The linguistic stress of the foreigner

By Eirini Chatzikoumi

Too much ink has been spilt, too many linguistic travels performed, too many brains racked, so that all of us enlightened educated people can be sure, actually for quite some time now, that language goes hand-by-hand with its environment, with what is usually called culture, customs, history, religion, climate, geography… that they are intrinsically intertwined and you cannot tell the difference between them, which goes to show that words without reality are void, empty shells.

That’s why Eskimoes have so many different words for white, Amazonians for green, and so on.

Overdiscussed. Almost as much as the issue of extralinguistic communication, body language, gestures, etc.

The problem, however, is that reality materialises mostly through language, so nobody thinks about what there is behind it, we stick to the form: language. It is through language, those very words we utter and write, that our ignorance of the other’s culture, customs, history, religion, etc. comes into existence. It is through language that our own culture, customs, religion, etc. are given away. So, there I am, me, the foreigner, that moves about in another reality, different from the one I bear inside, and my very words give away my history and my ignorance of yours. It is through my words that I make most of the blunders. It is through your words that you address me; you hand them out to me, as if they were a tangible object, and I have to grasp them and do something, but they don’t always get all the way through to me. They fall somewhere in between us, in the window of your counter or in the telephone line.

So, I go on, learning on the way, blunder after blunder, and keep walking in this reality, at some point I may even actually enter it, or at least its lining, but always, somewhere in the back of my mind, or in my guts, there is my stress, the linguistic stress of the foreigner, who walks around thinking “now, how should I address this guy?”; the foreigner who walks around afraid he might drop just another word that could break before reaching his hands…

Written by Eirini Chatzikoumi  |  Translated by Eirini Chatzikoumi

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