Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Some things I didn't know about writing when I was monolingual

That's not to say that I can assert that I 'speak Chinese' or that I can walk into a Chinese bookshop with any justifiable confidence, but I've already learnt a lot about our own language and what it is to be literate:

1. You can never fully grasp the implications of your use of language
As with any language, Chinese has different ways of saying the same things, but how and why the different ways evolved are always mysterious. If you think 'must, have to, got to, gotta, need to' have the same meaning - look closer.

2. Less is more
Any fool can talk at length, it takes skill to put a point across concisely, eg. to somebody who is new to the language you are speaking.

3.Language doesn't sit still
Mandarin was imposed very recently, it was meant to be unifying and accessible to all the people's of China, but the regional (and seemingly generational) variety in syntax, pronunciation and use of grammar makes me want to curl up in a ball when thinking about reaching fluency.

4. Language is a master, not a servant
Learning a language (including your own) is a process in which there are few controllables. Go with it, be playful, be played with: surrender.

5. Language acquisition is worth doing for its own sake
When I say for its own sake, I mean to say that different uses and justifications for taking the time and effort, emerge along the way. As a writer, your own language becomes more understandable and more mysterious.

6. You're always part of something bigger than yourself
In attempting to make your name as a writer, it helps to have a particular self-importance. You must have the conviction that the contents of your head are interesting, but you're only tool to express the contents of your head is language. The language was there long before you and will be there long after you. And your individual contribution can only ever be a fraction of why its great.