fredag 7. oktober 2011

Language and self expression

Is it easier to express yourself in another language than your native language?

This is a question that left me been pondering as of recently. What made me pose this question is music. Music itself can talk to you no matter the language you speak, but what about the lyrics? Here in the Scandinavian part of the world, the vast majority of all musical artist produce English lyrics for their music. Some might claim this is done to enjoy a broader appeal internationally. It's hard to go sky high if your language is only understood by a few millions of all the billions of people inhabiting this earth. This is a valid point of course, but I want to delve into this phenomenon from another perspective.

Are the Scandinavian languages lacking a depth of expression which leads us to use the English language for music and poetry?
It is true that the Scandinavian languages are beaten by the English language with regards to vocabulary.(find number of words in both languages and compare) This heavily affects the dynamic of the language. When writing poetry and musical lyrics, one will often want to play with words, make rhymes and generally have fun with the language itself. It is much harder to do this successfully with a smaller vocabulary, which is the case with the Scandinavian languages. This fact will often result in lyrics sounding too simple and childish in a way that will make Scandinavians cringe. However, when it is done well, it truly displays the strength and beauty of the Scandinavian languages.

Is a foreign language acting as a shield, giving you some distance from the actual matter when you use it instead of your native language?
This is something that I have experienced that I am doing unintentionally. When talking to my friends about serious and personal matters, I went to say the important things in English. I can not completely explain why I am doing this, but I can always guess. I think speaking in a language you have learned well later on in life is not as tied to you as your native language from your childhood. This means that you are not as mentally attached to the language, which gives you some freedom in regards to who you are when you speak it. A friend of mine once told me that he liked himself better when he was speaking in English. To me, this is extremely interesting and proves as a pointer to what is going on. Another language with no connection to the person you have been your entire life gives you the freedom to reinvent yourself and be how you want to be but do not dare to in your native language. With this in mind, it makes more sense as to why most musicians chose English as their language of choice.

But this makes me wonder why we do this. Are we afraid of expressing ourselves in our native language? Why is this? Perhaps the strong mental connection that we have to our native language makes it so personal that it makes us feel “naked” when talking about difficult things with it. Personally I have found myself saying short sentences about very difficult things in English and not in my own language without even thinking about the fact that I did:

Whatever the reason might be, it surely consists of many partial truths which will wary from person to person. There is no set truth as to this phenomenon, but one thing is for sure, languages are beautiful and intriguing beholders of culture. Do not forget yours.

While one can question the meaning of the lyrics, this song offers some of the most beautiful play with words I've ever heard in music.

2 kommentarer:

  1. The whole subject of disassociation with yourself is through language is certainly an impetus for expressing yourself in English, which I've found to hold true for everyone I've had occasion to discuss it with. For that very reason though, I attempt to speak norwegian when I'm dealing with serious personal matters. It is a matter of masks; we are none of us a single person, adjusting personality to all situations. Dressing differently, talking differently, can strengthen alternate personality aspects. 'course, that theory would hold greater weight if I didn't keep talking english in everyday life as well... but the person I am when speaking english is slightly different from the norwegian me. Closer than they used to be, due to years and years of speaking english in all sorts of situations, but still.

    That aside though, on the subject of why artists often choose english to express themselves; I believe that there is also a critical mass issue. A great deal of our stories are in english: movies and music (and some of us also largely subsist on english literature). Everyday issues are dealt with in everyday language, so native phrases will serve; however, all these stories in English provides us with a lot of (borrowed) experience with dramatic, important issues and situations, but in English. A lot of our memories of people dealing with strong emotions and difficult situations are thus set in a non-native language. (As are a lot of our memories of people being cool) So, when writing lyrics or dialogue, a lot of us tend towards English because we have greater experience with it being used in that fashion, which thus perpetuates itself.

    As you say, and as it is with all things, the truth is more complex, but I believe the global shared culture tending towards one language creates a sort of gravity. For example: It used to be when I was thinking ahead to a conversation I would have (or might have), if it was about personal matters, I would find myself imagining it in english; (which, as it turns out, would then rather lower the chance that it ever played out as I imagined, but that's another matter) when I tried to formulate it in norwegian, it fell flat in my mind, sounding wrong. Perhaps that's just me. Regardless, I do not believe our languages are truly less suited to self-expression than english, but no matter your chosen medium, whether the intent is personal or artistic, it is the essence of the expression that matters, not the wrapping. Wait, no, that sounds nice and all, but I don't truly believe it: rather, the wrapping is part of the thing itself, but no medium or language is truly inferior to another, it is a matter of each person's relation to the medium that determines how the essence is affected by it.

    Blimey, I'm sorry, I seem to have attached an article of my own to yours. I'll leave off here.

  2. Nice to see a new blog entry from you. =) I also enjoyed reading the comment by EhyehAsherEhyeh.

    Personally I prefer writing in the Norwegian language, but that might be because of extensive travelling and also currently living abroad. At times my mind seeks rest, and it finds that in the mother tongue rather than in English. Also, because I´m frequently talking to people of different national and cultural backgrounds who might speak English differently, I have to adjust my mind and place myself on as much of an equal level as possible. That requires an effort, so when writing or expressing something important I use Norwegian language.

    Things that sound outright stupid in one´s native language might not necessarily do so in a foreign language. However, one might be blinded, and enlightened representatives and native speakers of the language in question might hear exactly how silly what one tries to say is. However, when one reaches a certain proficiency one easily avoids that trap.

    I do think that certain languages are superior to others for specific measures. Some languages have a lack of words in certain fields. The Kazakh language, for example, was said to be badly suited for scientific and academic use as they lacked words for it. Since people had an extensive knowledge of Russian that language has stayed in those fields even after the break-up of the Soviet Union and Kazakh independence. However, due to current politics, it´s probably changing.

    Some languages are more suitable for poetry than others. Take the Lithuanian language as one example. Of all the languages I know it´s the most suitable for poetry. The reason why is that words tend to have similar endings. There are so many possibilites for making rhymes without it sounding constrained.

    It is often said that a good actor quickly picks up new languages, and might even be able to get rid of some of his or hers accent. I find myself, when learning a new language, copying the style of speaking of those I admire who speak that language. I think that in today's world, a Scandinavian might just as well look up to an English speaker than another Scandinavian, and taken together, the English speaking role models will probably outnumber the native Norwegian ones. When speaking English we can associate ourselves with those people, subconciously perhaps.