Linguistic Shades: Why We’re Different People in Different Languages

Essays, Philosophy/Insight, Semantic Drifting

In one furious sweep after the Great Flood, God reduced the Tower of Babel to nothing. In our search for God, we came together to build the tower: one, universal communication system that would unite human kind and diffuse contention. This common link collapses, everyone disperses, and their language diversifies. A contemporary metaphor for multiculturalism, the Tower of Babel is the biblical account of the diversification of human qualities and, most importantly, our infinitely varied set of languages across the globe.

Speaking a certain language may relax us or tighten our lips; electrify us or sadden us. Articulating one consonant may make our mouth snarl. The steady rhythm of one language may subconsciously console use whereas the inconsistency and rapid rhythm of another may create anxiety. How our languages have manifested over time due to the influences of culture, language’s innate qualities, sound systems, and more, yields a kaleidoscopic variety. Linguists have largely debunked the rumors that different languages radically change our perception, yet there could a distinct influence on our behavior. When we learn a new language, we may adopt new behaviors, a new framework for perception… A different mask.

In learning a new language, we might try to connect with a different part of ourselves that’s shattered or repressed due to the cultural constraints. Learning a different language may be the only way we can compartmentalize ourselves in such way. In some cases of people with multiple personality disorder, people have assign different personalities to different languages. A sixteen-year-old boy in Nigeria woke up from a coma speaking fluent Spanish in a different persona after a head trauma injury. “Learn a language, get a new soul,” a Czech proverb declares. Though we may try to distance deviant or “shadow” identities by giving them a linguistic conduit, perhaps, deep in our psyche, the Tower of Babel remains. We may be superficially separate, but we are all one.

As infants, we are whole in ways we never will be as adults. Time narrows us. When we are that young, we have the innate and infinite capacity to learn any human language on the planet. This was never a given fact until Noam Chomsky, one of the founders of modern linguistics, pioneered his theory of an LAD—a “language acquisition device”. This “device” helps us learn our native language, and contains every parameter possible in a human language. As we go through life, we select which parameters our native tongue has: does our language put verbs at the beginning? How do we use the plural case? Do we have ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ nouns? Once we know, those parameters are “locked in”—and past age nine, it’s very hard for us to learn languages with drastically different parameters than our own. We may never go back to that place of infinite openness.

When we learn a new language, we become more whole. We gain a different lens with which to view the same thing—much like the blind men and the elephant—which alters our experience of the thing itself. Research shows we are sentimental in our first language and more objective in our second. A native German speaker in a study blushed when she heard “ich liebe dich” (“I love you”) but turned pale when she heard the English translation. Research also shows we may perform at a higher intellectual level in our second language due to this psychological distance from the words we’re speaking.

Maybe we’ll discover who we are in that language. Maybe we’ll become different subjective selves in all of them, and these are the building blocks, different vehicles of the human experience that lead to one allusive point in the sky.

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

5 Reasons to Refine Your Writing with Masterclass

How-to Articles

I’ve recommended online learning platforms before, but never with such vigor as I do with Masterclass. Although it may sound like a made-over TED Talk, it cpuld help you explore another side of writing or pull you through the trenches of a long, creative project. These lectures delivered by journeyed professionals could be the spark you need in your hackneyed writing routine or help you rediscover meaning in your work.

Among the better reasons to at least try it, it’s only 180 for an annual membership, half of what any single writing class would be, and will expose you to at least four different semesters of classes.

(Aspiring to Be) Inspiring Writing Prompt #6

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(Aspiring to Be) Inspiring Writing Prompt #6

Jim Carrey as Truman in the “Truman Show,” escaping the television set that was his prison for his whole life. At the top of this staircase isn’t a dream, but a harsh and chaotic reality he has yet to discover.

That “upward” feeling is really what drives most of us, isn’t it? Food, yummy. Sex, good. The familiar “ups.” What about when we realize a dream? Isn’t that when we hit the sky’s ceiling?

I thought about this when revisiting the work of one of my favorite actors, Jim Carrey. Everyone knows from watching his adrenaline-charged, highly energetic performances that there’s got to be a different man who walks off the set. When he’s on, he’s on, flying above our heads, though Carrey himself has alluded to the depth of his lows in life:

There are peaks, there are valleys. But they’re all kind of carved and smoothed out, and it feels like a low level of despair you live in. Where you’re not getting any answers, but you’re living OK. And you can smile at the office. You know? But it’s a low level of despair. I was on Prozac for a long time. It may have helped me out of a jam for a little bit, but people stay on it forever. I had to get off at a certain point because I realized that, you know, everything’s just OK.

A flat landscape doesn’t make as compelling of an image as a painting with clouds high in the sky, slightly parted, with deep valleys tucked between high mountains. I am riveted. Can we only ever reach as high as we’ve been below? Do the depths of our suffering precede our ascendance? What’s intriguing to me is I can’t decide whether I’d prefer to ride it out in the desert, aware of an ever consistent beauty, or to explore the so-called peaks and valleys, both the hot and cold terrain. They do say that manic depressives are the hardest to cure because as much as they hate the lows of their depression, they love their high-energy manic phases that much more.

Write a recommended 300-900 words about a person you know who seems to be familiar with the highs and lows of life, be they yourself, friends, or relatives. Write about a moment of envy, distrust, contempt, joy, fear, or despair. Treat this like a vignette or a launch pad for a longer essay.

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

(Aspiring to Be) Inspiring Writing Prompt #2

Uncategorized, Writing Prompts

(Aspiring to Be) Inspiring Writing Prompt #2

In my imagination, “All Star” was written after Steve went through a breakup, shoplifted a watch, and got hunted by small-town cops.

Pick one of your favorite songs of any genre. Ask yourself: “Why did this singer write this song?” Was there a specific event that triggered the lyricist to write it? Write down your answer and get into the artists’ shoes. While you’re speculating about what gave this person inspiration, look for ways it could inspire you to write something else later on down the line. Investigate inspiration in and of itself, so that you can identify it and find muses hiding around in the cracks and corners of your life. But for right now, you’re writing about this particular artist and this particular event in the form of a poem, short story, brief explanation, poem, or anything of your liking.

For this activity, I responded to the infamously catchy “All Star” by Smash Mouth, the theme song to my childhood. In my imagination, Steve (yes, the leader singer’s name is “Steve” not “Smash Mouth” as some people might call him while throwing bread at him on stage) wrote this after a breakup with a ditzy girlfriend. He’s walking from her her house and sees the watch he wants in the window. He’d been saving up but couldn’t afford it because of his girl running up his credit card. He breaks the glass, puts it in his pocket, and sprints away from the small-town cops. And this, in my mind, was what inspired Steve to write the 90’s epic, “All Star”!

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

 

(Aspiring to Be) Inspiring Writing Prompt #1

Uncategorized, Writing Prompts

Aspiring to be Inspiring Writing Prompt!

Here is your inspiring writing prompt. Just as the sandwich you ordered at the second rate deli is only a suggestion of food, the writing prompt is only a suggestion of your final product.

You’re the only one who can bring this to its fullest potential.

You see this house? It has thousands of balloons. Write a brief explanation, a short story, a long story, a poem, or a song about what is happening here and why. Maybe this is your house. Maybe it’s your enemy’s. Maybe you’re watching it float away, maybe you’re inside this. And, most importantly, where is it headed to? Will the balloons pop in the atmosphere? Or maybe not…

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.