The language you write
I read a short while ago the book from Jhumpa Lahiri “In other words”, where she tells story of her relationship with the Italian language. English mother tongue, she chose for a while to write only in Italian, even if her knowledge of that language was not at the level of her English.
I do the opposite. I am an Italian mother tongue who chooses to write in English.
For her it was an experiment, a further exploration of her identity both as a writer and as a person.
While reading, I had to pause to think about why I write in English.
What fascinates me in a language is the process required to learn it and the deep satisfaction when you reach a point where a whole new world opens up: you can read books, newspapers, speak with locals on their own terms. Your mind expands with each additional language you speak, your experience of the world increases manifold. You are not the same once you master a language enough to speak it and read it. Writing it gives you yet an additional layer, as it becomes an asset you can use not only in your private world but also in your professional career.
But how come I feel at easy writing in English? The English language belongs to my identity as a grown-up person, probably because of its accessibility. I spent many years, now more than half of my life, in foreign, non-English speaking countries. Especially in the early years, long before internet was available in all corners of the world and laptops became a normal household equipment, English books were my only chance to read something.
I soaked the words and became proficient without noticing it. Yes, even if my English is not at the same level of my Italian, I feel a freedom in writing in English which I do not have in Italian, a feeling Jhumpa Lahiri has when she writes in Italian.
So, could it be that writing in a foreign language gives a writer an additional power?
This is a topic worth exploring and I have been inspired to write my own version of “In other words” and start a conversation with another writer on the power of languages.