Dangerously plural: why living with many languages is dangerous.

A beautiful meditation on the complex and plural creature that is identity, the ways that language opens us up to understanding (and confusion), and the ways that challenging the ‘single story’ of language, identity and models for life poses a threat to this sense of untoppleable power held by those dominant forces who spit the ‘truth’ of the this singular way of being.

I love the feeling of being able to communicate in Spanish; to make myself understand and to (most of the time) understand in turn; to stumble through a conversation, perhaps reversing, stop-starting at points, but muddling through the heavy traffic of words. I’m eternally grateful to my father for giving me a love of language, and a curiosity to improve this precious key which enables me to flow between people and places with relative ease…this is not to ignore the non-linguistic forms of communication which have dotted some of my previous posts, but rather to nod to the joys and wonders of multi-linguality. It appals me that languages are not more crucial in the British Education system (but then lots of things appal me about what is included in the curriculum so that’s not saying much)…our tiresomely continuously colonial attitude to learning about the world is very dull, and it was precisely only those teachers who spoke so excitedly of this power which language held who have stuck with me as I left school. Language is a dangerous and powerful tool, which is why it has been actively oppressed in so many parts of the world and so many points in history; the English did it to the Welsh, the Spanish to the Latin American indigenous…time and again those in power recognise the power of language. True, an attention to language alone can’t make changes, and can even be dangerous in itself if we then ignore other issues which are at stake, but it is certainly an important place to start.

Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet)

There was an elder tree in the garden of the house where I grew up. It was easy to climb and its branches formed a shelter filled with filtered sunlight. I loved that tree. One evening I sat hidden among the elder smells when my Scottish mother called on me to get down out of the tree and come in. I moved reluctantly, slowly, so my Italian father called me too. Then something happened in my brain and I felt as if something had exploded inside my head.

Hearing the word “tree” in English and then in Italian had triggered a sudden landslide of realisations. This thing I was in, this high green thing I loved, was a “tree” for my Scottish family at the same time as it was an “albero” for my Italian family. Different words for the same thing; but how could it be the same thing…

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