Revisiting the archive
How do regionalisms or other languages affect how you speak and think in your native or adopted tongue?
Ironically, I'm currently learning Dutch. I am a native English speaker but did Afrikaans in high school, a language with Dutch and German origins. The pros: vocabulary, language rules and sentence structure are easier to understand for Dutch. The cons: I almost have to unlearn Afrikaans rules to accomadate for the Dutch versions. The hardest part is the accent and pronounciation for Dutch because the 'muscle memory' is Afrikaans coded so I have to pay extra attention to the pronounciation of 'r-' and 'ee-' etc.. I am now navigating the mental gymnastics of translating a thought from English to Afrikaans to Dutch and find it both helpful and deeply annoying how my proficiency in Afrikaans is affecting my proficiancy in Dutch.
I have somehow managed to train my brain to use my native German for work and daily life, and English for fun and fiction writing, with the effect that I have a hard time writing stories in German now. 🙈 Oh, and my grammar is a solid denglish mix of both, thank god for things like Grammarly. 🤣
I stumbled on your piece and I enjoyed reading about your experience in the Netherlands. Navigating multiple languages is my bread and butter, working as a content manager dealing with 5+ languages. And living in a multilingual community.
The inside of my head is a mumbo jumbo of expressions and accents from various languages. I *think* I think in English now, but it depends on the day.
Funny coincidence I just published an article about speaking with an accent and how that influences all parts of our lives. If you're interested, here it is: https://monicanastase.substack.com/p/speaking-with-a-foreign-accent
Loved this post, Lloyd. I found it just after reading Monica Nastase’s post: https://monicanastase.substack.com/p/speaking-with-a-foreign-accent
I commented there on how different languages, dialects and posts impacted my own language and accents.
During my first year in Norway, I remember lying in bed at night trying to remember a new word or two. Listening to them in my head trying to remember the voice I’d heard the word from. From there, I graduated to whispering the words and then quietly saying them out loud, trying to imitate the voice I’d heard speak the word. Then I would nod off to sleep.
It didn’t always work. I remember needing stamps and thinking many Norwegian words are just like English but when they pluralize them, they add er instead of s.
I marched into a post office and said “Jeg vil ha stamper, takk.” The postal clerk was perplexed but contained herself from laughing out loud. After my third attempt, she asked me in English, “Do you need stamps?”
In the way out I kicked myself when I saw the multilingual sign saying that they sold stamps. The Norwegian word was “frimerker”.... I wasn’t even close! 😂😂
“Dutch has articles “de” and “het”, but the general rules are so opaque as to be impossible to decipher. Dutch once had gendered grammar like German, but gender has disappeared from the language, though the articles remain.”
I am a native Flemish speaker and I only learned about this last week haha. I had no idea because it always came naturally to me. There’s a trick, though. Use the Antwerp-style diminutive “ke” at the end of the word, so you can always use “het.”
"Het vrouwke zette het vorkske op het tafelke."
I lived in Holland for six years and at the Ime was pretty fluent. I would sometimes think and even dream in Dutch. I would occasionally use a Dutch idiom in English. My German got pretty good at the time, good enough for a business meeting or phone call. I can still read it, but if I try to speak, it comes out as Dutch! French has been there since high school, never fluent. Since moving to the US 35 years ago (I'm actually a Brit), I've learned Spanish. Speaking is rusty, but I love to read it.
What are some good Dutch, German, French, and Spanish Substacks?
When I began studying foreign languages I had the strange idea that I would learn how to replicate exactly what I would say into the other language, but of course that was very naive of me...
A language is no algebra. I discovered flexibility. I found out that the word we employ to translate may not mean exactly the same. And that we may even arrive to develop some sort of relationship with one specific language (for example English for me is more international than linked to a specific culture).
Only in Spain I experienced something in line with your story, having lived there for 11 years. I couldn't keep Italian and Spanish at the same level. Though I would have loved to, it turned out impossible. So I started to lose some parts of my native language, and the most embarassing situations happened with my mother on the phone. She (not I) realized that I was Spanish-izing some similar words... she laughed, but I suffered 😟
Delirious to discover this particular newsletter. Over the summer, in preparation for a visit to the island of Procida, I read Elsa Morante's masterpiece, Arturo's Island (L'Isola di Arturo). Walking around the island visiting her haunts, filtering her descriptions of the prison, the olive groves, the particular house where Arturo lives was one of the most magical experiences of my life. I'm haunted by it still.
This article is so interesting to read, and reminds me of all the years of me straddling between two or more languages at any given time. I was born in China, so my mother tongue is supposed to be the dialect of my birth province. But it receded to the background as my family moved to Hong Kong and I learned the local language Cantonese once I started to go to school. But English was the official language then under British colonial rule. So I picked up both while speaking Mandarin in the primary school my parents sent me to (Mandarin was my father's language). So at home we regularly mix three languages (or dialects) with some English spinkled in. Later on when I lived in Sweden I started speaking "Swenglish." I've chosen English as my language of choice and work as an editor but I feel that my English is never 100% because of the "dilution" or influences of other languages in my head. And then my native Chinese has also been diluted over the years. At one point in my life my French was better than the other languages I knew but without regular usage it has become rusty.
Really liked this! I spent 2-1/2 years in Panama, in a part of the country where English is uncommon. Before going there, I had taken two semesters of Spanish at my local community college, so my Spanish language skills were, well, "poor" would be a kind way of putting it. Interestingly, though, after being there for a few weeks I found my writing had improved, I was choosing more interesting words, and it had a flow and a cadence it hadn't had before.
By the time we left Panama, I spoke Spanish at about the level of a slow two-year-old, but hearing it all around me had a big impact.