a question of belonging

September 27, 2010 § 2 Comments

I get really excited about things!  Like really, really, super excited about things.  And I love that enthusiasm is infectious and makes everyone around you feel giddy and happy and eager.  This reality, along with the fact that I will never under any circumstances be considered anything but ‘cute’ and am always assumed to be at least 4 years younger than my actual age, have long been an accepted part of my existence.  But through the study of Japanese, I have realized that such irreconcilable qualities of character are in fact highly prized and treasured in the Japanese culture: behold, all, the incredible power of kawaii!!!!!!!!!!!! Which means, in so many words, ‘utterly and irresistibly adorable.’ See isn’t it so cute and cuddly??

i am adorable!!!

courtesy of flickr.com

I’m lucky, really, that what would elsewhere be considered mere personality quirks are, in Japan, an embraced cultural phenomenon.

What I love about studying language is that, invariably, you find things about it that you like better than your own language.  You discover things that are so suited to your own unique pattern of speech or way of life or strange personal idiosyncrasies that you feel as though you were meant to speak that language.  And with Japanese, being able to exclaim in delight over food items with faces, share fanaticism for cute cell-phone keychains, and find an accepting audience to convey my absolute adoration of my irascible but well-meaning cat are all qualities I find well-suited to the Japanese cultural medium.

Which brings me to the titular question: When studying a foreign language, to what extent are you also seeking to be part of that culture?  Does language fluency also imply cultural fluency and, to some extent, assimilation?

Although language inevitably comes with boundaries and cultural partitions, self-expression has infinite manifestations.  Those countless possible expressions all have an outlet through language, and in many ways, I look at language as I would an artistic medium, such as paint, clay, paper, photograph, or print.  With each medium, the expression of the form varies slightly, as one would expect the translation of a sentence to differ with its iteration in each language.  It follows, then, that language proficiency is also a skill in articulation and unambiguous communication.

So whether or not your zeal for the overly sentimental and cute leads you to adopt a more fitting means of expression via Japanese, at the very least, the cultural study of language inspires a way of speaking, and not just a method.

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§ 2 Responses to a question of belonging

  • jpwnoffke says:

    You drive home an argument I wouldn’t have expected – but nonetheless it works. Aspects of different cultures definitely draw other people to that culture – I would think an example for someone like me would be a tribal rain dance (I mean, who wouldn’t love to dance around a fire to make it rain? I’m being completely serious), or Switzerland’s amazing healthcare and financial stability. But I don’t necessarily want to join a tribe or spend my remaining days in Switzerland. If anything, I’d want to assimilate those attributes to an American culture. Something to think about or post on – maybe a post on why it would be better to learn that language or be a part of that culture than to assimilate it to the US – because of worldliness or something of the sort?

    P.S.>>> I love your voice in your writing – it’s clear you have a flair and love for language.

  • brittmgeorge says:

    To start off I want to say that I agree about the little things in life. There are so many little things out there that just make me smile. I also enjoyed the setup of this post. You started off with this adorable cartoon and lead into a cultural phenomenon. I liked how you mixed learning a language with becoming a part of the culture. I think that is an important part of learning a language and your tone definitely conveyed this.

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