Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language by Katherine Russell Rich
An eye-opening and courageous memoir that explores what learning a new language can teach us about distant worlds and, ultimately, ourselves.
After miraculously surviving a serious illness, Katherine Rich found herself at an impasse in her career as a magazine editor. She spontaneously accepted a freelance writing assignment to go to India, where she found herself thunderstruck by the place and the language, and before she knew it she was on her way to Udaipur, a city in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, in order to learn Hindi. Rich documents her experiences—ranging from the bizarre to the frightening to the unexpectedly exhilarating—using Hindi as the lens through which she is given a new perspective not only on India, but on the radical way the country and the language itself were changing her. Fascinated by the process, she went on to interview linguistics experts around the world, reporting back from the frontlines of the science wars on what happens in the brain when we learn a new language. She brings both of these experiences together seamlessly in Dreaming in Hindi, a remarkably unique and thoughtful account of self-discovery.
KATHERINE RUSSELL RICH was the award-winning author of The Red Devil: To Hell with Cancer—and Back. She wrote for the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, Slate, and Vogue, and taught writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, until her death in 2012 after a nearly quarter-century battle with breast cancer.
Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language 3.3 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
"Dreaming in Hindi" offers the perils of learning a second language, as told by the intrepid student linguist Katherine Russell Rich. "This book, the way I'd conceived it before I left [for India], was going to be solely about the near mystical and transformative powers of language: the way that words, with only the tensile strength of breath, can tug you out of one world and land you in the center of another."
Then, with this ambitious manifesto nailed down, Rich casually admits that she basically lacks foreign language skills. "I simply love the process...Me, when I travel, I just want to speak. I've always been fascinated by language in any form, the more unintelligible, the better."
Well, she couldn't have picked a better subject than Hindi, the great--formidably great--language of India. Is it hard? Betcha. In New York, Rich took preparatory lessons from a "moonlighting" Columbia professor, Ms. Susham Bedi, "and the language was making my head smolder. One misplaced m, and you were no longer saying "weather" but "husband of maternal aunt." You had to learn to think in sentences whose verbs went at the end, which had the effect of producing vertigo: "to the house the mother the child is taking."
Pronunciation was another horror. And writing the sentence was, well: "I couldn't write it. The beautiful letters, like stick trees that had bumped into a ceiling or a revue of performing snakes, came out like cows' heads in my hands. I was frustrated and fascinated."
The learning process created psychological effects. "At night I dream in Hindi I can't understand. The language has to stay fixed, or I'll lose the nuance: Aap, not ap...I know it when they say it, then two days later, it's gone. My English sometimes now feels spotty, as if, in preserving the new words as long as possible, my brain keeps the old ones tamped down."
This is a colorful, witty, eloquent, moving read by a persevering author who has a remarkable story to tell--about the words we speak.
More than 1 year ago
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