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No monoglot truly knows his own language.

——Johann Wolfgang vonGoethe



作者:Marianna Pogosyan



策划:崔颖& 刘蕊


Non-native tongue. Vladimir Nabokov pictured writing notes in his car in Ithaca, New York, in 1958. Photo by Carl Mydans/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

非母语。照片摄于1958年的纽约州,伊萨卡市,弗拉基米尔• 纳博科夫正在车中写着笔记。

learning a new language is a lot like entering a new relationship. Some will become fast friends. Others will hook their arms with calculus formulas and final-exam-worthy historical dates, and march right out of your memory on the last day of school. And then sometimes, whether by mere chance or as a consequence of a lifelong odyssey, some languages will lead you to the brink of love.


Those are the languages that will consume you – all of you – as you do everything to make them yours. You dissect syntax structures. You recite conjugations. You fill notebooks with rivers of new letters. You run your pen over their curves and cusps again and again, like you would trace your fingers over a lover’s face. The words bloom on paper. The phonemes interlace into melodies. The sentences taste fragrant, even as they tumble awkwardly from your mouth like bricks built of foreign symbols. You memorise prose and lyrics and newspaper headlines, just to have them at your lips after the sun dips and when it dawns again.


Verbs after adverbs, nouns after pronouns, your relations deepen. Yet, the closer you get, the more aware you become of the mirage-like void between you. It’s vast, this void of knowledge, and you need a lifetime to traverse it. But you have no fear, since the path to your beloved gleams with curiosity and wonder that is almost urgent. What truths will you uncover amid the new letters and the new sounds? About the world? About yourself?


As with all relationships, the euphoria wears off eventually. With your wits regained, you keep dissecting and memorising, listening and speaking. Your accent is incorrigible. Your mistakes are inescapable. The rules are endless, as are the exceptions. The words – grace; bless you; once upon a time – have lost their magic. But your devotion to them, your need for them is more earnest than ever. You have wandered too far from home to turn back now. You feel committed and vulnerable, trusting of their benevolence. On the occasion of your renewed vows, the language comes bearing gifts of inspiration and connection – not only to new others, but to a new you.

正如所有关系,最初的狂喜终将褪去。随着理智回潮,你继续剖析、记忆,继续磨耳朵练口语。但你的口音仍不可救药,你犯的错误仍无处遁形。语言的规则浩如烟海,特例也是恒河沙数。那些词语 —— “grace优雅、bless you保重、once upon a time很久以前”早已失了魔力。可你忠于它们,你对它们的需要比任何时候都更为热切。你在语言的求索上已游荡得太远,没了归途。你感到既坚定又脆弱,你相信语言的仁慈。在重燃誓言之际,语言一并承载着灵感与联结的赠与—— 对新交如此,对新我亦然。

Many renowned writers have revelled in the gifts of their non-native tongues. Vladimir Nabokov, for instance, had been living in the United States for only a few years before he wrote Lolita (1955): a work that has been hailed as ‘a polyglot’s love letter to language’ and had him called a ‘master of English prose’. The Irishman Samuel Beckett wrote in French to escape the clutter of English. The Canadian Yann Martel found success writing not in his native French, but in English – a language that he says provides him with ‘a sufficient distance to write’. This distance, observes the Turkish novelist Elif Shafak of writing in her non-native English, leads her closer to home.

许多名家写手在非母语的语言禀赋中如鱼得水。弗拉基米尔• 纳博科夫在创作《洛丽塔》(1995)前只在美国暂居过几年,该作被誉为“多语者为语言献上的情书”,也让他享有了“英语散文大师”这一赞誉;爱尔兰作家萨缪尔•贝克特用法语创作以避开英语的杂乱无章;加拿大作家扬•马特尔的母语法语并没为他带来写作事业的成功,但英语创作却使他蜚声国际,他称英语给他的创作“提供了足够的距离”。土耳其小说家依莉弗•珊法克也用非母语的英语进行创作,她也表示这距离引她“走近”了故土。


When Haruki Murakami sat at his kitchen table to write his first novel, he felt like his native Japanese was getting in the way. His thoughts would rush out of him like out of a ‘barn crammed with livestock’, as he put it in 2015. Then he tried writing in English, with limited vocabulary and simple syntax at his hands. As he translated (‘transplanted’, he calls it) his compact English sentences ‘stripped of all extraneous fat’ into Japanese, a distinctly unadorned style was born that decades later became synonymous with his worldwide success. When the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri started writing in Italian – a language she had been loving and learning for years – she felt like she was writing with her weaker hand. She was ‘exposed’, ‘uncertain’ and ‘poorly equipped’. Yet, she writes in 2015, she felt light and free, protected and reborn. Italian made her rediscover why she writes – ‘the joy as well as the need’.

村上春树坐在厨房餐桌旁写自己第一部小说之际,他感到用自己的母语日语总是难抒胸意。正如他在2015年写到,繁杂的思绪喷涌而出就像要冲出一个“挤满了家畜的谷仓”。其后,他用彼时并不丰富的词汇和简单的句法,开始尝试英语写作。他把自己“剥掉无关冗余”的简洁英文翻(他自称“移植”)成日语,开创了独树一帜的朴素文风。几十年后这风格成了他蜚声国际的代名词。普利策获奖作家锺芭•拉希莉一直热爱意大利语并学习多年,她刚开始用意大利文写作时,深感非母语写作的力不从心: 她会被“示众于人”,且“内心犹疑”“水平欠佳”。但至2015年,她写下,她感到轻松和自在,感到庇佑与重生。意大利语让她重新发现了写作的初心 —— “ 书写的愉悦和渴望”。

But affairs of the heart rarely leave any witnesses untouched. Including our mother tongues. My grandmother has a collection of letters that I wrote to her after I left Armenia for Japan. Once in a while, she takes out the stack of envelopes with Japanese stamps that she keeps next to her passport, and reads through them. She knows all the words by heart, she insists with pride. One day, as we sit across each other with a screen and a continent between us, grandma shakes her head.


Something changed, she tells me ominously, skimming my sentences through her oversized glasses. With each letter, something kept changing, she says.


Of course something changed, grandma, I tell her. I moved to Japan. I hit puberty. I…


No, she laments with teacher’s remorse, your writing changed. First, it was the odd spelling mistake here and there. Then, the verbs and the nouns would pop up in wrong places.


Silence settles between us. I keep my eyes on the procession of English letters on my keyboard.


It’s nothing dramatic, she tells me, mostly to console herself, but enough for me to hold my breath every time I stumbled on errors that weren’t there before.


She opens another envelope.


Oh, and then, she exclaims, the punctuation! All of a sudden, there were too many commas. Then a single dot at the end of your sentences.


She lifts her glasses on top of her puff of white hair and begins to wrap her treasures back into my late grandfather’s handkerchief.


The last one that you sent me, she says with a defeated simper, that’s when everything changed. You wrote in our letters, you used our words, but it no longer sounded Armenian.




The truth is that entering an intimate relationship with a new language often colours everything. Our eyes expect the new words. Our ears habituate to the new sounds. Our pens memorise the new letters. While the infatuation takes over our senses, the language’s anatomy etches into our brains. Neural pathways are laid, connections are formed. Brain networks integrate. Grey matter becomes denser, white matter gets strengthened. Then, splatters of the new hues begin to show up in letters to grandma.

事实上与一门新语言开启一段亲密关系经常会影响我们身边的一切事情。我们的双眼期待着新词,双耳已习惯于这特有的新音,手中的笔默记着新词。这份痴迷占据了我们的观感, 语言的纹理就这样蚀刻在脑中。神经通路就此铺设,我们与这语言之间的联结开始形成。脑中通路交汇,灰白质密度加强。脑中对这一语言的点点联结开始在写给奶奶的信中展现。

Linguists call this ‘second language interference’, when the new language interferes with the old language, like a new lover rearranging the furniture of your bedroom, as if to say – this is how things will be done around here from now on. Somehow, writing exposes this interference (this betrayal, as grandma saw it) more than speaking ever could. Maybe because, when spoken, our words are at the mercy of our facial expressions and the range of our timbres, as the French author Guy de Maupassant observed; ‘But black words on a white page are the soul laid bare.’

语言学家称之为“语言转移”,新习得的语言扰乱原有语言,就像新的情人把你卧室的家具重新布置了一遍,好似在说 —— 从现在开始,一切要这样了。不知为何,比起交谈,写作更能暴露出这种干扰(用奶奶的话说叫“背叛”)。也许是因为,在我们说话时,词句总是受制于我们的面部表情和音色,一如法国作家莫泊桑所察:“白纸黑字才让心灵无处遁形。

Although it has been two decades since I last wrote in Armenian, grandma shouldn’t have wept over my dying mother tongue. Mother tongues, like any other first love, are very hard to forget. They are loyal and forgiving. Even when our speech shrivels and our writing is plagued with errors. Even when our native letters appear foreign and our native sounds ring forsaken. After all, our mother tongues raised us. They knew us when we didn’t know ourselves. They watched us learn to speak, to write, to reason. They taught us to love and to grieve. They showed us the rules and the exceptions. They know they’ll echo within our walls long after we become guests in our own homes: from the way we will combine the new words, to the way we will whisper the old prayers. So they watch over us quietly, unfretfully, as we drift away to another’s arms. There, in a juxtaposition of ignorance and wonder, constraint and freedom, awe and reverence, frustration and joy, they will see their writers exercise what Murakami calls their inherent right – ‘to experiment with the possibilities of language’. There, in the throes of belonging and nonbelonging, they will find their sons and daughters finding themselves.

虽据我上次用亚美尼亚语作文已有二十年之久,但奶奶仍对我退化的母语惋惜介怀。我们的母语,就如初恋般难忘。 即使我们的母语不再流利,写作时错误频出;即使那字句日益陌生,那话音不再熟悉,它们仍那样忠诚且宽容。毕竟,母语伴我们长大。在我们还不了解自己时,母语就认识我们了。母语看着我们学说话、学写字、去思考; 教我们去爱去痛,告诉我们它们的规则和特例。它们知道,在很久之后,即使我们成了自己的家中客,那声声母语仍会在四壁间回响:组织新词新句也好,低语祷文也罢,多多少少都会有它们的影子。所以当我们慢慢走进它人怀抱时,它们就静静地看着、不急也不躁。既不知情又惊叹不已,既克制又放任,既敬畏又心怀敬意,既沮丧又满心喜悦,它们看着这些作家行使村上所说的天生权利 —— “ 去尝试语言的各种可能性”。在拥有与失去的煎熬中,它们将看到它们的孩子找到自我。


  • 本文原载于 Aeon

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