Yesterday’s post about favorite words got me thinking. How is it that people spontaneously develop ways of communication? I don’t mean to go linguistics professor on you, but I often find amusement in the way language can simultaneously unite us and divide us.

I’ve been a world-traveler recently. While abroad I had the opportunity to test my ability to speak French. It was awesome. I found that despite my fears, I was able to communicate with native French speakers and successfully navigate through the country. Even though French is not my first language, I was able to speak it well enough to earn the respect of the native speakers.

I realized this when I forgot how to say a word during a conversation and the person I was talking to, a waitress, told me the word in French and then smiled when I apologized and thanked her. Her reaction was a stark contrast to how she treated the others with me, none of whom spoke French.

Maybe she was just rude, or maybe the commonly held idea about the French and how they view their language is true, I don’t know. However, there was a definite difference in treatment between French speakers and non-French speakers that day. Moreover, I felt a sudden sense of connection because I could speak the language. Fair or unfair, I was viewed as a native speaker by other native speakers.

While the ability to speak a second language is a boon to anyone, especially a writer, it is my comfort with my native tongue that truly delights me. My favorite part of traveling is hearing regional dialect. It fascinates me to hear the different colloquialisms in the different parts of the US.

For example, here on the east coast, specifically in Boston, you hear the word “wicked” used to describe a person, place or thing that is above its normal level. (e.g. “That guy is wicked smart). But on the west coast the same sentiment would use the word “hella” instead of wicked.

This tickles me.

Furthermore, the interaction of these dialects is where language comes alive. I had never heard of the word hella until I went to college and hung out with a housemate who was from San Diego. Likewise, he had never heard wicked used in the above manner until he met me, a Bostonian. We shared each others’ uses of the word, made it our own, and brought it back to our hometowns and shared it with our friends.

Cross-pollinated rose

Language is like different strains of the same flower. They are beautiful and colorful in their own right, but when they are cross-pollinated with another strain new gorgeous hybrids are created. I revel in the cross-pollination.