Thursday, 13 February 2014
Lost in Language
There are times when life appears to mimic literature and as you move through your own passages now stumbling, now wandering, now dancing: motifs and themes begin to appear in the scenes. It makes me think of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a book whose ideas and thoughts I adore and run through in my mind over and again. Who is to say whether it is our noticing and noticing again of random events which give them their significance, or whether we notice the event of them because of their significance? Which comes first and in the end does it matter? (I think that yes, it does matter, because there is a certain amount of power involved and one way gives us more power, the other less. But that is all beyond the point of thought I am following tonight.)
For the last many days, I have been thinking of language. What am I saying? For the last many years, the last decades of a life that only does have a few decades, I have been thinking of language. And now my critical thesis revolves around language and my dreams focus on language and my insecurities stem from language.
I am working on the idea of code switching in language right now, a study which seems terribly overlooked and I am bound to generate far too many pages in my thesis if I do not cut myself off or learn to control my insatiable desire for more, for satisfaction, in this topic. It is a black whole of wondrous exploration at the moment.
The more I explore this idea and try to get inside the concept, the more I find myself surrounded by it every day and moment by moment. Being in this capital city certainly aides that, as I am regularly plunged into other languages on the metro, the streets, and in restaurants. (it is glorious!)
A few weeks ago now, I went out wandering and by a series of spontaneous decisions, ended up at a sushi happy hour. No sooner did I sit than I noted that the gentlemen at the table next to me were speaking English. A moment later, I thought, no, they are speaking Spanish, that's funny. Then it was English again. I couldn't figure out which language they were actually speaking (was it English or Spanish, and why was I having this difficulty deciphering which--it must be Spanish if I am thinking about it in English concernedly?) until finally they started switching back and forth between them--one in English the other in Spanish and then one in Spanish-English, the other in English-Spanish. We ended up talking after I could no longer not-listen and not-lean in towards them and it was delightful to discover not only fellow South Americans (I claiming that part of my identity) and make new friends, but to be part of what is this idea of code-switching, of moving across the borders of language and culture for various purposes. I had just been thinking about it and then there it was next to me and happening inside of me.
Tonight, getting on the metro for a rather long commute home, I stepped onto a nearly empty train car. I walked up the whole length of it to sit towards the front, where three people in three separate rows where talking across the space--about nothing less than language. About switching between languages and "wearing" accents and putting on culture. Did they know these are the ideas I dream about now at night and in my waking moments? So I listened, and when I started laughing with them, I was officially part of the group. I even moved up a row to sit directly with them. Now we were four strangers (as they were all, in fact, strangers) sitting together and talking language, connected by our Caribbean heritage and our chameleon abilities (or lack there-of). We went our separate ways one by one, saying good night, high-fiving, waving, all smiles. It was fascinating and wonderful and so beautiful it almost hurt me.
I realise I'm not really telling you anything here about code switching. Feel free to research it a little and let me know what you find. I don't think you will find much--I haven't yet (aside from 200+ pages culled out of linguistic, literary, and psychology journals that lightly touch the topic). But I am writing my thesis on it so you can know that you will likely be hearing much much more about it.
Really, I just wanted to say tonight how exquisitely wonderful it was to get on a nearly empty traincar and find myself in the midst of a circle of friends I do not and will not ever know the names of. To step into a basement Japanese restaurant at the edge of Chinatown for sushi happy hour and find friends who know the cities I have walked in and who coax back into my consciousness a language I have only turned over and held in my subconscious for years and years.
These beautiful strangers and these waking dreams and falling back into language are all the reasons I wanted to come back to city, to international life, to this world where by accident I can walk into all the places I know of as home and speak friend.