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August 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 4

ISSN 1755-9715

Thoughts in Verse

A. Effendi Kadarisman earned his Ph.D degree in linguistics at the University of Hawaii in 1999. His research interests include (a) themes of universality and relativity in linguistics, (b) applied linguistics, and (c) poetics and ethnopoetics. Besides his scholarly devotion to linguistics and poetics, he also has great passion for poetry. He is currently a professor of linguistics at Universitas Negeri Malang, Indonesia.


Mother Tongue

It is so close to you, making you unaware of it.

Using your mother tongue in daily life is much like breathing, blinking the eyes, wearing a T-shirt, taking off shoes, opening a bag, or closing the door. 

The stream of speech is indeed the air flowing out of your lungs, with the vocal cords vibrating or non-vibrating, and all speech organs getting extremely busy. But all is just like the automatic flow of your blood. You are unaware of it.

Your mother tongue is real magic.

When they say language makes us human, they refer to the mother tongue.

English, a Father Tongue?

A foreign language is a foreign language. It always remains at bay.

With your mother tongue, they raise a question of ethnic identity: What does it mean to be a Balinese, a Banjarese, a Javanese, a Makassarese, or a Sundanese?

When the mother tongue is the national language, they raise a question of national identity: What does it mean to be an Indonesian?

English has taken you on a lifelong scholarly journey. But it always remains at bay. Nobody asks you the question: What does it mean to be an English-speaking person?

Well, ambiguity remains. English for me is a fascinating window to a different world. I am standing here by this window; it allows me to see boundless horizons of intellectual and spiritual life.

All along I have been with you, English, my father tongue.


Break down the language endlessly. Break down the discourse into paragraphs, into sentences, into phrases, into words, into morphemes, into phonemes, into distinctive features ...

The structure
reminds me of de Saussure.

Language is primarily speech; it is unique; it is a set of habits.
Do research and go to the field—with Bloomfield.

Now look back at the 1960s "revolution". They said, No.

Language is innate; it is a mental reality: it is basically creative.
I heard Chomsky say,
"Linguistic creativity."

Then dozens of linguistic schools grow out.
Hundreds of theories blow you out.
And thousands of world languages are speech jungles.
It's a long way to Tipperary. Move on, don't grumble.

Language and linguistics—
Are they numbers and statistics?


I love the ambiguity:
letters of the alphabet ~
men and women of letters

review of related literature ~
English literature

I also love the oxymoron:
oral literature.

Well, layer upon layer of meaning
Signified within signified within the signifier
You can never measure the depths of human feelings,
Interwoven with shining logic and burning desires.

They say a poet is one who has tasted the bliss of

every heaven and the pang of every hell.

Words can be so dramatic.
Language can be so deeply moving.

With linguistics, you go into extremely delicate and intricate structures—testing the very edge of the power of logic.

With literature, you see how language moves in unpredictable manners via unbridled imagination.

Language makes us uniquely human.

Literature makes us surprisingly human.



Try to touch the solidity of nouns, watch the agility of verbs, and feel warm qualities of adjectives.

The subject stands over there upright, giving commands to the object.

Transitivity moves up and down, keeping the verbs briskly active or making them meekly passive.

Time, a universal entity, is absorbed by the verbs and becomes tense. In return, it projects them into the past, present, and future.

Structure words are the glue. Without them you can never build sentences.

"By the way, do you teach Grammar?"
"No. Grandpa does."


The history of our curriculum
has been the swing of the pendulum,
from left to right experimenting along,
from left to right, from right to wrong.



Teaching for me is like opening a window and letting students see the beauty of the garden of knowledge by themselves.

Every time you teach, just open one window and tell your students names of trees and flowers in the garden of knowledge.

Occasionally, remind your students how to open each window and enjoy the panoramic view out there.
If you succeed in doing so, teaching-and-learning is an endless journey of intellectual joy. You will be happy for being a lifelong witness to the growing inquisitive minds.



This last poem is 1 of the 99 musings collected in Uncommon Thoughts on Uncommon Things, published in the early 2020.

Tagged  Poems 
  • The Sweet Smell of My Teaching Reflection
    Singgih Widodo Limantoro, Indonesia

  • When I Taught English
    Antonina Y.D Suryantari, Indonesia

  • Sandwich: for ESP teachers
    Arnis Silvia, Indonesia

  • Thoughts in Verse
    A. Effendi Kadarisman, Indonesia