Science claims the bilingual to be of two characters, of two people. The shift doesn’t happen consciously, at least not that I’ve noticed; however, I am certain that I do not express myself in the same way between the two languages. That means my voice changes, my vocabulary varies, and the rate at which I speak fluctuates. And then something occurs to me, perhaps the shift indicates something more sinister happening inside of me—after all, my late paternal grandmother was schizophrenic. I worry—in both languages.
Saying that I always knew I’d marry someone who didn’t speak my native tongue would be presumptuous, it would indicate that I have some soothsaying gene and somehow seized or, at least, pre-determined my destiny. And it was sort of like that, actually. From early on, even before I even understood the concept of languages, I created my own sounds—tucked in the back of my childhood closet. Peeking out from the closet to admire my all white canopy bed, I pretended to be a defiant princess hiding from her parents, my stuffed animals—my servants and friends with whom I spoke. No alphabet or any real pattern to my language, but it was not from this world—that much I knew. And when I first heard words like South America and Africa and Europe, I was certain I was conjuring an ancestor—if not from my heritage, from any number of them.
My husband has heard this story several times, but never in my native tongue. It’s much less fantastical in his language, but I paint him a picture that satisfies the rules of his language while mine are ignored. I am so aware of how it sounds when I speak it. And I know there are details that are tossed aside or poorly articulated, whereas others go unnoticed. How strange to talk about childhood in a language with which I was not born speaking.
Being married in a second language means other things, things I might not share with my husband. Things like I can really tune out of a conversation much easier—I daydream often during movies or in small talk at gatherings that are in his language.
Things like I can pretend to not understand, as in that word is not part of my second-language vocabulary, so I can get him to speak to me more often because he’s quite reserved.
Things like I can challenge his use of his own language by referring to grammar rules and thus discuss the nuances between our languages but I really mean us.
Things like I can laugh at the strangeness of idioms that are equally as strange as those in my own language, but I secretly think his are more absurd.
Things like I hate arguing in his language because I get all flustered and things never come out they way I want them to—it’s hard enough to argue in one’s native tongue.
But there are cooler things that happen. Like I have sex in a second language, we have taboo conversations right in front of other people who don’t speak his native tongue, and we talk about art and life in his language which makes it all sound quixotic.
My life in a second language isn’t any stranger than anyone else’s—of that I’m quite certain. Those who teeter between the two begin to notice slight changes that snowball into other things, beasts perhaps. Like many times I cannot recall a word in my own language and to compensate, I covert the second-language word into a word that suits my language. Sometimes this works, but when it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work. Like when I hear myself speaking my native-tongue I become self-conscious. I can feel and hear each and every saliva string. Like sometimes I’m not sure in which language I responded or in which language I was listening—yes, that is real. Like I feel more natural speaking in my second-language to animals and children. It’s like my language isn’t made for soft things. Like I use my first language when I want to feel more me or conjure some ancestors with whom I haven’t spoken to in a while. And when I need comfort from so many years removed from my country.
I remember important words like bones, blood, all types of illnesses in his language because life.
It’s not easy to navigate dreams under the influence of two languages, I choose silent dreams.
My cat speaks his language and doesn’t respond to mine.
I talk to myself in both languages.
Learning a third language is influenced by my second language more than my native tongue.
My third language accent is affected by the second language.
When I see someone who needs help, I use my first language to facilitate the situation.
I still don’t know some basic words in my husband’s language and verb conjugation is a real struggle.
The flexibility of my husband’s language makes life easy.
When I fill out forms in my native language, some of his language creeps in there.
So what happens when I try to be nostalgic in his language when I’d prefer mine? I adapt. And because of this I become a better writer. No, not a better in the grammatical sense or even the publishing sense, but I have more fun with language. Because I don’t take it so seriously, I see the humor in life, in words, in playing with words. I might say something like the house of my mother instead of my mother’s house; it rolls around and takes its time to make a point and I like that. I might say the way in which my father looked at me rather than how he looked at me; the reader gets to take a small journey through his eyes rather than feel my experience. These small nuances elevate my ideas of language, of me, of my art. And I am in awe of the process. It’s like becoming a child all over again. Where I sit beneath my canopy bed and wait for the night’s coming so I can watch the shadows play on the walls that are covered with rosebudded-paper; I am for sleep, I have sleep, I am full of sleep.
About the Author: Jacklyn Janeksela can be found @ felled limbs, Oddball Magazine, The Nervous Breakdown, Berfrois, Barrelhouse, Uut Poetry, Pig Latin, Thought Catalog, & Luna Magazine. She is in a post-punk band called the velblouds. Her baby @ femalefilet. She is an energy.
Story Song: our EP: Desert Spaces, Tropic of Cancer live @ Boiler Room, & a little Chelsea Wolfe. (my go-to sounds + many small unknowns who should be more known.)