Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘second language

Are you an immigrant? Do I want to forget my “history”?

Posted on July 3, 2010 (Written in May 7, 2009)

The citizens of the developed Nations (mostly the colonial powers), within their own boundaries, feel that they have no longer any need to learn history, especially their own history.  (But the atrocities levied on the people of the “colonized” will keep reminding them that their history was effectively Evil)

History to the citizens of the developed nations is a drag, a waste of time, of no use, totally irrelevant. They are mostly correct in their feeling and appreciation of the uselessness of history relevant to their nation.

Why is this feeling?

First, they have reached a level of social cohesion, awareness, appreciation of human dignity and human rights that reduce historical accounts of injustices (and exploitation of the “citizens” in mines for many generations) as redundant stories.

Second, they are more concerned about their present state of affairs such as maintaining their current level of comfort, consumerism choices, creating diverse opportunities, future availabilities for their desires and wishes. 

These modern citizens have institutions to continue the good work; institutions to analyze whatever history is appropriate for the nation, institutions for research, for legitimacy, for governance, for economy, for finance, for strategic studies, for learning, for art, for marketing, and for studying the underdeveloped States and minorities.

History for the citizens of the developed nation is plainly relegated to the under-developed States.

The Third World and Fourth World “citizens”, (we should create another term for citizenship for the underdeveloped world because it is frankly too pompous and inappropriate any which way you define a citizen), have nothing left but “history” for amusement and to give them reference to an illusory identity.

History for the “history citizens” has been written by the vanquisher and then translated and interpreted by the colonial powers.

The archeological sites in the land of the “amused archaic citizens” were dug out and investigated by the colonial powers and the artifacts were dusted off, cleaned, and conserved in secured museums that the traveling tourists and immigrants never visit. 

The chasm between the developed and the “non-developed” States is huge and growing larger by the day. 

History is still being taught in the developed nations simply because more immigrants are flocking in and some sort of integration is commendable.

More likely, a citizen would visit an immigrant friend to fill him in on current news, and occasionally, getting a good laugh on stories of their respective ancestors. 

Yes, the immigrant might know more details on the developed citizen’s ancestors and the history of this citizen’s country. 

In fact, hard copy dailies are published to satisfy the voracious curiosities of the immigrants. Storytelling is a cultural trademark among immigrants: Usually, getting together is worthless and devoid of any interest if No bickering accompanies the assembly of immigrants.

If there are rival “civilizations” it must be in the mind of the immigrants: They are attuned to any gesture, tone of voice, slang, or posturing that remind them of their “indignity”, their frequent humiliations, their total dependence on the host nation for understanding, leniency, forgiveness, compassion, and equal treatments under the laws.

The immigrants are overachiever, hard-working, on constant alert of changes in behavior and special laws, on foreign policies regarding their “homeland”, on unequal measures doled in foreign policies and moral values.

“Civilization clash” is in the mind of the immigrant: the “developed” citizen doesn’t care about the agony and tribulation of his immigrant friend. 

The immigrant is a sponge for all kinds of curiosities in art, theater, intellectual life, and any association that invites him to participate. 

The immigrant is most likely polyglot and can converse in many languages and he has to suffer being mocked for his accent in the local slang; he has to be corrected frequently because accent is the main avenue for integration and acceptance as a civilized individual.

Discrimination is in the mind of the immigrant: A citizen would immediately recognize an immigrant for miles if he cared to focus a second on the individual. 

The citizen in an administrative position has to call upon the cleric, the community leader, or the father of the immigrant before taking any decision for any kinds of permit application.

The immigrant is supposed to be looked after as an immature kid no matter how old he is. Equal treatments are the domain of the citizens and interpretations of the law and customs are appropriate when dealing with an immigrant. 

The whole gamut of the UN laws for human rights were targeted for the under-developed States that are shaming human kinds in their state of affairs. 

Yet, many “non-citizens” would like to experience a new era when embargoes on military hardware, military trainers, and military experts are imposed on dictators, juntas, and oligarchies who are flaunting the UN human rights declarations in their underdeveloped States.

Learning seriously the language of your immigrant friend is the first sign of real friendship.

Blatantly observing the differences in culture and customs is an excellent sign of friendship. Vigorously and unabashedly critiquing divergence in opinions is sign of friendship. 

Make no mistake:  Any behavior that smack of covert apartheid is quickly sensed by your immigrant “friend”. 

Make no mistake: the next generation of your immigrant friend will be exactly you, when you were younger. If you are serious for integration of your immigrant friend , then behave as if you are dealing with the next generation, on a par.

Does the World reveals itself in different ways via different languages?

The Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran, who wrote in French, talks of the change of language as a catastrophic event in any author’s biography.   

“When I changed my language, I annihilated my past. I changed my entire life,” says Cioran. And rightly so.

The world reveals itself in a certain manner to the Japanese writer, and in quite another to the one who writes in Finnish.

Literary virtuosity (in the mother tongue) almost always betrays a sense of deep, comfortable immersion into a familiar soil.

There is something “natural” in one’s becoming a writer in one’s native language. Having reached self-consciousness into that language, having assimilated it along with the mother’s milk, such a writer finds himself in a somewhat privileged position: He only has to bring to perfection whatever he has received.

As such, if for any reason the writer has to change languages, the experience is nothing short of life-threatening. Not only do you have to start everything again from scratch, but you also have to undo what you have been doing for almost as long as you have been around.

Changing languages is not for the fainthearted, nor for the impatient.  (And I did change writing in 3 languages, 3 times)

COSTICA BRADATAN posted this August 4, 2013 in the Opinionated of NYT Born Again in a Second Language

When he moved to France at the age of 26, Cioran’s command of French was barely decent, yet he ended up as one of the greatest stylists of that language. Similarly, Joseph Conrad learned English relatively late in life – which did not prevent him from coming to be one of its most sophisticated representatives.

Simone Weil, in her exploration of the Catholic religion, “Letter to a Priest,”written the year before her death in 1943 (maybe in 1993?), noticed at some point that “for any man a change of religion is as dangerous a thing as a change of language is for a writer. It may turn out a success, but it can also have disastrous consequences.”

When you become a writer, you don’t do so in abstract, but in relation to a certain language. To practice writing is to grow roots into that language; the better writer you become, the deeper the roots.

Painful as it can be at a strictly human level, the experience can also be philosophically fascinating. Rarely do we get the chance to observe a more dramatic re-making of oneself.

For a writer, language is far from being a mere means of expression: it is above all a mode of subjective existence and a way of experiencing the world. She needs the language not just to describe things, but to see them. 

The language for a writer is not just something she uses, but a constitutive part of what she is. This is why to abandon your native tongue and to adopt another is to dismantle yourself, piece by piece, and then to put yourself together again, in a different form.

When changing languages you descend to a zero-point of your existence. There must be even a moment, however brief, when you cease to be. You’ve just quit the old language and the new one hasn’t received you yet.

You are now in limbo, between worlds, hanging over the abyss.

A change of language usually happens when the writer is exiled or self-exiled. Yet the physical exile is doubled in such cases by an ontological one — an exile on the margins of being.

It is as though, for a moment, as she passes through the void – the narrow crack between languages, where there are no words to hold on to and nothing can be named – the self of the writer is not any more.

Weil’s comparison to the religious conversion is indeed apt because, just like in the case of the convert, the writer who changes languages undergoes a death-and-rebirth experience. In an important way, that person dies and then comes back as another.

When she starts writing in the new language the world is born anew to the writer. Yet the most spectacular rebirth is her own.

For this is a project of total reconstruction of the self, where no stone is left unturned and nothing will look the same again.

Your native language – what you were before – appears as less and less familiar to you.

But that doesn’t bother you at all; in fact, you look forward to a moment when you will use it as just another foreign language.

Not long after adopting French, Samuel Beckett, an Irishman, complained of his native English: “Horrible language, which I still know too well.”

The ontological promise of complete renewal that comes with the new language is nothing short of intoxicating.

When you are reborn in this manner, it is as if all the possibilities are open: you are given a chance to re-fashion yourself into whatever shape you choose. You are your own demiurge: out of nothing, as it were, you can become everything.

In 1954, asked why he chose to change languages, Beckett answered: out of a “need to be ill equipped”.

His response is exceedingly sly because, if you listen more attentively, its boastful tone is deafening. For in French the need “to be ill equipped” (d’être mal armé) doesn’t sound very different from the need to be (another) French author Mallarmé (d’être Mallarmé).

Anything less than a Mallarmé status would not have been enough for a Beckett on his quest for the new self. Eventually, he didn’t become Mallarmé, but Samuel Beckett, the French author of “Molloy,” “Malone Dies,” or “Waiting for Godot,” which is probably just as good.

And as if there was not enough alienation in his adoption of a new language, he alienated himself one more time by translating his French work into English.

Elsewhere, Beckett claimed that he preferred French because it allowed him to write “without style.” Yet writing “without style” is one of the writing styles most difficult to accomplish; you really need to be well equipped to do it.Tucker Nichols

Granted, rigorous training, self-discipline and constant practice are necessary. After all, art is the opposite of nature. Yet no matter how you look at it, there is a distinct sense of continuity and organic growing in this writer’s trajectory.

Becoming a writer in a language that is not yours by birth goes against nature; there is nothing organic in this process, only artifice.

There are no linguistic “instincts” to guide you on the path and the language’s guardian angels rarely whisper into your ear; you are truly on your own.

The author who shift to writing in a second language develop an unusually acute linguistic awareness.

Says Cioran: “When I wrote in Romanian, words were not independent of me. As soon as I began to write in French I consciously chose each word. I had them before me, outside of me, each in its place. And I chose them: now I’ll take you, then you.”

In an interview he gave in 1979, 7 years after he moved to the United States from his native Russia, Joseph Brodsky speaks of his ongoing “love affair with the English language.”

Language is such an overwhelming presence for these people that it comes to structure their new biographies. “English is the only interesting thing that’s left in my life,” says Brodsky.

The need to find “le mot juste” (the proper word) starts out as a concern, turns into an obsession, and ends up as a way of life.

These writers excel at the art of making virtue of necessity: out of a need to understand how the new language works, they turn into linguistic maniacs; out of a concern for correctness, they become compulsive grammarians.

Vladimir Nabokov is doubtlessly another such representative, even though he started learning English at an early age. The same pattern again and again: everything out of nothing, from halting ignorance to a mode of expression of the first order.

Towards the end of Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451” the reader comes across something whose significance exceeds the confines of the story. It is the scene where Montague meets the “book people.”

In a world where printed texts are banned, they have dedicated their lives to preserving the “great books” of the humankind; every member commits a book to memory and spends the whole life reciting it. They are living texts, these people, language incarnated. Apart from the masterpieces that inhabit them, they don’t mean much.

Their bodies matter as little as the paper on which a book is printed. In a way, a writer who has changed languages is not very different from these people.

In the long run, because of their compulsive preoccupation with linguistic precision and stylistic perfection, a colonization of sorts takes place: language penetrates all the details of that writer’s life, it informs and re-shapes it, it proclaims its dominion over her – it takes over. The writer’s self is now under the occupation of an invading power: her own writing in the new language.

It could be said that in the end you don’t really change languages; the language changes you.

At a deeper, more personal level, writing literature in another language has a distinctly performative dimension: as you do it something happens to you, the language acts upon you. The book you are writing ends up writing you in turn. The result is a “ghostification” of sorts.

For to change languages,  a writer is to undergo a process of dematerialization: before you know it, you are language more than anything else.

One day, suddenly, a certain intuition starts visiting you, namely that you are not made primarily out of flesh anymore, but out of lines and rhymes, of rhetorical strategies and narrative patterns.

Just like the “book people,” you don’t mean much apart the texts that inhabit you. More than a man or a woman of flesh and blood, you are now rather a fleshing out of the language itself, a literary project, very much like the books you write.

The writer who has changed languages is truly a ghost writer – the only one worthy of the name.

Having done all this, having gone through the pain of changing languages and undergone the death-and-rebirth initiation, you are sometimes given as a reward, an access to a metaphysical insight of an odd, savage beauty.

It is the notion that the world may be nothing other than a story in the making and that we, who inhabit it, may be nothing more than characters. Characters in search of an author, that is.

Note: Before I settled in the US for about 20 years, and at the age of 25, I already mastered 3 languages: French, Arabic and Lebanese/Syrian languages. Actually, I consider “the formal Arabic” as a slang of the Syrian language, from which it is based in most of its words (the Aramaic and Syriac languages). I knew the deeper meaning of the slangs and I could use them as Not independent from me, but part of my civilization.

After I moved to the US, English became my main language and my blog is in English, a combination of American and English since many “sophisticated words” are French/Latin. Surprise, when I used French-based words that are adopted in English, people considered me as mastering English better than most “natives”

Actually, English does Not use all these extravagant signs, accent egu, accent grave, cecidille… which facilitate writing. The same with formal Arabic with its gamut of gymnastic in signs. Otherwise, I could write in all these language as easily as in English.

Costica Bradatan

Costica Bradatan is an associate professor of honors at Texas Tech University and the religion/comparative studies editor for The Los Angeles Review of Books. His most recent book is “Philosophy, Society and the Cunning of History in Eastern Europe.”

What Are The Hardest Languages To Learn? [INFOGRAPHIC]

It is not that hard to learn a second language.

The time to learn a foreign language is dependent on:

1. Seriousness to learn the language of a culture you are interested to read and converse in: All these new imagery, symbolism, connotation of terms that do not convey the same emotions and feeling…

2. Being convinced that learning a second language is acquiring a new rebirth: communicating with another civilization…

3. Being willing to try writing in the second language as an adoptive language

The hardest of languages are those that are very demanding on a failing memory to retain thousands of pictographs, and that is why the Phoenicians invented 22 sound alphabets or consonants.


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