Linguistic contexts

November 18, 2006 at 8:45 am 4 comments

My English vocabulary is melting away. The more Finnish I speak, the more clunky I can hear my English becoming–partially because I have learned to dumb it down in order to have clearer conversations with non-English speakers, and partially because my brain is replacing language associations with different environments with new ones. I was in a meeting yesterday and got all confused as my associations clashed–it was a meeting(like the Finnish business meetings I’ve been having), but it was a student-activist group atmosphere(English academia). So what came out of my mouth was a stuttering mix of half Finnish, half English, as I “vuorotellen” (see?!? I know there’s an English word there) forgot first the right words in one language, then the right words in the next. Also it’s been a slight survival strategy here to switch into English when I talk to people in official settings so they don’t think I’m “simple”, since my Finnish is basically accentless now but my eloquence is distinctly lacking.

I learned three languages simultaneously as a kid. I must have kept them separate by relating them to distinctly separate contexts–now as an adult I’m going to have to be a bit mindful of that, since living with Emma means I’ve been able to get lazy and switch languages whenever the other language seems to have a better word. Tsk tsk.

But what’s more important, being able to communicate in a beautifully specific way with a small group of people, or being able to communicate in a general, understandable way with everyone else? I mean, if you could only choose one?

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Entry filed under: Language, Psychology.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. sulz  |  November 18, 2006 at 1:23 pm

    obviously the latter, even though i am generally biased against people who cannot speak a language fluently. where i come from, people value the ability to speak as many languages as possible, no matter how bad your grammar is. and i’m only good at one language – i expect it will be hard for me to get a job after i graduate.

    Reply
  • 2. daravida  |  November 19, 2006 at 8:36 am

    The latter! If push comes to shove, you can always find alternate means of communicating deeper ideas – or at least attempting to. Photogtaphy and illustration would be two interesting thing to explore, of one had more in depth things to communicate but couldn’t communicate verbally.

    Reply
  • 3. Niko  |  April 14, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    Instinctively I would lean on the former. But I guess the latter is more practical.

    But while speaking English to us non-native speakers please don’t dumb it down. The way we learn is by hearing intelligent English. 😉

    Reply
  • 4. veltis  |  April 16, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    The problem is that you instinctively imitate the manner of speaking of the people around you–and I’ve been having way too many conversations with older Finnish business people and their “business English”, which is starting to become its own dialect or pidgin, I think. This is happening not just among Finnish business people, but among business people around the world–when Taiwanese suppliers meet with German distributors, this is what they speak.

    Reply

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