Thursday, October 31, 2002

Thinking in other languages

I used to be as fluent in Spanish as I am in English, but since I rarely get the opportunity to speak anymore, my vocabulary is starting to fail me. But I still think about things, and dream, in Spanish. I was just going over some stuff I wrote yesterday - for work and correspondence - and in much of it there is a language problem.

What I notice most is that if I am dealing with raw emotion or ephemeral ideas, my thoughts come first in Spanish and I translate them into English as I write - but this creates some rather sloppy and inarticulate copy. A small example: the Spanish espero means both to wait and to hope (the conflation of temporality and longing is missing in English) and I translated the word as "wait" when I should have written "hope". But if my goal is to intellectualise - to write academically - then I think in English and write accordingly. Although, when I have been reading in French or Spanish, I suspect my writing in English is less articulate.

I find it curious that if I am overwhelmed by emotion, I stumble over words in English. I just don't find the language to be as true to what I am feeling. But if I need to, or am able to, distance myself from my gut reaction, then I think and write in English.

Anyone else ever experience this?


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