Locked in language

Language is embodied in everything around us. As human beings, we are constantly imparting meaning onto everything and everyone. We are walking representations of language. The clothes we wear; the music we listen to; the books we read; the ideologies we adopt are all symptoms of the cause.

Language is the medium in which we think, speak and act and make sense of the world and ourselves. However, this doesn’t by any means make it an easy relationship to maintain. On the contrary, our relationship with Language has potential to be the most conflicted, love-hate relationships we’ll ever experience. 

This personal piece of writing is an exploration of language, monolingualism and my relationship with my mother tongue. 

Dear English,

I fear that I’ve taken you for granted for quite some time now, and as a result, I may have abused your power, so for that, I apologize profusely.

But before you think I’m going to leave you hovering over me while I lie prostrate at your feet, I’ve got news for you: You’re partly to blame for all of this. You, yes you, Lord of all languages.

The truth is you’ve coddled me. Suffocated me; killed me with kindness and partiality. Since the moment of my birth, you have established yourself as my crutch. You wrapped yourself around my finger and forced me into a partnership with you. I had no choice but to use you as my right-hand man, my magic wand that, when I waved artfully around, doors opened. The tragedy of it all is that I ended up relying on you far too much.

You were supposed to be like the training wheels on a fahrrad (bicycle) which are taken off when the child finally masters the balancing act, but you (or I, I’m not too sure who) had separation anxiety and so you stayed. And I got so comfortable with your presence, that I started to forget you were still there, so it never crossed my mind to ask you to leave.

But in hindsight, I’m afraid you overstayed your welcome. I regarded you as my parent— my mother tongue and much like an over-bearing unyoko (mother), you took away my wings. And I felt so safe, that although I did try countless times, I had no real desire to fly and so I never left your nest.

Despite it all, I still owe you a lot. I owe my entire being to you because, in essence, you created me. My identity was constructed by you, through you. I am made up of words, and those words are written in English. English is the medium that enables me to exist. It is the language in which I think and speak and make sense of the world. Jy is my hart se punt. Ndiyakuthanda (I love you).

  I can’t help but love you, for you’re all I know.

Well, not all I know, but what I’ve chosen to know based on the security you give me in exchange for my loyalty. I became lethargic at the thought of wondering from the safety of your flock. It was too much effort; too scary, uncomfortable, and I was too vulnerable out there. I always felt safer in your loving care.

You were my gesondheid (health). As long as I stuck with you, you promised to elevate me higher, allowing me to reach new levels in life. You’ve been faithful to your promise because I have up until now been prosperous in your presence. I’ve made it to my third year in University, all thanks to my knowledge and application of your complex, ambiguous and at times, nonsensical teachings.

Like why is orange both a fruit and a colour? And why do words that sound exactly the same have different meanings? Why can’t ‘conflictuous’ be a word? Why do some words just sound right, but I can’t use them because they’re ‘grammatically incorrect’? Why all the rigid rules, that are full of leap holes and exceptions?

“Because I said so,” you reply, like a controlling parent and I, the subdued child am put back in my place. I know what’s best for me, so I don’t ask questions, I just do as I’m told. I’m starting to realize, that as much as you are freeing, you’re just as restricting.

Here, in this culturally diverse space of the university that you lead me to, I have encountered other people who regard you as ‘frivolous’; unimportant; irrelevant. And I know you’re probably falling off your chair laughing at the thought of people daring to live without you, because you’ve established yourself as this inextinguishable empire, brainwashing society into believing that your way is the highway to heaven.

For a long time, I used to judge those who did not understand you or express themselves using your eloquent terms. I used to think their lack of understanding could only mean they were uneducated, illiterate.

But my experiences in recent years have all built up to this epiphany  and my eyes have been opened. I have been exposed to new ideas that are formulated from new words that I don’t know because they come from unknown horizons, and my desire to delve into this new knowledge burns through me like the langalibalele (hot sun) on my skin.

I have come to realize that just because other people do not acknowledge you as their source of knowledge, doesn’t make them any less knowledgeable. More often than not, they are even more knowledgeable than I am, they just have different ways of expressing it. And I’m starting to appreciate the beauty of difference, and I have a newfound appreciation for the variation of life that exists down these different roads.

I need you to understand that while there are other worlds out there that I am dying to visit, you will always be my home. You will always be the rocket that launches my thoughts and the planet to which I will inevitably always retreat back to.

It is cathartic for me to finally get my feelings towards you off my chest. All I ask of you is to please let me go. To loosen your hold on me and undo the training wheels of my fahrrad (bicycle) so that I can finally fly. The bicycle will always be the instrument that carries me forward, in whatever direction I choose to go. I just need to be given the freedom and responsibility to travel at my own pace, in my own time and to my own destinations.

I want to experience the world through different eyes, using different tongues and get to know the millions of njamme (brothers and sisters) that up until now, you have isolated me from.

You will always be the ubuchi (honey) to my tea, but I’m just dying to know how tea tastes with sugar.

I hope you will understand where I am coming from, and support me on my journey. I don’t need you anymore, but you’re still a part of me I want to keep.

Yours sincerely,

Jade-Eden le Roux

Featured image: Jade le Roux

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4 thoughts on “Locked in language

  1. This is such a unique angle! What better way to look at a relationship than through a letter? Language attitudes are so complex and I can relate to the love-hate relationship concept. While I love playing around with words, phrases and idioms; I also can get bitter about a language because of the nature of the people attached to it.
    I love the way all languages have a working system (their own set of rigid rules); it’s the mathematics of the art of speaking and it just shows us how amazing our brains are. I agree that languages make one appreciate the beauty of difference and I think that this is vital to a loving society.
    This was really beautiful Jade!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for your comment and for engaging! I also absolutely love playing around with words and phrases and trying to make some fun out of the technical elements of language. I love the way you phrased it as “mathematics of the art of speaking,” and you’re so right about realising the beauty of difference being the key to a loving society!

    Liked by 1 person

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