Monday, August 16, 2010

Speaking of mirrors and sieves

You can never understand one language until you understand at least two. -Ronald Searle, artist (b. 1920)
© Anna Marie Nemcova
Dreamstime.com
I am no linguist. My language skills are very limited, although I do have a decent ear for tones which helps a lot.  Nevertheless, I have been surrounded by other languages since I was a child.  My mother grew up speaking Bangala and English, so there were bits of Bangala in her everyday speech.  (Actually there still are - just the other day she designated me as a "fundi" or expert in a task.)  By the time I was 5, we were posted in Ruanda-Urundi and then a year later, to Congo.  Over the next 12 years we moved around in Congo, and also spent nearly a year in Switzerland.  I acquired a decent proficiency in French, and a passing acquaintance with Lingala and Kikongo.  When we returned to the States we lived in Hawaii for a while, and I learned some Hawaiian Pidgin.  For the last 20 years my home has been Houston, where the West and East Texas variations mix with the soft Southern sounds to become the classic Texas drawl.  Now I am married to an Italian and am once again learning a new language, and a new culture. 

Living in all these various cultures with their varying languages has made me acutely aware of the relationship between the two.  You cannot truly understand a culture without speaking its language.  And, you cannot speak a language well without also learning the culture.  The depth and texture and complexity of either is lost if you attempt to learn them in isolation.

© Mike Neale
Dreamstime.com
We are mirrors and sieves- reflecting our surroundings, sifting our experiences.  We end up with an identity that is new every day, just a little bit different than the day before. 

5 comments:

Rowena... said...

You cannot truly understand a culture without speaking its language. And, you cannot speak a language well without also learning the culture. The depth and texture and complexity of either is lost if you attempt to learn them in isolation.

This is so very, very true. Even after 7 years of living here I am still learning the nuances of the italian language, of how a sentence spoken up north sounds so much different in the south, and how an expression uttered by friends in Sicily can go totally right over my head because I haven't a clue to their dialect.

Whenever I go back to the islands my friends always tell me that they detect a little bit of something different about me...must be the way I speak!

AmyEmilia said...

Thanks Rowena... It is amazing how different just a few miles make in terms of language.

mental mosaic said...

Hi AmyEmilia!

I'm a newcomer to your blog via Bleeding Espresso. :) The language/culture connection is so fascinating.

I'll bet you and your Italian spouse run into this a lot. I find it interesting, for example, that Italians don't distinguish between the words, "fun" and "funny" in their language.

Thanks again for stopping by my blog. You'll be seeing me here again, too. :)

Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

What a wonderful post, and as Rowena said, so very very true :) How cool to have been exposed to so many languages *and* cultures!

AmyEmilia said...

I am very grateful for my life, Michelle!

And honored that you stopped by. Thanks!

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