Lost words: saying goodbye to mono-language


in borderlands,identity,psychic limbo,Rose Deniz,self-image

Detail: Palm Fantasy by Rose Deniz


Long gone are the days when I wore all the wrong things. I can show up on the scene with the right clothes and hair coiffed, remember my eyeliner, and find a pair of shoes to coordinate. I got the cultural style memo.

So I can look the part, but what about those words?

The ones I used to know intimately and without a second thought. The tricky spelling bee varieties, the on-the-nose adjectives, and even the simple, humble go do make buy.

Sure, I may stumble in the wrong pair of shoes, but how come when I speak English, my native language, I now find blanks, holes, Turkish substitutes? This is not the word-amnesia of overly careful thought, like when I’m working on my novel and just can’t find the right way to describe something.

This is full-on, stripped bare. It’s a word puzzle with blocks and clues that keep shifting. It’s a verbal thing, but even my writing teacher tells me that sometimes I create curious word combinations and she wonders why.

It’s taking too long to dredge up a word, hesitating before I speak. It’s a blurring of Turkish and English. It’s the pang of losing my word mojo, of finding when I’m home, steeped in my own language, I’ve lost slang and naturalness.

Underneath this fear is the excitement of creating something new, though. Moving language. The word gaps a letting go of perfection. Stepping into hybridity, parting ways with mono-language and a static world.

What does it mean about your life today when the words escape you?

Rose Deniz is an artist and writer nesting abroad. She merges the homespun sensibilities of a Wisconsin upbringing with a vibrant hybrid family life in Izmit, Turkey on her blog and in her podcasts. When not working on her first novel, she can be found tied up in embroidery thread and writing about creativity.
This post originally appeared at RoseDeniz.com

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  • Beabaabe

    I’m looking for the “Mono” word that represents…….. forever or, eternity?  Can you help? :)

  • http://about.me/anastasia.ashman Anastasia

    Thanks for this, Rose. As I reacted elsewhere, I think for writers like us this strange amalgam can become our unique voice….probably can be a strength for others too, if expression is an important part of your work (and personality!). In fact, when I think of one of the most colorful speakers I know, I remember that she is a tri-lingual Third Culture Kid…so not only does she pepper her talk with different languages, she’s untethered to the idea of expressing anything in a conventional way. What comes out sometimes is just *sounds* — but you know exactly what she means.

    • http://twitter.com/rosedeniz Rose Deniz

      Thanks for syndicating my post, Anastasia! 

      It might feel awkward at first, but I agree that it does wonders to strengthen your voice. And being a big fan of details, my favorite friends and speakers captivate me with how they say things, not just what they say or write. 

  • http://twitter.com/joannemstein JoAnne Stein

    What a fascinating article! I’ve definitely experienced this and often want to substitute words from other languages but find myself stumped and frustrated when I have to find the appropriate word in English because the person I’m talking to doesn’t know Russian or French.

    I can concur with taraagacayak because I’ve been back in the US for about a year after being gone for 2 and people still tell me I have an accent! It took me a few months for me to personally notice my speech patterns returning to normal but I guess on the outside they haven’t completely. Will I ever speak like an American again!? :-)

    The same with mdbenoit, sometimes I want to blurt something out in another language but I have to censor myself or else it will seem like I’m bragging or trying to sound cool which I’m not!

    • http://www.rosedeniz.com Rose Deniz

      Joanne, thanks so much! In some ways, I’ve tried to not learn Turkish through translation — pairing words in English with Turkish equivalents, but as a result, I sometimes, like you, really don’t know what the word is in English. Some words only exist in Turkish, or Russian, or French, for that matter. There really aren’t substitutions, and I find myself saying, “well… it’s sort of like this, or roughly means this…” all the time. Thanks so much for commenting!

      • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

        I speak three languages reasonably well, but can only write in two, so this issue is not as challenging for me when I write. In speech, I’m always mixing the three, and I’m so relieved to see that others here have that “bragging” hesitation. I’m trying to be understood, not showing off!

        I’ve also picked up my husband’s creative word patterning in English AND Turkish (with smatterings of Kurdish and Flemish thrown in. just to mix it up) making me sound non-native in any language.

  • Anonymous

    Oh Rose … I’ve been in the States for over two weeks after having been gone for over two years. Do you know what people keep saying to me ? They tell me I have an accent. We are forever changed, expanded beyond our natural-born borders. But in my experience it makes people listen more closely. Language is a living thing, and if it doesn’t change, it dies. Good for you for keeping it alive!

    • http://www.rosedeniz.com Rose Deniz

      Interesting, Tara! I hadn’t thought about having an accent when going back home…. but you’re right, our words, language, expressions change when we live in another country. Maybe we’re paying more attention, maybe they have to pay more attention, too. Even the words we know innately come out sounding different — we’re shaped by our location, too.

      • http://about.me/anastasia.ashman Anastasia

        I arrived in New York yesterday and already someone has asked if “that’s a Hungarian accent I detect”. The only things she heard me say is “yes” and “okay”, so the accent must be pretty strong!

        • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

          I’ve not said the word “okay” for years now… it’s the Turkish “tamam”, no matter where I am or who I’m speaking with.

    • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

      This is a fascinating post, Rose! When I first heard you speak, Tara, you DO have a slight accent…and the fascinating thing to me is that it’s more pronounced in your native English than it is when you speak Turkish! Your careful enunciation of words in both languages to me means that you’ve learned the great effort it takes us to make ourselves understood. Because of our multiple cultures, we have a greater range of expression, particular to our experience.

      As a hybrid friend told me long ago, “As many languages you speak is how many times a human you are”.

  • Anonymous

    Loved your post! I speak four languages (two fairly basically), and I find it difficult many times to stick to only one. Sometimes the perfect word will come in a language the other person isn’t speaking so I blank out, trying to translate in my mind the word that seems just right in that other language. It makes me sound not too bright, with all this fumbling about with words, and it’s hard to explain without sounding like bragging (saying I ‘m thinking of the word, but it’s in Spanish, or Italian, or French). Fortunately, I can mix-and-match at home, and it’s definitely a stress reliever.

    I also am a writer, a Francophone writing in English, but I’ve started mixing the two languages in my novels, something that is totally fun and, somehow, deeply rewarding. I might eventually add the other two languages in there. They do say write what you know…

    • http://www.rosedeniz.com Rose Deniz

      Oh, it’s that blanking out that gets me! And which language should I use? It’s become less clear as time goes on. Love the idea of you mixing languages in your book — a long time ago when I knew a fair amount of Spanish, I would pop phrases into my short stories. For as long as I’ve spoken Turkish, I’ve resisted using Turkish in my written work — too many imaginary grammarians lurking over my shoulder? At home we mix, too, and then it’s more fun, fresh, and immediate. Thanks so much for commenting!

      • http://about.me/anastasia.ashman Anastasia

        In pretty much every conversation I have these days I get to a point where I say, “what’s the word I mean?”, and I can’t really claim that my vocabulary has been taken over by another language, since it hasn’t been!

  • Anonymous

    Dear Rose, For me it’s more a case of languages merging, an overlapping that baffles me at times. Years ago I returned to the Netherlands furtively searching for the proper Dutch word, trying to find translations for American computer language for instance, to find that my countrymen and women were blatantly pronouncing those words I did not want to use, as their own, a Dutch version. The Grand Old Man of Dutch poetry, Leo Vroman found my urge to use proper Dutch boring, he played with language the way I at the time could not – yet. To be looking for the correct Dutch word therefore seems to show my lack of acceptance that there is less of a difference than before. If I halt, it’s out of stubbornness holding on to what was, nostalgia. Out of that feeling my wish to write in Dutch has grown stronger, which recently resulted in creating a Facebook page, Twitter account (@inhaarmoerstaal) and blog in my mother tongue.

    • http://www.rosedeniz.com Rose Deniz

      Good for you, Judith, for starting a Twitter handle and FB page/blog in Dutch! That searching for the “right” word can send me into a spin, too. I think about how language is always changing, proper Dutch (or Turkish) terms being supplanted with accented English replacements, new words cropping up that never existed before. That’s the flow of it, I think, and the beauty and excitement of it all, too. The merging part is thrilling, it’s just learning to be okay with newness, omissions, and amalgamations.

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