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’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.