23 August 2011

language, theory, and the uncertainty that plagues me

Tonight I was staring at registration for fall courses and when I finally registered for one, I dropped it three minutes later.

I'm required to take the thesis continuation. I know that; it's not a problem. Ideally, I want to finish writing the dratted thing this semester (yes, I love my topic, but I've been thinking about it and making notes for a year, and now I only have a lousy six pages drafted...62-ish to go, because I'm such a procrastinator--I'd wanted to have something like 40 pages written over the summer, which was totally doable, and didn't happen). But I feel sick at the thought of taking another course from the applied stream to fill up my degree requirements. I signed up for the one course that I can take, and then dropped it. What is it with me and classes not from my stream?

Last year, I took a course that I'd never intended to take, simply because it was available and happened to be one of the few classes I could take, and while I did learn some useful things, I intensely disliked most of the course.

Maybe it's just that which is colouring my view, or it could be my preference for analytical linguistics, rather than applied linguistics.

It makes me want to laugh at my eighteen-year-old self, who, when embarking upon her BA, saw non-applied linguistics as "useless" and theory as "boring." She never realized that she'd be specializing in analytical linguistics, and would develop a love for theory. She never thought that the applied branches would turn out to not be as interesting to her as she'd believed they would be (and the one branch that she's beginning to investigate isn't really something she'd thought much about back then, and she still isn't entirely sure about it).

I still feel that theory needs to be sensitive to the realities of language--if it can't be used in understanding real language use, I think that makes it problematic--but it's far from useless. And it's beautiful. An elegant theory is unique in the kind of beauty it creates. Sure, some of them make my head hurt, but what I love is how each one seems to point out interesting aspects of language.

Last spring I started to realize just how interesting semantics can be. It used to be one of the branches of language that made me want to pull my hair out. Some semantic theories still make me want to do that, because they so obviously don't get it, but it's far more intriguing than I'd originally thought.

I want to do a directed study in semantics this fall, but I have no idea if I'll get to. Part of me is beginning to feel desperate about it, because otherwise I'll end up stuck in a course where the focus is more on the Bible translation thing, and less on the linguistics. Not that I think Bible translation is bad (as a Christian, I definitely can't say that). That was my original goal when I ended up at this school. A lot's changed, though.

I'm certain God drew me to linguistics for a reason, but my heart seems to be more with teaching it than with translating the Bible. Let's face it, everything I'm half-way decent at seems to be more in theory and analysis than anything else. I really enjoy getting up and talking about language, or just playing around with language and theory. Greek class? It was okay, but I was always forgetting to do my translation before class, translating on the spur of the moment, and then getting told that my translations were too free (which I still argue is a legitimate translation style).

Add to that God telling me to let go of the mission thing for now and giving me an okay to pursue writing more than I have in the last few years, and I'm sitting here looking at a very different path than the one I envisioned even just four years ago. It's a path I'm okay with, even if it's a little scary.

A part of me has been thinking lately that, once upon a time, it might have been easier to throw myself into the mission and make that the focus, than it would be to really evaluate the whispers I've been hearing for years, the ones that suggest that traditional missions work isn't for us, and that maybe we're supposed to be elsewhere than living overseas somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Those whispers say that my longings and my doubts are there for a reason. That I started writing over ten years ago for a reason. That J. and I are part of our church community for a reason, part of our group of friends for a reason.

So that's where I am now. Evaluating the whispers. I have a few answers. Not many, but I don't need many right now.

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