Mother Language/Other Language

This blog was first written out by hand, on paper, with a pen.  Typing has largely replaced this activity, but sometimes I like to take the antiquated approach and watch my pen move across paper.  There is a fluidity and aggression associated with writing by hand.  But I’m starting to notice that that’s not always the case.  For instance, if I were writing this blog in Armenian, the scenario would be very different.  That fluidity and aggression would be replaced by uncertainty and apprehension.

February 21st was International Mother Language Day.  The term mother language is something that has always made me a little bit uneasy.  It says more than the contemporary phrase “native language” or the very sterile “L1” that has come into use.  If the language is indeed a mother, then that uneasiness I feel probably can be aptly called guilt—mothers tend to give and sacrifice, children tend to disregard and neglect.  I don’t think it is inaccurate to say that we tend to neglect this mother.  In fact, even representatives of many state offices in Armenia use the Roman alphabet for official documents and letters

I attended an Armenian school.  I write, read, and speak the language, but there is considerably more labor involved if I try to communicate in Armenian.  Until I was four, the only language I spoke was Armenian, so while I am technically a second language English speaker, English has become my naturalized language and gets far more use—particularly in written communication where my Armenian may falter the most.  This phenomenon appears in most Armenians of my generation living in the U.S.  We are trained in the usage of the mysterious symbols, but we rarely (or never) use them.

All of these concerns arose while watching someone write her name in Armenian recently.  I have always been fascinated by the handwriting of others.  It tends to reveal a lot about an individual—ambition, creativity, intelligence, innocence.  But observing the Armenian handwriting of this particular individual made me reflect on how similar it was to my own—underdeveloped.  Somehow, most of our handwriting looks exactly the same in our mother language.  It’s awkward and clumsy, never having progressed beyond a fledgling state.  And then I worried, if our handwriting offers insight into our individuality and character, what does this say about our Armenian identities?  If the way we communicate determines how we are perceived by society, how we interact with society, and how we function within society, I wonder, then, what a stunted sociolinguistic growth means for us as a new generation of Armenians.

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