Tuesday, July 06, 2004

A FAQ

I have been asked this quite a lot: “which language do you think in, Polish or English?” Possibly I have had this query levied at times when it has been painfully obvious that I was not born into an English speaking environment (so that, after listening to me, or reading something I put together in my awkward foreign-person way, a person is tempted to ask “so…do you ever at least THINK in English?”)

When I was a kid I would give this serious consideration. I would go into my head and attempt to pay attention to my thinking process. I wanted to catch myself: “ha! Wasn’t that Polish? No, I distinctly pick out an English phrase there…”

But over time, I came to believe that it can’t be done. If you think about thinking (can one do that?) you come to realize that you are always envisioning yourself in conversation with some entity. The minute someone asks which language I think in, I rivet to the language of the inquirer.

And what of the times when no one is asking? How do I, how do multi-language people in general think? It is still the case that thinking about it forces a language, typically of the environment one is in. I dare anyone to take a moment now and contemplate with some detachment how thoughts spin inside one’s head. Mind-boggling, isn’t it?

There is only one worse question out there and I get this one as well: what language do I dream in? Typically, when asked this, I just make up an answer. I’ve learned that this is far more satisfying than my convoluted diatribe on how it is impossible to recreate thinking about dreaming in the abstract.

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