Scraps of languages battle for attention on the backburner of my brain.
Night and day, day and night, evenings too.
English, Polish, Russian, French, and Spanish compete in the premier league, although I can no longer deny that Spanish is under constant threat of relegation.
Every so often, I test myself whether zashchishchayushchihsya still flows effortlessly from my lips, or whether I can say ninety-eight in French without the maths getting in the way. Spanish has been the weakest link in my claim to polyglotism, but I remain positive that it could be salvaged by an extended holiday to a Castilian speaking region.
French, with its hard-earned reputation for mocking even the most dedicated attempts at mastering its nuanced perfection, has granted me no special treatment in this respect. If that was not bad enough, the language of love has been in cahoots with that petit hibou vert, if you know what I mean. The two of them gang up on me when I least expect it. Still, I stay loyal; the pull of its beauty, c’est incroyable.
Polish was where it all began, but the way I speak it now sounds out of sync with the 21st century version spoken in Poland. If the RSPCA specialised in rescuing languages from their neglectful owners, my battered and bruised Polish would be taken away from me, and I would be fined for cruelty against my native tongue. My guilt is undisputed; my sin one of sloppiness, which oft befalls long-term emigres and is exemplified by peppering one’s speech with lazy English words where a perfectly functionable native language equivalent exists. I take shameless advantage of the fact that English seems to have a neat one word term for just about everything, where Polish needs three or more.
English. I have taken it for granted for an audaciously long time. I am not proud of it, but I have treated English like long-time married couples treat each other, the way they take for granted their morning coffees, until one day, the husband oversleeps, the wife can’t be asked, or they’ve run out of milk. After a while, I put an effort into rekindling the romance and I remind myself of the early days, when I was giddy on Shakespeare and Dickens, Joyce and Donne, and a myriad other clichéd golden oldies; the days when I used to get legally high by simply chanting ‘his soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead‘.
Out of curiosity, how has your relationship with spoken words been? Written, too, for that matter?