Landscapes of Language

I am a child of lost language. Well, it wasn’t the language that was lost–it carried on doing fine without me. I was the lost one.

It didn’t have to be that way but that’s how it turned out. Born into a Tamil-speaking family. Never studied the language. An itinerant family, we moved often. It wouldn’t have been practical. Spent some years distancing myself, as well, in an adolescent pursuit of cool. Now I can speak Tamil but I’m barely literate. So–no excuses. Just facts.

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English gave me the ticket to where I am now, a writer of books for young readers, publishing in what is unquestionably the world’s bridge language. But then there is the literature of my ancestors, tangible in objects like this one but in many ways opaque to me.

For years I blamed myself. Spent some time pretending it didn’t matter. Spent some time being angry with the system that created the linguistically stranded, like me. And now  as I enter the 6th decade of my life, maybe I’m finally learning to come to terms with it.

So Iona Sharma’s article rang many bells for me. And it’s beautifully written. Here’s a snippet:

Gaelic will never have monolingual speakers again. My native language is gone forever. Relearning it is possible; decolonisation of the mind is possible. But I have been changed, first by the forgetting and the relearning. What is left is post-glacial, a landscape irrevocably altered.

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I could tell myself that postglacial is still a landscape. And every landscape has its own beauty.

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