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The Word I Never Knew I Needed

Posted on February 11, 2019

This is an Inuit word that has no one-word English translation

As we were discussing last Tuesday, there are ways that learning other languages expand your horizons. This particularly extends to vocabulary, when a language has a word for a concept or thing that your first/native language does not have a way of describing in a single word. For example, the German word brotlose kunst, literally meaning ‘breadless art’, refers to a hobby or career path that you are interested in, but that would not provide enough income to sustain your lifestyle. But after reading Deborah Brandt’s “Sponsors of Literacy”, I now have a word in English to describe a very specific role that some people have played in my life: literacy sponsor.

A challenge coin that an AA sponsor may award their “sponsee” for one year of sobriety

Sponsor carries many connotations for me, some positive, some negative. I thought of sponsors from Alcoholics Anonymous when I first read the title of the piece. Then, as I read it, I thought about “sponsors” from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, people who provide funding and visibility for the teenagers who are about to battle to the death in an arena. From this relationship, the “tributes” receive attention and potential advantages over their competitors. And the “sponsors” get the chance to gain recognition and praise from their community of people who share in the “excitement” of the competition. Literacy is not a battle to the death, of course, but sometimes it can definitely feel like one is in an arena. There are challenges to be overcome, gatekeepers, people cheering you on, people silently hoping for your defeat.


I have been grateful to have many literacy sponsors when it comes to almost all of my hobbies and interests. As an example, I had 5 different piano teachers from third to ninth grade, all with varying personalities and degrees of support for my progress. Ms. Black was my first piano teacher, and she let me explore almost everything I wanted to. If one week I wanted to learn how a piano works, the next week play Beethoven, and the next week play jazz, that was fine. Once I lost a tooth during a piano lesson. Ms. Black had me put it in her empty coffee mug and kept teaching. Later piano teachers were not as lenient or willing to support my exploration. I think that the order in which I had each teacher was beneficial to my progress. If I had had the strict and unwavering, perpetually-critical Ms. Hui-sy as my first teacher, I might have quit in discouragement. Literacy sponsors must come at the right time, and you must have the right mindset at the time in order for them to do the most good.

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Rossignol Dieudonné

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