Friday, April 2, 2010

Spoken waymarks and xenoglossia

When lost, might it be possible to use language as a hint? Although in reality, the mobility of people means that languages don't necessarily reflect the current geographic position.
While dreaming, I frequently find myself speaking Finnish, searching for words and struggling with grammar. That can happen anywhere, but it usually does mean I'm not at the place I call home, a small village on the west coast of Finland where the Finnish language is almost absent.

The other night, I wandered into a myrtillus-type spruce forest, where the rotten snow of March covered the forest floor. Moving in a semi-circle, I reached the edge of a village, hills and fields reflecting the sunlight from bright green grass and crops. It was spring. Two farms could be seen. I tried to reach the gravel road behind one of them, but was unable to do so without crossing the yard, and thus was obliged to enter the house.
Convinced I was somewhere in northeastern Finland, I started the conversation in Finnish. The family members answered in Swedish, however, and I realized this was no further away than the village next to mine.
[The rest is a bit off topic, but I enjoyed the moment.] The father of the pale, dark-haired, adolescent sister and brother was born some distance up north and, accordingly, was a very religious man. He showed me an army jacket worn thin and littered with textile patches (surprisingly crustpunkish). One of them depicted a lion or a griffin in black on red, and read "Kurdistan". Apparently he'd spent an important time of his youth there, and now wanted to commission a new patch from me to replace the old, fading one.

A failed attempt: a dream where I'm in a tourist bus, looking out at a putative Andalusian landscape. There is nothing to confirm my belief, however. No road signs. Everyone in the bus speaks Nordic languages. At the front, Stephen Fry is talking into the microphone, but at awakening, I don't know whether in English, Spanish, Swedish or Finnish, only that he spoke at length, and (not very surprisingly) was very eloquent.

Also, analogous to perceptions of place (and cases where you're certain you are in a specific place although there's nothing in particular to prove it – even contradictory evidence), you may experience communication in a language you don't know. Any experiences of being able to speak or understand a completely alien language?