Constructing Your Identity
Aeropuetro. My love of language began with this single word. After my first day of high-school Spanish, I lay on my bed with my book propped on my chest and carefully repeated it over and over. My tongue stumbled maddeningly over the word’s flapped “r” sounds and strings of unruly vowels, but I was determined to pronounce it correctly. For most other students at my small high school in rural eastern Tennessee, the foreign-language requirement was a hurdle standing between them and their diplomas. While the places beyond our region interested few people I knew, other cultures fascinated me from a very young age. One of my favorite childhood pastimes was spinning my globe and imagining what life was like in the unpronounceable cities my finger landed on, and my first Spanish class represented an opportunity to discover more about the people in those exotic faraway places. On that afternoon seven years ago, I spent over an hour on my bed repeating the word aeropuetro until I was satisfied that I had it right. Since that day, I have had an insatiable passion for language.
I am one of the peculiar people who consider mastering the Cyrillic alphabet or researching Romance-language pronoun evolution a good time. Languages amaze me in their staggering complexity yet striking simplicity—while they are dauntingly complex systems of rules and exceptions to me, any small child can master them without training. Studying other tongues has given me a fuller understanding of the way languages, including my own, function.
As any student of foreign languages can attest, the pursuit of fluency is a never-ending challenge. My many blunders (calling myself a “pig” instead of a left-hander”) and embarrassing moments (enduring correction from a five-year old) have caused me to consider giving up many times. However, the personal relationships I have developed with people from other countries as a result of our shared language have made the effort worthwhile. I will never forget the delight of my Bangladeshi roommate’s mother when I greeted her in Bengali or the astonishment of a Moroccan man when I conversed with him in both French and Arabic. Participating in a massive anti-terrorism demonstration in the rain soaked streets of Madrid two days after the train bombings there made me very thankful I had studied Spanish. My exposure to people from the places I used to dream about has given me a broader perspective on the world. Teaching English to local Hispanics allowed me to see the other side of our country’s immigration debate through the eyes of the poor Mexican migrant workers who became my friends. By studying Arabic and rooming with a Muslim, I have developed a respect for the Islamic faith and more acceptance for differing religious views than my background as a Southern Baptist pastor’s son afforded me.
My interest in other languages eventually evolved into a desire to explore deeper questions concerning the way language works and the role it plays in human life. Through my self-designed major in linguistics, I have viewed language as a way of examining both humanity and the world through disciplines as disparate as philosophy, anthropology, and computer science. Language is the vehicle for transmission of our culture, the medium of expression for our thoughts and ideas, and the basis for human society. The intellectual rigor and logical nature of language’s scientific study interest me, but in the end I find examining language from the outside unfulfilling.
Experience of speaking other languages has taught me to value the shared, profoundly human, action of communicating with others to understand their views and formulate my own. At the same time, my study of linguistics has allowed me to appreciate language as an object of extreme complexity that demands thorough analysis. Because of my interest in these two very different aspects of language, I now feel compelled to seek a career in the field of law. At its core, the study of the law is the study of language and the way it can be used to establish and modify the framework for human interaction. While both linguistics and the law engage in the common activity of examining language’s complexities, the law does so with the express purpose of using language as a tool to change society. By studying the law, I look forward to continuing to challenge my beliefs through interaction with others and to studying more profoundly the phenomenon that has fascinated me from the day I learned aeropuerto.