Out and about in Toronto, or in any of Canada’s big cities, hearing a bunch of different languages is not unusual. When I’m not busy thinking about my to do list or the meaning of life, on a crowded streetcar, I enjoy trying to figure out what language the people next to me are speaking. Sometimes, I can understand a word or two in a language I once tried to learn. Sometimes, I even hear Hebrew, and my ears perk up with the familiar sounds, and I am filled with nostalgia.
Language is a way of being in the world (Chambers, 2001). Think about your languages for a minute. Are you different when you speak one language or another? What happens when you speak a mixture of your languages?
I am fluent in 2 languages, Hebrew and English. I have been for most of my life. The 2 languages make up who I am in the world. They are inseparable from one another in my being, each and in combination, in the in-between spaces between them; they are my forked tongue.
The term forked tongue is often defined as an: “intent to mislead or deceive“. (Merriam-Webster, Online Dictionary) But the forked tongue I think, write, and speak, the language in-between English and Hebrew, is an expression of who I am: “So if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language.” (Anzaldua, 1987/1999/2012)
Here are some interesting facts about the diversity of languages we speak in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2011):
- More than 200 mother tongues or languages are spoken at home, including the official languages, English and French, and Aboriginal languages.
- 21% of Canadians speak a mother tongue other than English or French.
- 16% of Canadians speak at least two languages at home.
Think of all of the languages mixing together around us, inside of us, creating new languages and ways of being in the world.
In a world of increasing fear and xenophobia, hang on to the beauty of our diversity, celebrate our forked tongues!
Artwork: Untitled@2003. Yarek Waszui