Last week I had a work trip to Switzerland and Montenegro. (For unrelated reasons; the two appointments just happened to fall on adjacent days.) The last time I was in any German-speaking country was in February 2020, changing planes on the way to and from Gallifrey One; the last time I was in the former Yugoslavia was a year before that.
And gosh, it was quite a morale booster to feel that travel to other language zones is now possible again. Of course, I live in Flanders and work in Brussels, and in 2020 we went to my sister in Burgundy and on to Geneva, so French and Dutch have been constants in my life; but I also speak German fluently, and my Serbian / Croatian / Bosnian / Montenegrin is at advanced tourist level, so this was my first chance to speak those languages in a long time.
Speaking a familiar but different language is like changing gear mentally, or perhaps like driving a very different car, where the controls may be in a completely different place to where you normally find them. I joke that on some days when I go to work, I will have spoken three languages before I sit down at my desk (to family and train conductors); and on other days, I may not have spoken to anyone at all!
I’ve had the opposite side of the coin this week. When I went to hospital with COVID in November, they picked up a lump on my larynx, and after various backs and forths they removed it surgically (with a LASER) on Monday. Nothing alarming; a granuloma probably caused by acid reflux. My first time under a general anæsthetic, and that eerie experience of feeling the bathwater of consciousness draining away. (But where does it drain to?)
I’m fine – hardly even any physical discomfort (does the larynx even have pain sensors?) but the kicker is that I have to rest my voice until tomorrow, so I’m on my third day of enforced silence. I had to skip the British embassy reception for the Queen’s Jubilee last night, and a much anticipated conference today – not a lot of point in going to such events if you can’t talk to people. And for work I have been typing frantically into the chat during Zoom meetings, rather like a hybrid panel at a science fiction convention, but less fun.
Looking around for wisdom on this topic, I found a blog post by Hannah Little (hi, Hannah!) about the theories of why the human larynx is located lower in the throat that its equivalent in other primates. She cites an hypothesis of Mark Jones that the lowered larynx reduces the amount of lung compression needed to achieve speaking pressure, creating the ability to be louder and have lower resonances. That was in 2010 and doesn’t seem to have been published yet, but I find it convincing.
On the plus side, I took an extended lunch break yesterday to visit B. She was able to talk a little when she was two, but has not said a word for the last twenty-two years. She is still very capable of communicating – she was glad to see us, and also made it clear when she thought that our walk in the park was over. As ever, I need to improve my selfie game. And I am looking forward to talking again for myself tomorrow.