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
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
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. 


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