Let’s try it: ‘Ville dette spørsmålet være bedre om jeg spurte den på norsk?’
I enjoyed that. How about you?
I lust the sound of foreign languages, and the Scandic ones are some of my favourites. All bouncy melodies and elongated vowels suspended in mid air. They seem to (I’m probably more talking Finnish and Swedish here, as these are the ones I’ve heard the most) have a certain stacatto rhythm, fast and punchy, and then slow down for those vowel sounds. It makes the whole sound incredibly lyrical.
But of course, a question across a language barrier is somewhat useless, if it wasn’t for the vagaries of automatic translate, that is. Which would leave me in a state of never knowing if I’d answered the question or not. Not that I feel I ever do, non-absolutist that I am.
And realistically, this process allows me to not answer the asked question whenever I want. I can’t read intent, and when I can I can often choose not to. It’s that interesting thing, that without follow up questions, it’s hard to actually maintain the focus of the answer. Questions do not dominate answers. Answers tend to do what they want.
I wouldn’t be able to play this game if that wasn’t the case.
Language is strange. Without it we can’t communicate to people we know, and yet there are still hundreds of languages that don’t help communicate with me. They are part of national identity as much as fancy dress or foodstuffs. More so, a language marks you as separate, and connects you, brings you closer. That access to the world of puns and poetry is the basis of so much humour and affection. Language is phatic, it bonds us. Unites us.
But then it’s divided us also.
There’s that story, I’ve told it before. Of the tower of babel. All the people of earth united in building upwards, trying to impress each other and their god. In fact, trying to reach up to god. Knock on the doors of heaven. So as they got higher and higher, god got angry at the kids encroaching on his territory, smashed the tower and divided the people, so they could never unite again. He gave them different languages so they couldn’t co-operate.
If I believed that story, I’d hold god responsible for all wars and international misunderstanding since.
But that doesn’t mean that a mix of languages is bad. Heck, if it wasn’t for all the other languages, then English would be incredibly boring. Watching the genealogies of words and language warp into each other is a beautiful historical pastime.
It’s frustrating that so many things that bring us together also divide us. It’s sad that so often a feeling of unity is wrought through isolation and difference. Otherness and identity are wrapped up together, and it pushes pain around.
So maybe you should ask more questions in Norwegian, and I should learn to answer that way.
Bring the world closer.
Illustration by Jessica.