hi, it's a complete and utterly felt privilege to start the first thread of this new group. i'm psyched like a jaffa cake that dorothee, nora and i managed to get this going.
we thought it might be a good idea if new members used this opportunity to tell us a little about themselves - the place where they live, the languages they speak, write in, or read.
i'll give it a go in a minute or so - welcome to Second Tongue, a fictionaut community experiment!
i don't usually talk about this. but i will.
it has taken me a while to "come out" ('coming out' was one of the titles we discussed for this group but then shied back from the implications...) as a non-native speaker. to be honest, i enjoyed the mystique of my pen name, which combines 'irish bard' and 'mel brooks' ("flaunt it, if you got it", from brooks' 'the producers') and i wanted to fend off (my own) prejudices against my countrymen...but that's all behind me now...
birth. i am a native of germany, rhineland-palatine to be precise (something i share with jurgen fauth). i spent a large portion of my life in the UK (where i went to school in london), the USA and New Zealand (to learn herding words like sheep). ms flawnt is from CA, as is my sister and english is what we speak at home. i also teach in english (mostly).
location. since a few years, we live in berlin, which is, arguably, germany's most international city, haunted by many writers looking for...god knows, but they seem to find it. the burrough i live in, prenzlauer berg, has got a remarkable literary track record and it supposed to be the location in germany with the highest density of writers. chances are, when i go to write in a cafe, every other person hacking away on their laptop around me, is also working on the great XXX novel (insert your country of choice here). if you ever come to berlin, give me a shout.
languages. i speak and read a little of many languages. i have an extremely conflicted relationship with german literature. though i read most of the 'greats' as a young man in translation, i do not read ANY german today, and i haven't done in quite some years. to be honest, i am not quite sure about all the reasons. i suppose i'm looking for answers!
writing. i write exclusively in english (as far as literary production is concerned) and i have done so since...a decade or so. never without qualms: in regular intervals my mind turns against itself accusingly, but i just cannot do in german what i (feel i) can do in english. my rationale: for the non-native speaker, english is material, something i can sculpt more freely than my mother tongue. i can be funny in german, too, but in english i play like a child.
one of my favourite quotes by derek walcott alludes to this situation: "The English language is nobody's special property. It is the property of the imagination: it is the property of the language itself."
gosh, what a rant - thanks for reading!
yes, welcome to Second Tongue!
before i move to my introduction, i wanted to add a line on the origins of this group:
the idea for the ‘Second Tongue’ group sparked a week ago in ‘The Hidden Workshop’, through a half sentence Finnegan had included in a thread about editing:
“..., and english isn't even my first language, folks.”
i read this. was stunned. and messaged back, to tell him that english isn’t my first language either. in the message, i also tossed the first rough thought that it might be interesting to start a group for bilingual fictionauts at some point. in his answer, Finnegan mentioned another bilingual fictionaut: “PS: nora nadjarian is also a 2nd tongue person!”
i hadn’t realized this, even though i had mailed with Nora just a day before. so i mailed her, too. and the group started to take clearer and clearer shape. and now it’s up.
and now, a bit about myself:
birth / location
i am german, grew up in the south of germany. in school, we had a brilliant english teacher (who had lived in egypt for a while). it was back then that i started to read books in english, and also chose english (plus german) as ‘focus classes’ in the final years of school. at that point, i wasn’t writing yet. but i loved books, and kept on reading english-speaking authors in their original language (Toni Morrison, Paul Auster, Margaret Atwood, Henry Miller..).
travels / writing
fast forward now—after studying (economies), and working a good deal of years with texts and images (marketing/advertising job in a media company), i started to write (in german). and started to travel to far-away places. like, asia. that’s how my english writing started – and also my web-design: by travelling, meeting other travellers, and then keeping in touch after the journey, and sharing travel images and stories from other trips – which was enhanced through the Lonely Planet travel forum.
here’s one of the travel-pages i put together back then, it’s still one of my favourites: “Life is a journey, not a destination”: http://www.asia.blueprint21.de.
a number of the Lonely Planet forum members were writers, and were curious for my german fictional writing. so i translated one of my german stories. and then, amazed by the american literary online journal scene (the scene in germany is much smaller), i went ahead and submitted the story to a magazine that i had come across: Eyeshot. and they accepted it. just like that. it was my first acceptance ever.
the story is still up, here: ‘This Part of Town’ - http://eyeshot.net/lang.html, including this footnote: “Please realize this piece was contributed by a German.”
this note, back then, i wondered how to feel about it.
german, and english.
a bit of french (un peu de francais).
and a little bit of italian and spanish.
i write mostly in english these days, but i tried a german story for nanowrimo, to get back into german writing. (didn’t get that far, but in an unexpected dynamic, this then brought me back to english microfiction).
there’s a bit more about me in my profile, and here the direct link to my webpage: http://www.blueprint21.de
Thank you for the gracious invite!
Oh dear. I hope I'm eligible for this group. I do speak and understand another language (Burmese), but I'm afraid English is my primary tongue. *in awe of the members of Second Tongue*
Hmmm ... nothing particularly epic about me. I'm the size of a hobbit, not quite a dwarf. I'm been a sort of Gollum most of my life, hiding away in the darkness with only my Precious (creative writing), all twisted and sneaky. Heh, I just finished watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy with my sister (who also thinks my writing is rather horrific).
As for my attempts at writing, I am applying for the Portz Research Fellowship which, if it accepts my application, will force me to finish Ink Darkly the Painted Seasons within a year, a journey's end of sailing to the West (for now I'll go, at least. I'll come back ... I don't think anyone has, but I will. ^-^)
hey winnie, good to see you here. enjoy the awe-inspiring claws of the tigers of the second tongue ... of course you're "eligible". there is a lot of extra movement when you do not write in your mother tongue or when you write in an alien language environment. perhaps you're just curious. for me, english is also the "primary" language, just not the language i spoke first. and good luck with the fellowship!
Well, hi everybody. Due to a technical hitch my introduction to the group has been delayed...
But here I am at last, another "Second Tongue" person.
I am a Cypriot of Armenian descent and I write in English! I was invited to write a guest blog recently for the very talented author Tania Hershman. In my guest blog I wrote a few things whch will explain my situation to you:
"...I also find that communicating with other writers through the Internet has been so important for me. It has kept me going at times when I have almost felt like giving up. I am a bit of an oddity, being Armenian Cypriot and writing in English. Many people ask me why. The reason is that I was educated in English from the age of about eleven. I also studied at universities in the UK and so I consider English to be my academic language, and when it comes to writing it is certainly my most creative. I once told someone in an interview that I felt my writing was my home, my own special place, that I could do anything with- and I still feel that way. I write because I love writing, and if it comes out best in English, why should I give reasons to anyone? I went to a brilliant conference in Brussels last year, where I met a Spanish-Basque author writing in Dutch, a Romanian author writing in French and an author of Turkish origin writing in Danish! There’s some wonderful work out there by authors writing in a second language."
So...what do you think?
wow, nora, things i didnt know about you! can't you get these authors in our group? what i think? - i think this is fantastico and more than interesting because it says something about the way we (and not just we) use english today. beyond the commonplace there must be more stories like your own hidden and, i think, worth to be excavated.
Hi, Second Tongue group.
I am an impostor seeing as not only is English my native tongue, but I am English! However, I write using a lot of Spanish as I was married to a Mexican and until recently worked mostly among Latino immigrants. Just to confuse the issue, my mum lives in France and my son goes to a French-American school. And I lived in Vienna for a little over a year, doch, spreche ich auch Deutsch - aber nicht sehr oft hier im Los Angeles.
I have completed a memoir of my time married to the Mexican in question (who also happened to be a heroin addict - much more of a culture shock than being from a different continent) and in an attempt at authenticity worked in much of the Calo (Spanish slang) that was spoken around me. I wanted to get around burdensome translation by embedding the meaning in the text - for example, repeating it in English. Despite that, many people feel cheated, the wool pulled over their eyes even, because they don't realize it's not necessary to understand everything that's written. Isn't that what it's like anyway, when you are working in a language that's not your native tongue? It is for me - you have to fill in the blanks, guess the words by the context. So actually, the reader is having an authentic experience of what it was like for me being immersed in a culture where not everything is crystal clear like well-articulated BBC vowels. :)
Nora ~ so great to see you have overcome the technical hitches and are back!
that’s so interesting about your unusual descent. and this quote from your guest blog: “and when it comes to writing it is certainly my most creative.”
i instantly relate to that. for me, writing in english comes with another level of playfulness and possibility. i love tinkering with words, and there are things i would be probably hesitant to do in german, with the life-long adaption to the language
.. for example, things like this text-collage that streams from english to german and back, and lead to a surprise find: there is the english to “be” in the german word “farbe”—“color”. the being of color, kind of, underwater:
hi & hallo & buenos dias Louise!
i just started to read through your story “Last Chance at Normal” – i think your approach of included spanish terms in the story works well, and adds so much flavour:
“Oye, Luisa! Pull in here, mija!” He thrusts his arm in front of my face, pointing to the mercardo close to his dad's house. “I need to speak to my friend.”
and i agree: there is no need to understand every word, as long as there is enough context. and not understanding everything mirrors the atmosphere of being in another country.
.. and now i just clicked on your profile and found a new group: “Americana-Anglocana” – ah, okay, it’s not all new, but i hadn’t remembered the name.
I may not be a strictly second-tongue writer, but I was drawn to this group in the same way I am drawn to my closest friends, all of whom are native speakers of a different language (or at least dialect): Germany, Newfoundland, New Zealand, Hungary, Mexico and other places.
And while I was born and raised in the US, I've lived nearly half my life in another country, one that struggles with language issues. A good part of that time has been spent in Montreal, a place where—ironically—I may feel most at home, even though my French is weak enough that I only attempt to speak it with other anglos. :)
Language, culture, identity and the meaning we place on those things are a source of endless fascination, frustration, entertainment and preoccupation for me, so I hope that I have something to contribute to this group. I'm sure I have much to learn.
I look forward to all of your future posts and discussions with great interest.
you do speak a different dialect - it's called American English! (Said with love, cousin!)
And thanks Dorothee for the affirmation. I was beginning to think that only spoon-feeding would work in our culture where people are used to journalistic writing and being told at the beginning of a lecture, sermon or closing argument what they are going to hear, then hearing it, and then being told what they've just heard. It's in the spaces that the imagination works.
Hi, thanks for telling me about the group, Finnegan. It's lovely to feel I might have a little place to belong.
I'm English and write in English. The complication starts here: I live in Amsterdam and, apart from writing prose for my enjoyment, I make films. I write the screenplays in English, then they are translated into Dutch, I go on set and direct them in Dutch. I've lived here ten years, I speak Dutch, but I can't write it for toffee - except emails, that kind of thing. I blame it on being 36 when I moved here, but I have an ambivalent relationship with the language of the country where I live (and with the country, actually). Most Dutch people I know have a fairly ambivalent relationship with the Dutch language too.
At home I speak English with my Dutch boyfriend and our almost six year old daughter. She goes to a Dutch school and is utterly bilingual. She has trouble rolling her Dutch 'r's, and in English pronounces 'th' as 'd'.
I frequently say things like 'I'll do the door shut.' I try not to write them, but sometimes, it happens.
To make matters even more complex, we want to move to Berlin next Summer (Hi, Finnegan!). My boyfriend and I spent a few months living in Prenzlauer Berg just before our daughter was born, and we're both in love with the city. I speak very bad German, although I understand quite a lot because of the Dutch.
I studied French and Spanish, and get nostalgic about them when I speak Dutch. My parents have lived in France for the last twenty odd years. I go back to the UK about once a year. So, I'm sort of from all over, and nowhere.
I do very much admire those of you who write in a second language.
Welcome, fellow Brit! My mum also lives in France and has done so for 23 years. My dad before he died had only acquired one French sentence: "Un cafe et un cognac, s'il vous plait." He said it was all the French he needed.
I spent three months at a missionary school in Amsterdam. I loved listening to the translation from English to Dutch (the mission society was American) and retained more Dutch than I did the content of the lectures. I subsequently went to Spain, which is where I first learned my Spanish before being chucked out of the missionary society. It's now my proudest claim (being chucked out, that is). Leuk, hor? Seeing as I was around a lot of Christians in Holland, I learned very interesting Dutch, such as how to swear by telling someone they were a vegetable. I am sure by now your swearing is slightly more effective. :)
I read your story with interest. Currently in Los Angeles, I am friends with two French-Algerian women. One works at my son's school, the other works with the homeless. Their experience is very different because of their different levels of education and environment. Neither of them sell baguette or pan au chocolat, unfortunately.
I think my equivalent claim to fame is being chucked out of the Brownies (mini-girl guides) for wearing jeans. Your Mum's been in France almost exactly the same length of time as my parents. They're in the South West, near Cahors. I'm off there for Christmas in a few days. Dutch swearing is interesting, when you want to tell people where to go, you wish deadly illnesses on them. 'Krijg de kanker!' Get cancer... is as strong as telling someone to f*** off. I think they also do typhoid as an alternative.
Thanks for the welcome, it's much appreciated.
guys, thanks for your frank and beautiful and funny words! i think i already love you! i think it's interesting that a couple of you are in film-just having read kim's picture dreams and now read about you makes me wonder if (moving) pictures isn't a very effective way to bridge cultural gaps.
kate, when you come, i will marvel at your dutch though we will most likely speak english. looking forward to more interesting people and writers moving to berlin!
louise, the line about your dad mad me laugh against my will...
and this whole exchange makes me want to put a book/film/whatever together on multicultural writers. probably been done...but there's so much here, a delight to behold. will hurry to your pieces if not now then later to see how your lives inform the writing. so curious!
Wow, what an interesting multi-cultural and multi-lingual group this is becoming! It's great to see people with so many different backgrounds, languages, experiences, stories to tell... It's like going to a party and meeting so many interesting people!
nora, i think it beats going to a party where you always hear the beginning, or the middle, or the end of stories, but never the whole thing. you can tell, i dont like parties...
I'm so dizzy with the 'fav' that Finnegan gave me for my first story, I've now added a second - the rationale being that it also involves languages but also because it is a world a couple of you seem to inhabit: the film world. Originally my grandfather, and now my father and brother are in film. I flirted briefly with film production when I moved to LA, reading lots of bad scripts for a commercials director and realizing pretty fast that Hollywood and beer commercials were not art, had little regard for art, but were a well-oiled, proficient machine which kept jamming against my sensibilities. Not a conclusion my brother enjoys me sharing with his commercials clients, as you will discover...
By the way, for those of you living in Europe, the commercial in the story was for Orange and was shown in cinemas. Perhaps you noticed the excellent French?
To start, I have studied Japanese and being Puerto Rican have a little Spanish. In terms of writing though I primarily use Spanish and Japanese for pronouns, names, magic incantations for Fantasy, and specific objects. My primary writing focus is in multi-culturalism. I'm not sure if that is acceptable here to add my shorts to, since the focus is on written foreign language. Either way I'll definately add a story that fits the criteria.
@h-m good to see you here!
@louise good to know i could get you dizzy. made my day, too ;-)
Second Tongue is the group for the bi- and multilingual fictionaut.
It doesn't matter to us whether your first language is French, Chinese, Greek, Swahili, Italian, Urdu, or any other of the world's groovy languages:
Make this your home, share your English writing and discuss with us what it means, for you, not to write in your mother tongue.
We also welcome native English speakers, who live and write abroad or who write in another language than English.
Share the pain - and the gain!
Dorothee, Finnegan and Nora