We have “multiple belongings”. It’s a very fortunate place to be, given that we are tied in with and in possession of so many. Of the many things that belong to us and that we belong to, is the copiousness of language. A key in the lock which opens the door to history, culture and future. A tongue that helps us better identify ourselves and who we identify most with.
As a writer’s tool, language must also be functional, fitting and flow seamlessly with thought. It belongs to us, it exists for us to use – leaving us with a rather crucial choice.
For an author who knows, speaks and writes in multiple tongues, the one she chooses to tell her tale in is a sometimes calculated, sometimes instinctive choice, which she can only make based on how she thinks her story will be told best. What language has the depth, resources and variety to tell her multi-layered, diverse, emotionally energetic story? What language allows her to say a lot by saying very little? What language holds words that fit snugly with the ideas in her mind? What language has the flexibility to bend into seriousness and then relax, to curve into sarcasm and then straighten into truth, to rant uncontrollably and then pause for breath?
This is more an admission than an answer.
We simply can’t do without it. And even when a lot is lost in translation, one would have to admit we still enjoy its inadequacies as we do a pinch of salt.
It is both an intellectual as well as a spiritual challenge to write in English. Yet, the joy and pleasure derived from the experience of writing in it are so much greater than the fear.
There is a flexibility in its anatomy. A versatility and openness of vocabulary that is both striking and exciting. Words in place of words, a plethora to pick from for the sounds and rhythms and silences one most enjoys. To those that speak more than just English, it does feel more universal, more inclusive of the whole story, wider in its scope and more permissive of pauses – one with which you can tell it like it is, in your head and in your heart.
When you know more languages than one, the migration between one and the other, back and forth, is fascinating. We end up more aware of that which cannot be ferried from one place to the other; of everything inside of us that is contradictory and yet, very much present; of idioms, colloquialisms and street slang; of meanings and nuances; of linguistic cracks and gaps and silences, on both sides and every side of us.
Without us even knowing, sometimes while we foolishly think we are in charge, languages command and shape us. We can dream in them. We can write in them. We can take a closer look at ourselves by writing in what may not be our foremost tongue but one that allows us the distance to look closer.
We belong to them as much as they belong to us. And so, we have “multiple belongings”.
Language matters. Because our love for it is revealed in our use of it. We turn to it to belong, to tell and in doing so, reveal just how much it shapes who we are and what we are built of. Language also matters because it gives our thoughts clarity. To correctly put down what’s going on in our minds. May be even better it!
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