Friday, February 17, 2012

Multilingual Melting Pot Within English

Building on my previous post, I wanted to discuss an interesting phenomenon when it comes to the multilingual. I had a linguistics professor who knew five languages (English, French, Swahili, Russian, and another African language whose name I don't remember). His wife also knew the same five languages. When he was at home with his wife and they were talking. He used all five of those languages. Sometimes in the same sentence.

This is totally common. If you spend time around people from mixed-language homes, or if they speak Spanish at home and English everywhere else, they will usually switch between the two languages when talking to family members. And it is not just a matter of using English words in Spanish sentences. The grammar and structure changes too.

I am not fluent in any other languages, but I have minor study in several languages. And I do this myself. I use the Japanese phrase "da ne" instead of saying, "isn't it?" I use the Chinese phrase "ni ne" instead of saying "how about you?" Of course, few people know all of the random language bits I know, so it sometimes falls on deaf ears, but the point is that it naturally happens. Or rather, it happen when my guard or mental filter is down.

Even if you are only multilingual within language, the same thing will happen. I find myself using the languages of my interests to describe my other interests.

This is precisely why I describe writing the way I do. I'm a musician. I care about how my stories sound. I use words like rhythm and melody and staccato to describe words and phrases because I am focused on an aural aesthetic.

I'm a martial artist. I care about how effective my writing is. I want to control my audience, make them react in a way I choose. I care about the structure and foundation of my prose, as well as the transition from one scene or thought to another; without that control, you will be torn apart by somebody who does have it (think about scathing reviews of poorly-written stories).

I'm a chemist. I have a strong desire to understand everything big and small. I want to identify the smallest components of communication, and then see if I can break those down into even smaller parts. I want to understand every aspect of how my individual words work, but also how they work with others. I know that powerful words can be diluted with enough dull words. I know that although certain things will happen naturally over time, you can significantly speed them up with a catalyst (like a relationship ending by going home from work early to find your boyfriend cheating on you, rather than slowly building up toxic levels of mutual hate).

Your mind is a multilingual melting pot, even if it's just within English. The more subjects you study, the more language sets you learn, the more they will tacitly affect your thoughts and views. The more ways you will be able to approach things. This is just plain wonderful in general, but especially as a writer, the more of this you acquire, the better you will be at writing.

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