language (part one of infinity)

i say part one of infinity because just the thought of trying to “summarize” my relationship with and experience of language in one post was beyond overwhelming. so i will just write the things that come to mind now, and when i run out of things i remember right now, i will stop. and later, i’ll pick up this train of thought again. and, to be clear, i really don’t consider language to be defined by speech/writing/signing whatsoever. i relate to words (spoken or written) as if they are one more sensory object in my environment. but it so happens that spoken, and especially written, language have been a huge part of my life for as long as i can remember. so that is mostly what i will talk about now. 

i’m going to try to not feel self-conscious about sharing my abilities (or my disabilities). so first, i lay out data. each bit tucked close around my chest, like number armor over a ribcage of paper.

weschler (wais iv)

  • verbal comprehension index: 149 (similarities–18, vocabulary–19, information–17)
  • processing speed index: 102 (symbol search–9, coding–12)

wj iii (academic skill assessments)

  • reading fluency: 139
  • writing fluency: 98
  • math fluency: 90

age when i said my first word: 11 months. age when i started speaking in full sentences: 15 months. age when i started reading: unknown. age when i started reading chapter books: unknown. age when i tried to read shakespeare for the first time: 8. age when i switched to only reading novels written for adults: 10. age when i first tried to read paradise lost: 12. age when i first tried to read foucault: 16. number of languages i’ve studied: four. number of times per day i’d ask to do a spelling test in elementary school: three or more. dictionaries my family owned: zero. number of years the honors english track at my high school rejected me: three. number of times i almost flunked a semester of high school english: two. number of years it’s taken me to develop legible handwriting: TBD. number of times i’ve been told my ideas were inferior because i lacked verbal fluency: i’ve lost count. average number of book/article pages i read per week now: 500-1000. number of times i need to have seen a word to remember it: once.

i’ve ran out of data (today) now. what’s next.

i live, and love, in the kinesthetic, periodic aspects of speech–instead of perfect pitch, i have perfect tempo, and the layers of physical and metric structure spread out like a fan in my lungs. i can still hyperlexic-read poetry and verse without any comprehension, keeping perfect rhythm and emphasis (at freakish speeds). i can rhyme anything, and run through tangents and chains of rhymed words like water. i pick up accents and speech patterns without thinking. i can distinguish between sub-dialects i’ve never heard before of languages i can’t understand.

at the same time, i can’t retain proper nouns to save my life. i forget my relative’s names. i’ve recently started to mix up the words “bagel” and “muffin,” so that i’ll look at a bagel, know it’s a bagel, and say out loud “i should really eat that muffin.” i have minimal verbal short-term memory–i can keep maybe a clause at a time active mentally, and couldn’t talk in a straight line if i tried. if given too broad a prompt, or asked too broad a question, i’m unable to generate an answer whatsoever. i’m bad at grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and am the least efficient/accurate touch-typer of all time. when writing a single sentence, i usually accidentally switch tense or subject at least twice, and have to go back to correct every sentence. when writing by hand, i’m a three-ring circus.

the most distinctive aspects of language processing, for me, are those that happen entirely inside my head. i process language non-verbally. as a child i did not understand what difference there was supposed to be between the definition and the connotation of a word. now i understand what the difference is supposed to be, i just think it’s total bull. a word is a world: a place with sound and heft and movement (all three of these senses, for me, are intimately linked) texture and shape. the sensory features of the word are it’s connotation-definition, and serve as qualitative facets of meaning that situate the word in relation to all the other words i know. the different meanings of words are just different perspectives on the same point–like the numbered faces on a die. flip, flip, flip, flip, roll, and we can move through them all in stop-motion.

i love the word “catch”: i catch a ball, you catch a glimpse, the catch on a box, there’s a catch, catch me if you can, i got caught in traffic, he’s caught up in it all, my skirt got caught on a old nail and ripped straight through, she’s a catch. [i can feel the moving of hands, the tension of contact, the resistance, the open mechanism of a lock, a snapshot holding touch]

and for now, this is all that i know. happy friday :).


I’m about seven years old, wearing a pink and white sweatshirt and standing off to the side of some sort of walking trail in a forest somewhere. I’m clutching what is obviously The Stick (TM) of the day–finding the perfect walking-stick-sword-staff was basically the never-ending quest of my childhood. Because duh. 


3 thoughts on “language (part one of infinity)

  1. “A word is a world” sums up my experience of language perfectly. Perfectly. Thank you.

    (I’m also pretty sure I have a photo of myself at age 7 in almost exactly the same circumstances, Ideal Stick and all.)

    • I legit remember sitting in my research advisor’s office, trying to talk him through an analysis I’d done, after we’d only been working together for a few weeks. And I was finally just like, “Okay, so what comes to mind for you first when you see that the poem’s title is about a rose?” And he instantly lists off all of these English canon examples of poems about a rose, or roses, or whatever. And I just gave him this utterly disdainful look, like “Ohmygod, it must be so boring in your head.” Because I see the word “rose” and go through all the sensory associations I have with roses. So it’s like the texture, petal structure, the smell, drops of water, brown dead petals, decaying flowers, rigid plant things, color, etc. I just remember thinking “Explaining myself is going to be a lot harder than I’d predicted…” He was a good sport though.

      People seriously don’t understand the significance of the Ideal Stick. Especially the Ideal Stick that was found as-is, versus one you had to trim and break off yourself. Not to mention the Ideal Rock, which was almost as important as the Ideal Stick.

  2. I often end up in an argument boiled down to a point “WORDS MEAN THINGS” and I think what you are saying about definitions and connotations is exactly what I’ve been frustratedly unable to verbalize. It’s an often-used trick to try and ignore half the connotations of a word you use, and then ignore another half, and then pretend your logic was pitch-perfect. And when you are asked to not use that word because of the trick you and other people do with it that disrupts actual communication you deny both what you did and 90% of what the word actually means.


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