Since beginning this blog, I have been thinking of writing about language. And since beginning this blog, I’ve been avoiding it. For processing the mysteries of language(s) is more than I can hope to even reflect on in one blog post and certainly much more than I myself understand.
But I also need to accept the assignment (from myself) and just write. So some brief thoughts about some of my thoughts on languages.
Very simply, I am conscious of language and of languages every day in Indonesia. I am conscious of hoping to understand others and hoping to be understood. I am conscious that I know very little of Bahasa Indonesia, the national language of the country in which I reside. I am conscious that it is normal for Indonesians to speak multiple languages. I am conscious, as always, that I have a lot to learn.
I am also conscious that a language is a gift. The more we learn of a language (including the first languages we learn), the more of that gift we received. The more languages we learn, the more gifts we receive.
A language also is a worldview, a particular way of understanding and processing the world. Through it we comprehend name realities of nature and culture and other persons and God. It is through language that we make sense of what our senses sense. And it is through language that we communicate to others our own understanding of the world.
To learn a language is seek to understand another’s point of view. It likewise expands our own worldview, giving us new ways of thinking about the world.
To learn a language is to bridge a gap to another person, another culture, to seek to understand and be understood.
This is certainly true for other persons in the present. I seek to expand my knowledge of Bahasa Indonesia so that I can better understand my students and colleagues. Yes, their English is excellent, but to know these persons more fully I must learn their language, their particular way of processing the world. The more fully I know Bahasa Indonesia, the more fully I can know those fellow humans who think, and most often speak and listen, in that language.
This is also true for persons of the past. We learn languages to read, hear, understand what people from the past wrote, said, communicated, as well. I am celebrating this approach now through a translation project, a bilingual edition of the poetry and prose of Germany’s first female poet laureate, Christiane Mariane von Ziegler. I’m particularly living with, and translating, her writings on three topics of great importance to her (and expressed, of course, in her native German): poetry, music, and women’s rights.
So I urge you: listen closely in every language. Seek to share with others the ways you understand and process the world. Listen to others: let them share with you the ways they understand and process the world. Listen in your own language. Listen in the languages of others. Listen and seek to understand.