vadeando / wading into it
I’ve been immersing myself in poetry in Spanish. The volumes I’ve been reading are bilingual, so the English is right beside the other. But I’ve been reading the Spanish first, often aloud.
If I don’t think, I can often feel the sense of some of the words without directly translating them.
This morning I dreamed a Spanish word that doesn’t exist: Americanarse; my scribbled note says ‘to turn American’, whatever that could mean.
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If Gramma had spoken Lithuanian to me when I was a child, its rhythms could be within me, shaping my perspectives and perceptions.
I wish she had.
I guess r’s are rolled in Lithuanian, as well as Spanish. I can’t figure out how to do it. That makes me immensely self-conscious when I speak Spanish, beyond how slowly and unmelodiously I painstakingly pronounce las palabras.
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Lithuanian was the first language of my heart, but I don’t speak it or read it, nor do I understand it when it is spoken or written.
Spanish was the second language of my heart, which I began learning in school at 11. I took it for 3.5 years in high school. I can read it much better than I can speak it. When I listen to Spanish-language radio, because of the speed at which people speak, I usually only pick out a few words.
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Gramma was born in Chicago but her parents were immigrants from the old country: her first language, spoken at home, was Lithuanian. Maybe she didn’t learn English until she got to school, I don’t know. All her life, she said certain phrases that were awkward in English, but probably they were correct in Lithuanian. Embarrassingly, the one I recall best was “go to toilet” when she meant “go to the bathroom”.
Gramma took Spanish in high school.
I don’t know if she ever used it. But still, it’s a not-English language we would have had in common. (Although I didn’t learn that fact until I interviewed my mother about her family for a term paper I wrote in college. Gramma died the week I turned the paper in.)
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I’ve known for years (ironically, from reading historical romances) that Spanish has been spoken in the United States since the 1500s, long before English, so “English first” or “English only” movements are total bullshit.
In college, I wrote (another) paper on Arabic words that passed into Spanish and then English.
Since I was 18, I’ve wanted to learn Maltese — not just because Malta is super cool, but — because the Maltese language is a child of Arabic and Spanish and Italian, but written in a Latinate alphabet.
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Back to Spanish. As an adult, delving into the language again, I’ve been frustrated and annoyed at how many terms are militaristic, violent, patriarchal, sexist.
And yet, it’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to realize that so many of the people who speak Spanish now, speak Spanish for imperialist and colonialist reasons. You know, like why so many people speak English.
Arabic, Russian, French, German, Dutch. Turkish? Persian? Obviously I’m not much of a student of world history because I don’t actually know off the top of my head how many languages with a lot of speakers achieved that through conquest and genocide.
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If my father’s Irish parents had grown up speaking Irish Gaelic, though, they still would’ve had to learn English when they arrived in the US. My mother’s Lithuanian grandparents did have to learn English when they arrived in the US.
I have complicated feelings about languages.
Do I wish I knew Irish Gaelic? Yes. I definitely wish I knew Lithuanian. And yet…
I deliberately chose my first name to be in English. Partly because… I’m a poet who writes in English. The thoughts I have that are in words, are in English words. (Occasionally Spanish words.)
If my head was full of Irish Gaelic and Lithuanian words… I’d have no one to speak them with.
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Trade languages are kind of a motif in my poetry (and my life). I think about them a lot. I wish there were more that were inter-species. But if there were inter-species ‘trade’ languages, they’d probably be human-centric, and would have come into being through conquest and genocide. You know, like we’re doing right now as we exterminate every other organism on the planet. Why would any of them even want to learn what we’re saying when we do it?
There are so many human being people that speak English that are speaking against conquest and genocide right now, and they are being ignored, or persecuted. Killed, certainly.
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What should I be trying to do?
How should I be thinking about which languages I use?
What could I do differently?
I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know.