General Question

jballou's avatar

How closely is your identity tied to language?

Asked by jballou (2128points) September 3rd, 2008

Are you really you? Or are you only what you can express outwardly? I read this really interesting blog about it:

What do you think?

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10 Answers

wildflower's avatar

There is definitely something to it. Before I moved abroad, finding words or expressing myself was never a concern, never worried about timing, breathing, placement of tongue and jaw, etc.
When I moved to Denmark and had to get by in Danish (my second language and a difficult one to learn due to it’s pronunciation), I found I suddenly had to pay attention to my speech – if I didn’t, things would come out distorted, with an accent or as complete jibberish. I’ve no doubt this affected the way I was perceived by others and the way I behaved – I was less likely to make quick remarks, talk fast, etc.
Moving to Ireland ‘fixed’ that – I very very rarely end up messing up English, because it’s easier for me to pronounce…..although, admittedly I mess up the occasional V and W, but I can live with that :)

flyawayxxballoon's avatar

Well, there are really two sides of you in this case. There’s the side of you that everyone else percieves, and then there’s the side that only you know about. A language barrier that allowed you to say only minimal things would prevent everyone else [assuming that they only spoke the language that you can barely speak] from seeing the side that you know, and you would only be able to see the sides of other people that you could understand. However, there’s a whole other ‘you’ that only people who speak your language fluently would understand and percieve. So, language is tied to your identity in one sense, but it’s not in another.

tinyfaery's avatar


I’m Mexican and white. Half of my family speaks Spanish, I do not. My father did not teach us Spanish because my mother could not speak it. When I was growing up my grandparents would speak to my cousins in Spanish, and I would feel left out. They would often “forget” I couldn’t speak it and say something to me in Spanish. I’d look and them blankly and they’d get irritated.

I grew up in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, and most everyone spoke Spanish. My friends would twitter away in front of me, and again, I’d be left out. (I did learn to understand quite a bit of Spanish, but I am not a Spanish speaker.)

Since I grew up with the Mexican side of my family, and lived (well, live) in a Latino neighborhood, I am most comfortable in an environment with Latinos and Spanish speakers. But my appearance and lack of a common language announces me as an outsider

My identity is closely tied to language. It fuels my feeling of marginality in the world. I fit in two worlds, but belong to neither.

susanc's avatar

This may be off the point.
I speak pretty good French and I enjoy messing along in Spanish but it’s really hard for me to read either because I’m a hyper fast reader in English and I don’t like to slow down. Plus I get fairly exhausted when I’m striving to hold conversations in a non-native (to me) language. Overstimulated, I think. So when I travel, I take a lot of l9th-century British paperbacks with me. I jump into that pool of great English, great Englishness, when I get worn out in Bahasa Indonesia, Italian,
Setswana, whatever. English is HOME to my brain. English, English, English. I’ll never give it up.

Brome's avatar

Very interesting concept that you introduced to us with this blog post, Jballou.

As a native French speaker, I can relate to that story. I started learning English at school in my teenage years, and what I learned there was scholar and academic. When I went to university, I spent some time watching TV and movies in English (mostly US English), which improved my skills, to the point where I became fluent or nearly fluent.

But when I talk to someone in English, and more particularly when I write in English like I’m doing now (because I can take the time to check what I’ve written and ponder wether every word was correct and relevant), I have the constant fear of sounding or looking awkward. After all, because I learned a phrase in a Kurt Russel movie doesn’t mean it’s ok to use it on a web forum in a discussion about politics. And even in casual conversation, the punch lines I learned in 80’s movies could have been “da bomb” back in these days, but could sound terribly dated today.

So, yes, when I express myself in English, I’m almost always wondering if my speech sounds as coherent and wise as it would sound in French, or if I just sound like some hardly intelligible moron.

jballou's avatar

Thanks! I want to make it clear I didn’t write it- a good friend of mine did. I’m sure she would be happy to read this feedback- please feel free to leave her comments on the blog!

nina's avatar

I was raised as a Russian speaker and majored in English. When I immigrated to the US – it was a double blessing of coming to this country and of living in the land of the language you study and love.

An author I adore, Adam Gopnik said something like, ‘We breathe in our first language and swim in the second one”. This is poignantly true, except for the fact that when you are removed from your first language, you do not quite breathe in that language anymore. So, does that make me a fish?

shadling21's avatar

@nina – You may be a jellyfish.

I like how Maya wrote in her blog, “In Chinese she was a teenager, using the equivalent diction of “like” and “OMG,” in English she became a serious and formal academic, in French she was silly and lighthearted and fun. A different identity for each vocabulary she had in each language.”

Obviously, one’s command of a language affects the way a person is perceived. But does it really affect our identity at its root? Our identities seem to change all the time…

pathfinder's avatar

In old mythology of my country{CZ}.My name use to be tie on one person.That guy was breeder of sheeps.That was in period of great Bohemia.I thing my name does do a sence with my charizma.

celiajane's avatar

i thought the article was really good, helped me alot thanks!

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