Language, revisited


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?




I have been an immigrant for 12 years now. I am committed to the country I live in. I have a family here. I dream and think and write in my new language.

But I am homesick. On and off, especially when I’m tired. Of a perpetually different point of view. Of a land that looks as beautiful as mine, but alien still. Of food that doesn’t taste right.

I wouldn’t go back. I didn’t fit in there 12 years ago, I sure won’t fit in now. From time to time, I read what my people have written. For today, it is proverbs (easier to translate 😛 ):

Don’t sell the skin of the bear from the forest.

You have the courage of a drunk turkey hen.

No one is born knowledgeable. Even Jesus had to learn carpentry. But there’s a lot that died stupid.

Don’t give your sword to the enemy.

Sloth is a grand lady who doesn’t have what to eat.

Sloth is looking for work hoping not to find it.

When you are drowning you cling even to a straw.

With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes silk.

May God not give you what you can endure.

Charity from a stranger is like a thistle’s shadow.

With a hard-working man, poverty looks in the window, but cannot come inside.

Who steals an onion today will steal a mare tomorrow.

When two are arguing, the third one wins.

Who’s looking for an argument finds a hiding.

The handle of the axe comes from the forest it’s cutting.

Rather a handful of books and a bagful of brains than a handful of brains and a bagful of books.

God save me from friends, I’ll save myself from enemies.

The wise learn from others’ mistakes, the fool cannot learn from his.

During war, iron is more expensive than gold.

Better a crooked peace than a just war.

Man is like a shadow, you take the light away, he’s gone.

A bad man is like coal, even when he doesn’t burn he will blacken you.

Either speak like you behave, or behave like you speak.

You can’t see the chafing wound until you take the saddle off the horse.

The belly may be satisfied, the eyes – never.

The rot starts at the root, but it is first seen in the branches.

You don’t know someone until you have eaten a cartload of salt together.

A fool throws a stone in the pond and 10 wise men can’t take it out.

Pity the one who forgives the magpie but holds a grudge against the dove.

A small stump will topple the big cart.

Good cheese in a dog’s skin.

We are born naked, wet and hungry. Things get worse afterwards.

If you follow a fly you will reach manure.