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On Multiple Languages

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Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking this week about language. I live in two languages, and the division between English and Hebrew is the division between intellect and emotions and a little bit between present and past. I think in English, but I still feel in Hebrew. Most of my current daily experiences are in English, but my past experiences, my childhood experiences are in Hebrew. So there’s a fairly sharp and arbitrary divide in my brain in that sense. I think this is why music is more emotional for me. Music transcends language, although I find the lyrics almost as important as the music.

It’s a divide I come up against fairly often when I try to translate my thoughts. The words don’t mean the same thing, not exactly. And when I invariable come up short, it's frustrating. Maddening, even. Especially since writing is my calling. To be not a words person trying to straddle two languages is bad enough. Writing beautiful prose in a language that isn't the language of my heart is damn near impossible. Guess what I decided to do.

How do I do that? I don't really know yet. My first novel was perhaps easier because most of my experiences as a new mother I had in English, as we were living in Canada at the time. But my next project, which I started working on, is about Israel and the complexity of life there (and not there). I'm working through some research now and trying to wrap my head around how I write a story about my childhood home in a language I (still!) don't have complete control over. At least not to the level that I'd like to have. And how to bend this language to convey one of the most complicated situations in the world, a situation that is the culmination of thousands of years of history and involves pretty much the whole world.

So that's what I'll be doing over here, in case you're looking for me.


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