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Entries For: March 2010

Language and identity

Transitioning… Happening, without me even realizing.

The though tonight surfaced when considering the origin of the headache that bothered me all this evening. I have known this headache for a few years already; it happens every now and then, the pain creates each time a sensation of déjà-vu without clear hints as to its precise causes.

Until today, where the dots were connected very blatantly. I had initiated today several interleaved conversations simultaneously in more than two languages, two of them being very intensive and conceptually complex.

Wait. The sheer intricacy of this statement sounds sufficient to warrant a headache, right?

Well, actually not. The complexity of the conversations per se was not relevant; nor was the multiplicity of languages nor their simultaneousness. Indeed, part of my daily work is dedicated to long work-related, technical and complex conversations in two different languages (not counting those I use with my computers), often alternating between both at short intervals, and without any subsequent pain nor second thought. I enjoy this situation greatly; it brings me both joy and fulfillment. It is part of my life, to the extent that these languages are also those I use daily with friends and family for social and personal interactions.

No, the headache only appears in this very specific situation when I start to use my native tongue during the day — next to the two others. This ability I am carrying around, learned at a young age, is hurting me whenever I exercise it in my new world. Unsurprisingly, I also no realize I am starting to avoid it altogether for this very reason — often unconsciously, and yet…

Last week-end I realized that several grammar forms that were once as natural as breathing are now eluding me. Understanding is still effortless, but the communication becomes straining. When compounded with my normal daily interactions, the effort becomes painful and causes the dreaded headaches.

I am slowly and deliberately ruining — in the literal, etymological sense: think about the crumbling stones of an old castle — my relationship with the first language I ever learned.

Some of my medium- and long-term plans already included taking on Swedish and Frisian classes. Now, I am seriously considering inserting German into the list as well, because it is the social norm where I live. This may require some additional sacrifice, too.

And yet I don't care. Actually, it feels great. I prefer my new tongues anyways.


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