Tuesday, April 07, 2015

'If language were liquid...

...it would be rushing in, instead here we are in a silence more eloquent than any words can ever be'
Suzanne Vega, 'Language'

Proof (as if any were needed) that it isn't only Quakers who find silence can speak louder than words! When trying to describe silent/waiting worship I often ask if the enquirer has ever been part of a one or two minutes silence in remembrance, especially as part of a large gathering such as at a sports stadium or an ANZAC Day dawn service etc. Then try to imagine that feeling lasting a whole hour... Okay, so it isn't always that intense/amazing/gathered but it can be. And yes, it can be more eloquent than words can ever be.

A few things have caught my eye via Facebook and television recently that made me think about the phrase 'divided by a common language', and if native speakers of English can get confused by each other heaven help those learning it as a second or other subsequent language. In some ways we have one of the most versatile languages drawing as it does on many historical roots. But we also have one of the most confusing to interpret due to the number of idioms that certainly shouldn't be taken literally!

One of the advantages of moving around in life for me is that I've picked up the local lingo in several English counties in addition to 'Embra' Scots and understanding both the West Coast and Deeside versions (plus a smidgen of Doric and Gaelic, just don't ask me to spell any of it though!), and of course the more recent addition of Kiwinglish. There have been a couple of adverts in the States with Kiwi basketball player Steven Adams in them (this and this) which as he'd say are pretty choice, but just prove the point that if you want to be understood locally you have to go with the flow and adapt, as subtitles are hard to reproduce for everyday conversation.

But whilst understanding many tongues is a blessing, it can be a burden if you try to use them all at once as you end up faced with a lot of blank looks and requests to translate. At least Marion and I have each other here who have both lived in Yorkshire, Scotland, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Aotearoa NZ, plus she's lived in Cumbria and that's where my Mum is from (albeit the bit that used be Lancashire rather than Cumberland) and since my Māori got up to speed enough to understand those words too we know we don't have to worry about which ones we use when talking to each other. Bi- and multi-linguists will understand, you have the perfect word in your head, but it is in the wrong language for the conversation and sometimes your thinking is like this... especially when you're too tired to untangle it!

I really appreciate having friends on Facebook who regularly use the dialect/language of their locality that have made up part of my past. Otherwise it isn't often I hear anyone described as a daft wazzock these days, or talking twaddle. There's plenty twaddle around, it just doesn't get called that here, nor codswallop either. Seeing such words, or being with people from places in my past generally tends to have the effect of veering my current lexicon of words temporarily back in that direction again, so in many ways my everyday language is liquid, with ebbs and flows and underlying currents. I still haven't really got the hang of eloquent though, but maybe I shouldn't worry about it and leave that to the silence.

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