I never really thought of language as a characteristic of something that defines us and makes us special or unique. I always thought that the different languages we have all over the world were just different ways of saying the same thing. I never realized that without knowing the language, it’s quite possible not to ever know the true meaning of what was trying to be said. When I was younger I would listen to Mexican love ballads with my girlfriend and ask her to explain them to me. She would take a minute and explain the beautiful sentiment in somewhat less beautiful words but she would always get to a line that was impossible for her to express in words I could understand and I never really understood why until now.
In Yuri Herrera’s novel, “Signs preceding the end of the world,” she addresses beautifully the notion of language being a barrier that keeps us apart but also something that connects us to a deeper sense of humanity. Once you step out of your bubble and expose yourself to other languages and cultures you can see the differences but more importantly the universal things that unite us all and make us the same. On page 66, she describes, “Makina senses in their tongue not a sudden absence, but a shrewd metamorphosis, a self-defensive shift. They might be talking in perfect latin tongue and without warning begin to talk in perfect anglo tongue and keep it up like that, alternating between a thing that believes itself to be perfect and a thing that believes itself to be perfect, morphing back and forth between two beasts until out of carelessness or clear intent they suddenly stop switching tongues and start speaking that other one.”
I used to hear this Spanglish all the time growing up and could never understand why and that’s because things get lost in translation and that’s why we have been learning that a translated work like this one that was originally written in Spanish, is a whole new thing, an art, a skill, because languages and cultures are so wonderfully diverse and unique.