It’s an easy and innocent enough question, how do you say something in another language. Get a few people who all speak different languages together (though more often than not one person will suffice), and people start getting curious. Usually, what they want to know is hello, I love you, how are you, and the best swear words. In fact, pondering this calls for a coffee, because as we all know, coffee just makes you think better.
Which is all fine and well. It’s good to be interested in stuff, in the people around you. Except that for some of us the answer is not all that straightforward.
Because first and foremost, there is the question of which language to choose from. My passport language is the obvious way to go, but it’s not my strongest, meaning I don’t naturally write in it, and I’m very conscious of the mistakes I make.
The one I would consider my native tongue, is spread over five
continents – where it’s represented in different fashions in multiple places – each with its own twang and idiosyncrasies.
The one I have to list as my native tongue on official documents and when applying for certain jobs is only my native language for admin and business purposes. It’s not a language I would ever claim as my own, and when I speak with people from the countries it belongs to, I’m very quick to tell them that I’m not a native. At which point some decide that they are able to hear an accent, always an accent from the country I say I’m currently from. Anticipating their reaction, I change up the countries in the course of the conversation, which confuses them, and then they don’t want to play with me. Because Germans need everything tightly packaged and labeled.
The language my mother spoke to me, is one I can speak but not really write. Given that I never felt any ties to the place (nor did she), I’ve never claimed it.
The language of my father is one I learned later in life, and is not nearly as strong as my preferred native tongue. But it has been in my life since childhood. So I could claim that one. Except, I never grew up in his country, and that’s a huge component in claiming a language.
The language of my ancestors? Well, sure. Except that I learned it when I was nine, stopped using it when I was fourteen, and now it’s been lying so dormant I forgot practically all of it.
I’ve spent the better part of the morning debating this, and I’m still no closer to the answer than I was before I started. Really should have learned Esperanto when my bus buddy said he was interested in learning the language.