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We respond to others based on our dominant language, but when their dominant language is not congruent with ours, our understanding may not be congruent with what they intend.
Nadine Shaanta Murshid
know some words for war, all of them sharp,
But the sharpest one is jung— beyond English!
— “Beyond English”, Agha Shahid Ali
My husband writes. He writes poetry, sometimes. In English. But, he draws from several lexicons to articulate his thoughts: English, Bengali, Urdu, Hindi. In his first iteration, he uses words that most closely depict his thoughts. But those words are not always in English. For example, waqt. Urdu. And then begins the struggle to find a replacement for that word in English. It may translate into “time” but it's not really time that he means, he means it as that exact solemn moment. In that moment, he has gone from embodying one personality to another.
We are different people in different languages.
This (controversial) Sapir-Whorf idea (that was dismissed after first conceptualised by the duo in the 1930s) is in line with recent research by Osyessman and Lee that has shown that language informs values, self-concept, and cognitive ability. Others, such as Hull (1990, 1996), have found that asking the same question in different languages yield different answers from the same person quite consistently. This indicates that cross-language differences in personality traits are perhaps real.
If that's the case, there are huge implications for peoples' construction of reality.
To make sense of that idea, let's pull back to think about how each language provides different sets of information, even when the topic that is being spoken about is the same. For example, in Bangla when we speak about an uncle you know exactly what type of an uncle we're talking about without having to use additional descriptors. Similarly, when “organising time” we do so based on which language we write in. In English, time will invariably move from left to right, the direction in which we write that language, in Arabic it will be the other way round, indicating that spatial orientation is specific to language.
In a recent talk on campus, my linguist colleague, Eunhun Lee, spoke of the East-West divide in “seeing” things. Apparently, in the East, when looking at a picture of a fish in an aquarium, the first thing that people notice is the environment, and in the West, it is the object: the fish. I'm not a linguist but following the idea that spatial orientation is associated with language, I'm assuming that the structure of the language has something to do with what we see first.
What appears to be in line with Lee's observation is research from Lera Boroditsky, who shows that study participants who spoke English, Japanese, and Finnish were all equally likely to report events from an “agent” or “person” perspective until the event was an accident and the agent wasn't responsible for the act. Respondents who spoke Japanese and Finnish were less likely to identify the agent as an actor in accidents while English speakers were. This doesn't mean English speakers are more likely to have more memory power to recall who the actors are, they just construe events differently, i.e. from the standpoint of the individuals concerned in an event, while the Japanese and Finnish speakers do so based on context.
So what does that mean when we operate in two or more languages?
One answer is that, it would depend on which language we are speaking in.
In terms of “seeing” things, perhaps bilingual speakers of an Eastern and a Western language are more likely to see the object and the environment together.
Or, more likely, it would depend on which culture they're operating in. Hull had shown how individuals conform to cultural norms of the operating language, which then brings about the change in personality when the different languages are spoken. But, I would argue that it's not merely language that changes who we are, it's also the location in which we speak and the people that we are speaking to.
Specifically, because as bilingual persons we not only speak to others in single languages but in mixed-languages (with other bilingual persons), we can make the argument that there is a third personality that we embody, in addition to the two based on the two languages that we operate in.
That raises the question: is that third version of ourselves the most true and authentic? I don't know, but my sense is that in our mixed-up sentences we draw from a larger lexicon, we are able to use the exact word that reflect our thoughts and emotions, and we are able to draw upon a larger body of history with which we can explain more lucidly what we believe in, what we feel.
But it's probably not often that we're being “both” and therefore a “third” version of ourselves.
This is because it is possible that even when mixing up the languages, personality depends on what language we are speaking in, in our heads. For example, sometimes I speak in English but I'm really speaking in Bangla, particularly when speaking to other Bangla speakers who also speak in English, which is indicated through my accent and sporadic use of Bangla words even in a sentence constructed in English. In that case, I would be the version of myself that operates in Bangla, even when using both languages. In other words, that may not necessarily mean that I have a third version of who I am.
But, certainly, our ability and proficiency to operate in a particular language is central to the corresponding personality. If, for example, I am adept at speaking in Bangla more than in English, if I write better in Bangla than I do in English, if I have a wider range in terms of vocabulary in Bangla than in English, then I am more likely to display my Bangla personality more consistently.
What does this mean in real life? 1) Sometimes, these personalities may collide. 2) We respond to others based on our dominant language, but when their dominant language is not congruent with ours, our understanding may not be congruent with what they intend. For example: apologies. When apologised to in Bangla, I am never quite sure whether it is genuine. There's something about “I'm really sorry” that resonates. There is no corresponding apology in Bangla that I can internalise and accept as an apology. 3) Because in the world of bilinguals, how we see the world changes depending on which language we're speaking, so does our implicit bias, research shows, which means, who we like and dislike may depend on which language we're operating in!
And that means: we all need to learn another language, immerse in other cultures, and expand our horizons, so that we can identify our implicit biases as we straddle our different personalities.
Only then can we learn to have empathy for other peoples. Only then will the war on peace come to an end.
The writer is Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, University at Buffalo.
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Kathryn Gray joins Doris Kareva from Estonia and Indian poets writing in several languages in Kolkata at the end of January for a poetry translation workshop led by Akshay Pathak. There will be a performance following the workshop at the Kolkata Literary Meet. The worshop was originally going to be held in Kathmandu, Nepal, at the end of November but was swiftly rescheduled due to the political situation there. It follows on from a number of translation workshops held in India since 2010, starting with Poetry Connections, which also brought together European and Indian poets. You can watch a short film by D W Gibson about that workshop below.
Kolkata poetry translation workshop
24th January – 2nd February, 2013
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However, a bit of translingual intervention changes the meaning into something less inspirational:
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ESSUP - When Paulette Maggiolo moved to America from France 65 years ago, she brought her languages with her. All five of them.
After she married an American officer she had met during World War II, she built her life in the United States teaching the languages - French, English, Spanish, Italian and German - in public and private schools.
Now 90, she is spending her retirement writing novels and nonfiction books in her native and adopted tongues.
Most of her works reflect parts of her life: "The Guilty Teacher" is about an educator dealing with the prevalence of drugs in schools; "No Such Word" traces the relationships of a war bride brought to the U.S. She has written books about cooking, grammar, graduation parties and immigrants. Now she is working on a book of conversations "between two old women," inspired by her talks with her sister in France.
'Intercultural communication through English as a lingua franca: the role of intercultural awareness'.
Wednesday 28 November
14:30 until 16:00
Language Learning Centre, Arts A.
Speaker: Dr Will Baker, University of Southampton, UK.
Part of the series: Research on ELT
'Intercultural communication through English as a lingua franca: the role of intercultural awareness'.
The use of English as a lingua franca (ELF) has raised important issues concerning how we interpret culture in intercultural communication. If ELF is not associated with any particular community, least of all native speakers of English, is culture still a relevant concept in the study of ELF communication? In this presentation it will be argued that culture is still a valuable concept but that it needs to be approached in a non-essentialist manner. Culture should be viewed as a resource that is made use of in emergent, fluid and hybrid ways with users drawing on and across, individual, local, national, and global references. Intercultural awareness will be presented as a way of modelling how participants in ELF communication are able to do this. Given the increasing role of the socio-cultural dimension in ELT such changes to our understanding of culture have significant implications for teaching. These implications will be investigated through data from an exploratory course in intercultural communication for English language learners that translated insights from ELF studies and intercultural awareness into pedagogic practice.
Dr Will Baker, University of Southampton, UK.
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When the teacher got up to address the class, McCaskill was lost.
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Cross & Interculturality
Turin Educational Consortium designs specific
cross-cultural and intercultural training sessions for:
international professionals and companies doing business in Italy and
Italian professionals and companies expanding their business abroad
Our cross and intercultural training sessions are customized based on the participants' needs and highlight both "living" and "working" aspects of the life in the "new" country.
As part of our orientation session, a special intercultural and cross-cultural training is provided to all our incoming students to ease their cultural transition and better understand the local mentality and way of life.
Moreover, all TEC classes and workshops related to Italian culture always include intercultural communications elements and activities, so that our students can fully grasp and enjoy the essence of the Italian way of life!
A Mississauga writer has been honoured for her work in promoting religious and racial harmony.
Zohra Zoberi was among the recipients at the seventh Women of Courage Awards, which are held annually to highlight women of achievement.
Zoberi was recognized for her body of written and performance works that frequently deal with issues of multiculturalism and inter-faith dialogue.
The Women of Courage Awards were presented by a charity called Endless Possibilities and Hope Development at the Woodbridge Banquet Hall and Convention Centre.
The writer's broad range is encapsulated in her latest book, True Colours, which was released in July and is an eclectic collection of prose poetry. In its pages, Zoberi tackles a broad swathe of the human experience, writing on everything from shopping for sarees to relationship breakups to the Arab Spring. Zoberi repeatedly turns her attentions to world events, with poems on the Sept. 11 attacks, Libya and the protests in Egypt' Tahrir Square.
Themes of tolerance and understanding run throughout her work and, as a Pakistan-born Canadian Muslim, she voices her opposition to radical followers of her faith. "I am speaking on behalf of those Muslims who are dead against extremism," she said. "Many people have said to me 'Thank God somebody is saying some of these things, but you have done it in a gentle voice.'
The two sides to Zoberi's work — endless faith in multiculturalism combined with strong opposition to intolerance — are reflected in the deliberately ambiguous title of her book. "I have used the phrase true colours in two senses," said Zoberi. "The world is a very colourful place, but at the same time there is this ugly part of it, so I have shown the true colours of this world also."
Despite the broad swathe of experiences covered in True Colours, Zoberi resisted her publisher's suggestion to group her poetry by topic. Her reasoning: "Life doesn't happen in categories, life just happens as you go along."
In addition to her writing, Zoberi also produces plays in which she insists the cast is drawn from a mix of cultures, ethnicities and faiths. In June of this year she also received an Ambassador of Peace award from the Universal Peace Federation.
I’m guessing that most people in the translation industry are used to this question: “Which do you like better…(insert the name of your native country) or (insert the name of your “adopted” country/ies)??” I often get asked “Which do you like better, the U.S. or Europe?” It’s not an easy question to answer, but having just spent the summer in Europe, I have a few thoughts. Mostly, I think that feeling torn between two cultures is a real joy in life: two choices of location, language, identity, you name it. But it has its complications too! Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments!
In general, I am really happy in the US and in Europe, for different reasons. In the US, I love the “anyone can do it” spirit, the wide open spaces (at least where I live in Colorado!), the multiculturalism, the comparative lack of class-consciousness and the pervasive culture of hard work and optimism. In Europe, I love the slower pace of life, the sense of history, the value placed on arts and culture, and the fact that in less time than it takes to drive across Colorado, you can take the train from Geneva to Paris. Here are a few specifics that spring to mind.
When I’m in Europe, I miss:
Let’s start with an easy one: ice cubes. In Switzerland at least, there seems to be a national collective agreement that iced drinks are bad for one’s digestion, even if, or maybe especially if, it’s incredibly hot outside.
Small talk. I know this is classically American and kind of superficial, but I like a little idle chatter. It’s no coincidence that French doesn’t have a great expression for “How’s it going?” or the equivalent, and I kind of miss that. Particularly in Switzerland, it’s considered very invasive and inappropriate to strike up a conversation with a stranger, whereas in Colorado, it’s almost considered rude *not* to make some kind of conversation with someone next to you on a bus, in a line, etc.
The non-smoking culture. The smoking situation in Europe has really improved since I first lived in France 20 years ago, but it’s still very different from the US. In general I think of Switzerland as being very health-conscious, but people smoke in lots of places that would be completely taboo in the US. For example when I was on a crowded platform in the Geneva train station (waiting for the TGV to Paris!), the person next to me lit up a cigarette and no one seemed to notice, much less say anything. We also saw people smoking in the non-smoking sections of cafes in Austria without being chastised by the staff. Compared to the almost nonexistent population of smokers here in Boulder, the smoking rate in Europe is very shocking.
American opening hours. I know, this is another lazy American thing, but it’s really hard to get into the mindset of planning the day around when the grocery store is open. In Switzerland, basically everything besides restaurants closes at 5 (including “essential” businesses like pharmacies and supermarkets) and in some of the parts of Italy we visited, the mid-day break lasted from noon to 4 PM with stores being open from about 8-12 and 4-7. Even in our city of 100,000 people in the US, there are at least three supermarkets that are open 24 hours a day. Not that I generally go grocery shopping at 3 in the morning, but having things open past 5 is very nice.