top group for spelling, and when we had to write sentences using words on coloured cards. It was also at primary school that I discovered an aptitude for languages. OK, I’m not a polyglot and I’m not fluent in any language besides English, though I can speak German pretty well, but I got interested in languages after going to French Club in Year 3, having French lessons off a friend of Mum’s in Year 5, and doing French lessons in Year 6. Even when I was little, the way people said things in other languages fascinated me. When we went on holiday to the Algarve, I pored over the Portuguese phrase book we had. I was fascinated by an old English/French picture dictionary and the conjugations of irregular verbs. How could ‘avoir’ become ‘aurons’ and ‘aurez’, and what the hell was the deal with ‘être’? When Dad went on a work trip to Germany, he brought back comics in German. I didn’t have a bloody clue what any of the words meant, though they did come in handy when I started doing German in Year 9. I found the German language even cooler than French, with its complicated word order and Modalverben and ever-changing masculine definite article. I also liked the way it sounded, and was made up when a friend gave me a Rammstein tape. (Till Lindemann’s voice helped. That guy could sing the contents of the Dusseldorf phonebook and make it sound sexy.)

When I got into Sixth Form, I decided I wanted to read languages at university, since languages were my thing; I was doing A-Level French, German and English Language (and my transcripts of Space interviews came in handy when we were studying accent and dialect!) I wanted to read Chinese or Spanish alongside German. Cambridge turned me down, and I got offers from Durham and Leeds, but went with Manchester, which didn’t do Chinese at the time but did offer Spanish. I took night classes in my gap year to give me a bit of a grounding in Spanish. I find it harder than German, I have to admit. Maybe it’s because German is closer to English. When we were studying the evolution of the English language, I noticed a lot of similarities between Old English and German. The fact it was phonetic, for instance.

On the subject of accents, Rudy Simone writes in Aspergirls that she has a tendency to pick up accents; she recalls being mistaken for an immigrant after speaking in a ‘Hispanic’ accent that she’d picked up from a colleague. The same thing happens to me. The one time I did consciously put on an accent was in high school, because I was being bullied for talking ‘posh’, but after moving to Manchester, something bizarre happened where I was out with mates and I started talking in a sort of weird half-Manc half-Yorkshire accent. Everyone thought I was putting it on, but it was real. I’ve toned it down a bit, but it changes depending on who I’m with and where I am. Expose me to Everton matches or members of Space, and my accent gets a Scouse tinge. In London, it goes a bit cockney. I’m not putting it on to make fun of people; it just happens. It’s a kind of osmosis. G-d help me if this ever happens in Scotland. Perhaps it’s some kind of instinct to imitate sounds, like a baby learning to talk.

As I’ve said before, I find writing easier than talking. Writing helps me organise my thoughts better, and I can rewrite what I’ve written, whereas when I say things, that’s it, the cat is out of the bag. Sometimes I can’t find the right words to express myself when I speak, or I say stupid or horrible things without thinking. At least, sitting at a keyboard, I have a bit more control over what comes out.

October 19, 2010

A cross between Alan Partridge and Eeyore

Filed under: fuckwittage,language,stuff what i have read — kankurette @ 7:52 pm
Tags: , ,

When I went to the Latitude festival with the family earlier this year, I met up with my brother and his girlfriend after Belle & Sebastian’s set, and amongst other things, he told me to go and check out a young female poet-cum-rapper he’d seen performing around London. Her name was Kate Tempest, and she was performing in the Poetry Tent. She also, it turned out, is from Brockley, the same area I lived in when I was a baby.

Kate Tempest looked pretty innucuous; she had long, curly blonde hair and was wearing jeans and a sweater, and looked more like a first-year student than a rapping poet, but then she opened her mouth, and I was hooked. She spoke of south London, of teenagers growing up on dismal grey estates where she and her friends would ‘paint rainbows’, of troubled youth, of self-destruction and getting drunk and having a fag and saying and doing regrettable things and then writing poems about said regrettable things on wine-stained paper. Watching her in action was incredible; it wasn’t a poetry reading so much as a tornado of language and sound, and I wished fervently that I could articulate myself so well when I opened my own mouth. I can write poetry, sure, but I totally fail at reading it.

One of the reasons why I blog, and why I am writing this, is because I find it immensely hard to articulate myself when I speak. Some people tell me I’m articulate, but I open my mouth and I hear this sound that’s half Alan Partridge’s daughter and half Eeyore, and I stumble over words and sound like some mouthbreathing Baldrick. I hate speaking to people I don’t know and speaking in front of big groups of people, and although I dream of doing a talk for the NAS, or being an advocate like Chris Mitchell, I worry that I’ll start speaking and utter bollocks will come out, but give me a pen or a computer and I’m fine.

So you can imagine how pissed off I was to hear that – and yes, I know this article is a couple of weeks old – Andrew Marr thinks most bloggers are, and I quote, ‘socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting’. Aside from the fact that Marr actually seemed like a decent guy and one who would surely be above such juvenile crap, I actually disagree with his statement. For one thing, it smacks of the whole ‘hurr hurr there are no girls on the internet’ argument so beloved of trolls. The feminist blogosphere say hi, Andy, as do I. Yes, I am blogging and I am a GURL.  (Also, my mum doesn’t have a basement, and I moved out of her house four years ago, so nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah. Ahem.)

Yes, the internet does attract people with rather…unique views on life. Yes, there are a lot of angry bloggers out there who spew nothing but hate and paranoia. Yes, there are bloggers who are sexist, racist, misogynist, homophobic, eliminationist, and just plain disturbing. But please don’t lump all of us in with them. For those of us who find it hard to speak, blogs help us. They are a way out, particularly when they can be used to help others – for instance, the Mutual Madness blog, where people will post their worries and queries, and Mental Nurse regulars will do their best to answer them. Mental Nurse itself has done its bit to (to paraphrase Zarathustra, the evil enabler / mod) expose all kinds of liars in the medical profession, and also gaps in psychotherapy egulation that jeopardise mental patients’ welfare. Net result: Mental Nurse has been in the papers. People are sitting up and taking notice. It all smacks of the kind of work my dad did in the early days of nuclear power in the UK, and long may they continue.

Blogs are also a great way to learn about other issues, through the eyes of the people they affect, and not all bloggers of this ilk are the kind who insist Barack Obama is some kind of magical space Muslim Communist Jew ninja pirate. I have an American online friend, for instance, who often blogs about reproductive rights, healthcare, fundamentalist Christianity and general politics in the US, and her blog makes for very educational reading at times. Certainly, she links to news, but also to sites such as Sadly, No! and PZ Myers, whose comments are as worthwhile as the articles themselves. As well as the above mentioned friend, I also read the blogs of queer people who blog about their experiences of homophobia, institutionalised or otherwise; of transfolk and genderqueers who discuss transphobia and gender identity; of people struggling with mental illnesses and physical conditions; and so on. Through the internet, I’ve found a good few people who share the same interests and values as me, and corny though it is, it’s reassuring to know I’m not alone. One of them became one of my best friends. (Hi, Chloe, if you’re reading this.) For those of us who struggle with talking to people in real life, the internet is a valuable tool.

I also find it a great form of release. Some say venting is counterproductive, but not always; I feel better when I’ve picked up the phone and ranted to my mum or a friend, but sometimes I don’t want to dump my problems on other people and force them to listen to my incessant whining. So I write them down. If it’s on a public-ish space, I may get comments, and that’s nice if I do, but the main reason is just to get it out of me. It’s certainly more healthy than picking up a razor blade and slashing my arm. It doesn’t always deter me from doing that, but sometimes it does.

In conclusion: please don’t judge all bloggers by a few idiots. Many bloggers are good people doing good work and talking about things that need to be discussed, and which the media doesn’t always touch – and many of us see our blogs as a lifeline. We can’t say it with sound, but we can say it with writing.

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