Keeping count: secret complexities of a monolingual

On my relationship with English, my mother tongue, in South Africa.

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I have always loved to count. When I was little, I counted my steps. At age ten, I counted the lamp posts on the drive to school, or cars that sped past. Around age twelve, I began counting letters and syllables in groups of seven. I loved the rhythm of a count of seven; it sounded self-assured, complete. Simultaneously, my eyes spied out seven-letter words, which Iā€™d then tap out onto my lap as if typing on a keyboard.

In retrospect, this behaviour was compulsive, and it certainly slackened the pace of my reading. Often, I was so engrossed in counting and listening to the words in my head that I missed what they were trying to tell me, but I learnt to appreciate words in a new way. I valued the sounds ā€“ the taps and hums and ticks ā€“ of the English language. I still search for seven-letter words in books, sprayed onto walls, carved into desks. There is solace in these sevens; my mind tenses and then relaxes with each search and discovery. It is a comfort, just as it is a comfort to speak in the language that one knows and loves the most. Continue reading