Sunday, September 16, 2007

Navel Gazing While Thinking About Words

It's funny that I had always thought that English was one of my two first languages, since I grew up learning to speak it and Filipino at the same time, but now I'm having to seriously rethink the idea. These days when I'm writing, a short story for example, and I'm searching for another word to replace one I had already typed out, say an alternative to the verb "pluck," instead of coming up with something like "yank," "tug," or any of the other choices a later consulting of an online thesaurus will yield, my brain gives me the French "arracher."

I'm no expert in the science of language acquisition, but I'm supposing that if English had actually been a first language for me, it would have been so firmly hardwired into my brain that French would not have presented any competition. Now I'm having to admit that a daily dose of Sesame Street and The Electric Company during childhood was not enough. English is only a weak second language, so that the third language--which at the moment is getting the most play, since French is what I speak, read, and hear almost 24/7--is trying to take over the no. 2 spot.

Thinking "trapped," "piégé" popped up, for "snack" it was "grignoter." This has happened so many times now that I'm starting to worry that my ability to write English will one day decline.

And on that note: I'm currently reading 99F by Frédéric Beigbeder and not just because the novel is soon going to be a movie starring the adorable Jean Dujardin who with Julien of Nouvelle Star and Grégoire of Koh Lanta currently make up the trinity of French men who make me swoon.

The last line in the first paragraph of Chapter 2 hit me in the gut: "Dans ma profession, personne ne souhaite votre bonheur, parce que les gens heureux ne consomment pas." "In my profession," says the protagonist Octave, "nobody wishes for your happiness, because happy people don't buy anything." (The translation doesn't quite pack as much of a wallop as the original, but you get the drift.)

Octave is an advertising man, but that line made me think of my previous profession as well. I loved working in women's magazines and continue to have friendships with former colleagues, but there were times when I asked myself if the stories we were publishing that were supposed to inspire women to become better versions of themselves were not at the same time eroding their confidence, sending them the message that they are not good enough. The way to become that ideal magazine woman who has great hair, a fashionable wardrobe, well-toned abs, a fantastic husband, a wonderful job, a caring boss, a perfectly balanced checkbook, a winning retirement plan, and the most well-disciplined children in the world? Continue buying issues of the mag.


Samantha said...

If it makes you feel any better, I am a native English speaker and that happens to me all the time, ie, when trying to think of a word, only the French one will come. I usually end up going to get the dictionary to look up the my own language!!

Sometimes I wonder if I'll even be able to speak English 20 years from now....but I guess that's the good thing about the internet & blogging - it gives me an outlet to use my English.

A said...

Is there an translated version of that book? It sounds riveting mamu.

katrina said...

Although I'm now MUCH more comfortable and articulate in English than Filipino, Tagalog was, in fact, my first language. English didn't follow until I started watching more TV. Yet, when I was in the US for school (where I never spoke nor heard Tagalog), it didn't take long for me to start forgetting common Tagalog words. After about 6 months of living there, I was chatting with a Pinay friend on the phone and when I tried to say "sahig," all I could think of was "suelo." (I was taking Spanish classes at the time.) When I returned to the Phils. after a year, it took me a couple of days to feel comfortable speaking Tagalog again. So it's not at all surprising that French is nudging English off your #2 spot, and might someday even bump Tagalog off!

I know EXACTLY what you mean about women's magazines, Apol. I've always been conflicted about what they tell women. On one hand, they act as guides on how to be a "better woman" (how do you define "better," anyway?); on the other, I know for a fact that they do make women feel less secure and confident. Just one example: when I told a slightly overweight friend that there was nothing wrong with her wearing sleeveless tops, she said that the magazines say one shouldn't bare one's arms unless they're toned. I know that some magazines are trying to be more open to different types of beauty, and no one is coerced into reading them, much less believing everything that's in them (especially in the age of Photoshop!), but the reality is that their goal is to make you consume -- and they are very effective in doing it.

Anonymous said...

just having a nice time visiting your blog and your links tonight. irene

Arashi-KIshu said...

Apol, I believe that English is your native language. I also grew up bilingual, we spoke only English at home and I learned Tagalog in kindergarten, but I consider both languages as my mother tongue.

I also had this crazy period when I was learning German, when I felt that my English was slipping away. Now that I teach English here, there's no worry about that. However, I do get days when I feel that all the three languages are fighting in my head. Sometimes there are days when English comes out more fluently than usual, sometimes German, sometimes Tagalog. I don't think we would forget our native languages. It just takes time for our brains and tongues to adjust to the new clothes it just acquired :)

dhanggit said...

Hey, glad to discover your blog! Just like you I'm a Pinay based in southern France (Aix en Provence)...and just like you...I am totally head over hills with Gregoire of Koh Lanta and Julien of Nouvelle Star.... :-)

haze said...

Need I say more ? I think we've been experiencing the same dilema if we are try to speak other languages ! Kaya nga etong pag blog, tagalog, english at pranse, of course I am trying hard but it's worth it ;) !

Apol said...

SAMANTHA, now I'm terrified! If that's happening to you, then I have a bleak, English-empty future in front of me :(

ABI, 800 pesos. LOL

KATRINA, the brain can only handle so many words maybe.

Hey, IRENE, glad you're enjoying yourself. (Is this Irene Bercasio?)

KATHY, I'm looking up books on language acquisition on Amazon to figure this all out. And wahoo, you were a purple bride!

DHANGGIT, there's something about these pretty young blond things, yah? And are you the one cooking up all those yummy things in that blog? I'm impressed.

I should follow your example and try to write a little bit more in French, HAZE. I am still constantly looking things up in the dictionry to make sure I have my spelling right.

Apol said...

See, I can't even spell dictionry anymore!

Dhang said...

yes its me doing the "yummy" things in the kitchen :-)....well as far as spelling goes...we are on the same boat i guess :-)

haze said...

oh ako naman, as I was saying if we are trying to speak other language.... typo error...yikes ! BTW, ngayon lang ako nagka crush after having been married for 6 yrs. today... Guapo ni Gregoire :))) and he looks very nice !