So, what is it like, writing in a borrowed language? It is difficult, no doubt, but also freeing, inspiring. The difficult part comes from the fact that most of us grow up with one mother tongue, and whichever additional language we later learn will never feel quite so familiar. I always feel insecure and in need of a confirmation from a dictionary, thesaurus etc. But the liberating part is what motivates me to keep writing in English because this distance between me and the language (and consequently also my target audience) makes it easier for me to write about the most personal topics and emotions because I feel less exposed even when I bare it all. In this regard, a second language offers a better shelter than mother tongue. It feels the safer option.
Writing in a second language is also more purposeful because I am more conscious of the language than I would be if I were writing in my mother tongue. You can’t be glib about the use of foreign words. More often than not I resort to dictionaries just to double check I’m using the word with the correct meaning and in the appropriate context. This process is slow going, but it also constantly surprises me with new discoveries about the language and the ways I can use it to express myself. I dig deeper than any native speaker needs to. After writing in English for over a decade, I find it easier to express certain things in my second language than in my mother tongue.
Many authors who write in a foreign language or are bi- or multilingual, will often use puns and plays on words (e.g. How to fare well and stay fair by A. Mahmutović). This shows that they are very conscious of the language and its structure, not only of its meaning. It is a necessity to be aware of the different levels of the language because with a second language we don’t possess the same innate knowledge as we do with mother tongues; we don’t speak it intuitively but deliberately.
Discovering new denotations and subtexts is like an adventure journey – it is fun and this shows in the writing. The protagonists in my current WIPs are also communicating in a foreign language, and I made good use of this by including everything from puns to misused words. Each such instance adds another layer to the situation the characters find themselves in, and to the text as a whole, I believe. The use of several languages not only broadens the horizons of the writer but also those of the readers, and this is something we all need in this era of globalization.
When you borrow a language, you are always tempted to introduce new meanings and concepts (from your own culture/language), but here you are walking a thin line between polluting the language and enriching it. It is a writer’s responsibility to treat the language respectfully, as if we had only borrowed it and would have to return it one day in at least as good a shape as we received it in, but possibly better. So this is a reciprocal process of taking and giving, of borrowing and enriching that takes place between the writer, the reader, the language, and the many combinations between them.
When I borrow a language, it affects how I express myself and the stories I tell. In turn, I appropriate it; use it in my own specific way that hopefully adds something new to its meanings and forms. Translingualism or multilingualism is a way to learn and grow and gain new insights into communication, relationships, culture. The linguistic lens paints the world in novel, different shades.
Do you ever write in a second language? Do you find that you feel freer to express yourself in it? A bit like divulging your secrets to a stranger?
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