One of the things that I have come to appreciate since becoming at least conversationally fluent in Spanish, is just how fascinating the notion of language is, in and of itself. A language is not just a compilation of vocabulary and rules concerning grammar, but the expression of a culture as it attempts to put order to the world. This is what has caused the most problems in translations of ancient texts, aside from degradation of the source material: our lives are so fundamentally different from those our ancestors could have hoped to experience that there is very little common ground upon to which one might hope to base a translation. Not only would ancient peoples not have words for common technological marvels, but they would also be bereft of words to that might describe the very concepts that go behind them. How could I possibly explain to someone living five thousand years ago what it is, exactly, that I am doing now. I mean, if it’s a pain to just explain what a blog is to my grandparents, who have, at least, some experience with these newfangled computing machines, what hope would I have of explaining it to tribal nomads?
I bring this up because I have noticed changes in the way I think, depending on the language which I’m speaking. I think that was harder to wrap my head around than new words and a system of conjugation that actually made sense. Take, for instance, the concept of liking something. In English, I would say, I like to watch movies; whereas in Spanish, I would have to turn it all around, and say, Me gusta ver películas, or: It pleases me to watch movies. And where I might love doing something in English, in Spanish, it enchants me. Just a slight cultural shift, but once you’ve seen it, it’s always going to be there. My journey has been made easier by my decent vocabulary in my native tongue, and there has been more than one occasion when I have understood more than I might otherwise have hoped, simply because I was familiar with an underappreciated cognate. Thank you, Latin roots. In English, I am the master of my destiny. I like things, I love things. No matter what I am saying, what’s important in the sentence is that I am saying it. Spanish, on the other hand, is almost entirely dismissive of the speaker. When I am talking to someone, I rarely use pronouns, except to emphasize a point. It’s no wonder then, that such a culture shock exists for Latinos when they come here.
I’ve had many Latino friends tell me that, sure, they make more money here, but they’re also spending so much more. But the one thing that they cannot seem to get over, at least the ones who’ve come here as adults, is the pace of life itself in the United States. Everybody seems to be stretched to their breaking point, and we’re making money just to spend it, without leaving any time for ourselves to do things which might bring us some enjoyment. We set our jaws and grind through our days, and wear ourselves down to where we cannot take it anymore, and then we get right back up and do it all again. And in this exchange of cultures, it seems that nobody is truly winning. Kids born here cannot hope to compete against a work ethic that was never meant to go for hours, and we’ve managed to export diabetes wholesale down to Mexico.
About the work ethic thing: I am not saying that one group of people is inherently better than another. What might be viewed as sloth when it comes to the citizenry, could easily be interpreted as someone simply trying to pace themselves for a couple of full-time shifts a day. And while someone might give their all, work hard, never complain, and keep going no matter what, that kind of pace is inherently untenable, and I’ve seen it rip away decades of life that someone will never have the chance live. A sprinter is effective because of the distance run, and the time he budgets himself to recuperate. You cannot sprint all throughout a marathon, or you will die before you reach the second marker. Maybe it’s time that we learn how to slow the pace a little. We work so hard during the day (and often the night, as well), that we leave no time for ourselves or for our families. Sure, we have newest, coolest stuff, but we’ve forgotten what it means to be human.
I seem to have drifted a bit from my original intention, rather like how Latin spread throughout the Western world only to become Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian, not to mention coloring my native tongue, as well. I just wanted to bring up how cool language was, not get into a diatribe about socioeconomic policies. Sorry. I guess that’s been happening more frequently this past week. It’s just that I seem to have opinions about right and wrong which have been updated through the process of immersing myself into a group of people with a background which I do not share. And that’s the magic of language, really. If you take the time to learn a second language, or a third, or more, it can not only allow you to communicate with the people you might have otherwise been unable, but the languages themselves can offer up a new way of thinking, a new way of perceiving the world around you. If you study language, you can read back through the story of mankind itself, see where we came from, and how we got to where we are today. The evolution of language is like the evolution of species, and it’s fascinating to see how far we’ve come.
Tomorrow I am going to try to do something a little more lighthearted, as a way of thanking everyone who’s come and considered all the heavy things I’ve recently had to say. Thank you everyone, and have a wonderful weekend!