When I first moved to the NYC at age of 18, I started living my life in English and all the sudden, I became this selfish person. I was starting every single sentence with “I.” I am talking about myself all the time. I woke up. I went to school. I felt tired. I ate this and that for lunch. I am happy. I am sad. I’m talking about myself all day long. “I” have never been this way. What is going on?
I grew up in Japan. Japanese language is very different from English in its thought process and structure. We hardly ever use pronouns. Most of the time, it is pretty obvious who and what we are talking about from the context and flow of the conversation. “I” is omitted. (So as he, she, it, etc) Only foreigners who are studying Japanese say “I.” Lol. Also, in Japanese, verbs come at the very end of the sentences and everything else - nouns, adjectives, adverbs, etc. - come before verbs. We don’t do articles, either. For example, the word-for-word translation of “I ate a delicious cupcake” would be “Delicious cupcake ate.” There is no “a” and there is no “I.”
When I moved to the US, I came to understand the intimate relationship between language, culture, individual psyche, and how they all tangle up and affect each other. One reinforce the other and the cycle further reinforces the relationships until all that tangled up mess becomes customs, which are building blocks of culture and traditions. Words and languages are powerful, is what I’m getting at. And you can’t master language without understanding its culture.
One of the things I truly love about spending my days in English, I came to discover, is how it allows me to express myself rather freely: I find it so much easier to be loving and emotional and expressive in this language. Japanese language and culture are not made well for intimacy. Japanese is beautiful in its nuances and subtlety. We have 460 words to describe 460 shades of color. That verbal landscape shapes the way we perceive the world and vice versa. But trying to tell someone that you love him or her…. That can be a very awkward task in Japanese. It would sound very unnatural. UnJapanese.
This is why I write my poetry (or something like it, lol) in English. This language opens my heart and my mind. It helps me to give shapes to what has been shapeless. Each time I learn new English words and expressions, they give me different ways to examine my innards and my emotional synapses connects. 愛 and love are translations of each other, yet, they are not the same thing. They feel and smell and act differently. Would I prefer 愛 or Love? I’m happy that I get to experience both and I’m hoping that I would add Amor, Liebe, and all the others.