When I think of language…

“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”

“To imagine a language means to imagine a way of life.” (Wittgenstein)

Why do people choose to write in different languages in their diaries? Susan Sontag’s and Virginia Woolf’s entries are braided with French. There is a German quote on the very first page of my edition of Henry Thoreau’s journals (“Es ist alles wahr wodurch du besser wirst”). Even if it’s just a word, why is that particular composition of syllables more appealing than the immediately familiar options? Some words just feel better; not a squiggle out of line, a seamless reflection of the intention. English, for example, ‘pays attention’. It’s almost like we grudge our attention being spent. Spanish is much more polite in that sense and asks us to ‘lend’ our attention (prestar meaning ‘to lend’ or ‘to offer’). We learn things off ‘by heart’ as opposed to ‘de memoria’. Each nuance has its charm. In a diary it’s not a code that’s being used to try to trick those who try to read it; if anything it’s an exhibition of the current state of mind, a display of the plurality of being. More precisely, it is ‘the otherness’ that for some reason is one’s own in the captured moment.

Fuente sounds like a stream whispering ‘from within’. Azucar sounds grainy and sweet, even more so than plain old ‘sugar’. Every time it’s used I hear a spoon grinding down stubborn crystals at the bottom of a mug (or a teacup if you’re classier). There are certain moments when language truly shifts into your own you and you cease thinking strictly in ‘dictionary terms’. I like the endless tinkering and filling out blank pages. It’s scary but it’s also captivating because there are no boundaries. It’s like having a well-stocked tea cupboard. Most of the time I drink green tea, but sometimes I crave milky tea with inordinate amounts of honey. The same polarity of choice applies to languages because naturally variety allows for unrivalled freedom of expression. But it is one of the perks of reading and writing in general, not just for those of us lucky enough to have several systems to ponder in depending on mood. Books and writing give clarity, words that match situations to the dot and lay down comfort in sentences. They help you create your own cushion, only with stacks of paper, tea-stained paperbacks and Scrabble tiles. And right now, it is time for a ginger tea.

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