what i talk about when i talk about talking

This is a post about language.
Or better yet, my lack of ‘one’.

In my country (the Philippines), we have two official languages– Filipino and English. There is a moat of dirty politics surrounding this issue (ex. is Filipino just a disguised Tagalog (a dialect); does fluency dictate identity; is there misplaced nationalism in language; etc.) but I’m not writing about any of this in particular. For one, I love both languages I was born into. Filipino is for the tongue, English is for the pen and Taglish for everything in between. I was born into two systems of thinking; I grew up in three. This was and is normal. In fact, I took my bilingualism and fluency in the international tongue as an advantage– I could talk to foreigners without breaking a sweat, but I could still converse comfortably in secrecy in Filipino. My thought process was somewhere in between both. 

But as my love for literature (specifically poetry) deepened, I began questioning myself. Poetry lives in the spaces between words, in the borders of speech and memory. Our most profound truths lie supine in metaphors with half-lives, and the collapse of the “like” illusion is what makes it poetically inaccessible. Suffice to say that language carries its own truth (mental note to read more Derrida) and beyond being a method of survival and communication, our mother tongues, if alive and evolving, carry whole identities in their own lexicons. Translations, no matter how modern or updated, will never be enough– we can only hear murmurs of Neruda’s pulse, only distillations of Homer’s epics, and vignettes of Schopenhauer’s misery. We can come close, but as long as we are aliens to their native language we cannot be completely privy to the soul each work cradles. (Side note: Rimbaud is the main reason why I’m still struggling to learn French.) I firmly believe that every writer (and reader) has to have a certain relationship with language in order to express humanity in its purest and most unadulterated form (also in what I think is its most artful) because for some writing or speaking is the only way. Some people can dance or write music, but for me it is speech and as a dancer uses the body, I choose words.

I find this incredibly difficult. I think I have already embraced my bilingualism but I cannot exist in either or both. I live in both but it still feels inadequate. There is a point of unintelligibility that is no longer in reach of poor vocabulary or structural linguistic ignorance. After all, language expresses thought and feeling. Do you think in words? (I have yet to read more on this.) I have always wondered if thoughts unexpressed are still ‘valid’. The answers I get are far– mostly because people think I refer to thoughts not expressed /out loud/ due to /inability to express during a certain time/. What I wonder is this: what about the thoughts we cannot express because of linguistic limitations? We cannot make up a word for every sensation or phenomenon. And this is where my problem lies– can a mother tongue suffice? Most seem to think so. Can multilingualism suffice? They say it’s practical. I still wouldn’t know. 

All I know is this– there can be languages for the mind, the heart– but not the soul, not the being. Just as truths are hidden just beneath text, we only truly exist in spaces. Do not mistake speech for connection. Language can only take us so far in our relationship with the universe.


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