segunda-feira, novembro 07, 2016

Trilingual Soul: Reading and Writing in English, German and Portuguese

In reply to some questions from my “avid” and “eager” readers, I’m sure that yes, studying English and German at a tender age did indeed seem an ‘exotic’ choice to a lot of people at the time. I had already a go at this theme before, but I'll have another go just to press and clarify the point. 

I remember a particular German class, because a friend of mine dared me to attend the Goethe Institute; die Einstufungstest placed us both at the beginning (grade 0); a few years later I’d finished the course and she didn’t (I've always been a stickler for hanging in there when the going gets tough). I first began learning about English (German), its language, literature and culture in the early 80s (90s), when most of what people here in the Portugal knew about England and Germany came from news reports about what Thatcher said to Reagan (the demolition of the Berlin Wall when it comes to Germany), so not exactly a reliable indicator of what most ordinary Portuguese were thinking and feeling. Back then, if you were studying English/German it usually meant you’d end up working in the tourism industry in one capacity or another or you became a teacher. My own leanings were rather different – my heroes were Shakespeare, P. D. James, Philip Larkin, Christopher Priest, T. S. Eliot, Waugh, Greene, Tolkien, Lewis, Le Carré, Blake, George Eliot, etc. (Celan, Rilke, Hölderlin, Heine, Kafka, Trakl, Goethe, Grass, etc.) I think it’s safe to say that my immersion in things English/German either changed me completely or brought completely to the surface aspects of my intellect and character that had always been there but that needed the influence of the English and German spirit-stuff to set them free. There is nothing to compare with language for getting a glimpse into another culture, and another mode of thought. In a sense it is something that cannot be computed, because so much is subtlety, and inclination. As well as English, I have always felt a close affinity with German novelists and the German way of thinking. I'm, not sure why. 

I also regret that I don’t know either Japanese or Mandarin, because there are so many Japanese- and Chinese-language writers I wish I could read at least a little of in their original language, because I love the speculative cinema of Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and I know I’d gain even more from these films if I could get a proper sense of how their languages are structured.

It doesn’t matter which language one chooses to learn; it will never be a waste of time. Understanding a second (and third) language, even a little, will always broaden one’s cultural horizons, and bring new inspirations. I’ve always claimed that reading and writing in English and German freed me up to express thoughts and emotions I would have felt uncertain or reserved about expressing in Portuguese. So I would say this is a very particular decision that each trilingual (quadrilingual, etc.) person has to make. The most important thing though is that this should be a free choice; no one should come under pressure to write in Portuguese, English, or German. Variety in terms of language should be cheered, encouraged and promoted through adequate and skillful translations. That’s why when people ask me why I write mainly in English and German and not in Portuguese, I just shrug my shoulders and ignore them. The next time I’m asked the same question, instead of just saying: "sod off", I’ll just direct them to this post. And That’s All Folks.

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