Language, revisited

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I was reminded by my friend about language. Native language, to be precise.

You see, there was a party today. An immigrant party at the end, an island in time with yummy food and drink and teasing and joking and merry-making. Then there was the catch up about people and relationships and illnesses and deaths and other serious stuff. Then there was the bad music that you can dance on all day and night if you have to, just because you need it after the heavy stuff before. All the above required specific words that would have been difficult to find in normal life, when some of us don’t use our native language every day.

And so we talked. And gesticulated. And exclaimed in ways that made sense in the context but translate very badly. Some don’t translate at all except in metaphor. Sometimes when I talk to people back home it is difficult to translate as well because some of the experiences I’ve had have been here only, and I wouldn’t have used the words there so the translation is choppy and rough and the words don’t flow smoothly in either language.

But my friend recognized that native language has that ease about it, the lack of formality that even swearing doesn’t obtain in a foreign language, no matter how well you speak it. I find I use swearing in English just as I would recite poetry, appropriately, but with the usual coda that it doesn’t quite fit. You know, like reciting poetry in the supermarket doesn’t fit, even if you’re saying it beautifully. Perhaps because you say it beautifully.

I could have had the same conversation in English today. I dream in English and have done so for years, it’s the first language in every day life as my husband and child don’t speak my native language. I write poetry in English although I have despaired of ever rhyming in it. I read more in English and most of the music I listen to is in English as well, if said music has words. But even if talk about insurance and mortgage and work is easier in English my native language remains the one I am most happy to joke in, to express feelings, to say names, yes and no.

It is even funny when it comes to plants. I would know or read the name of a plant in my language. I would then have to research (internet or books, it matters not) the Latin name for it, then go and find it in English. It works the same way vice-versa. Wikipedia is good at this because it sometimes has both languages. And then I would be able to compare the sources, another quirk of mine 🙂

My little one has asked to learn my native language. She already knows some words but not at the putting-into-sentences level, so she doesn’t use them unless encouraged. But we have decided we’ll try. So now I have to find a way. She is not a baby who will absorb whatever it is that her mother says. I will have to teach my child my native language as if it were a foreign one.

How in the world would that work?

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