Nordeste coast, island of S. Miguel, Azores
“My relationship with Italian takes place in exile, in a state of separation.” So starts Jhumpa Lahiri in her achingly profound and beautiful essay on identity, language and belonging, “Teach Yourself Italian.”
By the time she referenced the Portuguese writer and poet, Fernando Pessoa, I was convinced that my own journey into finding home through language, mattered. It’s not the specific language that is of significance; rather, the reality that for some of us, living through language and geography, makes us whole. I wish I had Jhumpa’s ability and eloquence to articulate my own feelings on this issue of Language and Belonging. I try, but it always feels like there’s something crucial missing in my attempts to convey the same experiences she wrote about. But she got it.
She expressed the emotional journey I’ve travelled since visiting Ponta Delgada sixteen years ago where I experienced a visceral reaction to my birthplace and found myself doubting my own identity and its connection to my mother tongue.
My experience of cultural and linguistic fracture has been profound; and my recent attempts to somehow return myself to myself, has been a heart wrenching, solitary journey. But I still feel like some incomplete being, scattered and tossed about by the cold Atlantic waves, only to realize that a lifesaving raft waits for me near the shores of Lake Ontario, a place far more “at home” for me than the ocean waters I stubbornly long to swim in.
I would love to spend a month or more in the Azores, working out my inadequate language skills, but like a child, learning and taking it all in until the words become a part of me and the old language flowed effortlessly with each sound. The only shortcoming to this immersion plunge is the knowledge that English will, inevitably, be pushed aside, sent away from my brain, for Language is like a jealous lover and does not want to share its sounds and conjugations, verbs and syntax with another. This is why I will never be able to flow easily from Portuguese into English and back. There is only room for one lover at a time.
Your concern was long the commonly accepted wisdom, so it’s not unreasonable for you to be concerned. However, the good news is that scientific research is now starting to disprove this worry, and in fact two (or more!) languages are better than one. Here’s one of the more interesting articles I’ve come across lately re the benefits of being bilingual:
“Speaking More Than One Language Eases Stroke Recovery”:
Here’s a salient quote from the article:
“In a new study, bilingual stroke patients were twice as likely as those who spoke one language to have normal cognitive functions after a stroke, according to findings reported today (Nov. 19) in the journal Stroke. / The reason for the difference appears to be a feature of the brain called ‘cognitive reserve,’ in which a brain that has built a rich network of neural connections — highways that can can still carry the busy traffic of thoughts even if a few bridges are destroyed. / ‘People with more mental activities have more interconnected brains, which are able to deal better with potential damage,’ said Dr. Thomas Bak, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and a co-author of the study. ‘Language is just one of many ways of boosting the cognitive reserve,’ he added.”
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Querida Giselle Ribeiro, fico muito agradecido pelo seu interesse na minha escrita. Muito obrigado pela sua gentileza. Emanuel