Language Matters

Kathleen Stein Smith, Ph.D

I read and write in English, but I still dream in Amharic

“The first language I learned to speak, under the careful instruction of my doting grandmother, was Amharic. Ethiopia’s official tongue (the second most commonly spoken Semitic language after Arabic) connected me to her then and still runs like a live wire through my extended family’s conversations. We are thousands of miles apart, separated by oceans and passports. But when we call each other, it is Amharic that carries our love across the sea.

Words shape how I see the world, how I move through problems, how I relax. They give me comfort, order and structure. I’ve been writing since before I knew writers got paid (in theory at least) just to make sense of the din.

But, as the American-born daughter of Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants, the words I know best are in English. The grammar I can most readily bend to my will is that which I learned in American schools.”

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Languages do matter!


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