Being in a world with 7.7 billion others 1. A world filled with such a vast diversity and approximately 7106 different languages 2, a plethora of cultures different to each other. Our identity is what defines us as humans. Our reflections of the world are much deeper than that which we perceive on the surface of every individual we meet.
We as people need to dive deeper in understanding, that which cannot be seen with our eyes alone, to be able to engulf the meaning of culture/language of your own self and those around you is what I believe the true meaning of life is.
Your identity like a fingerprint is one of the most treasured assets you could ever own. The conservation of identity (the self), adaptation and reproduction in every speech situation in a specific linguistic environment 3. To me, means to uphold your own ethos, without offending the ethos of others with how you portray yourself to the world with your linguistic approach.
Language itself is a means of communication, but we do not only communicate with words alone. Our body language and physically attributes create a beautiful canvas to the world, and the language we use is the paint spread on the canvas to portray a picture of who we are.
As 1 of 7.7 Billion, like many others, we are blessed to be in a country that is multiracial, multilingual. My linguistic identity, as with everyone else, was predetermined by my parents and family. Being born in South Africa but growing up in a family with Greek roots that reach deeply into my whole life existence, has determined my unique identity.
Being able to not only speak but also read and write in Greek, English, basic Afrikaans and basic Portuguese. The combination of languages has challenged me to not only accept my own culture but to be able to understand all the different idiolects in these diverse languages and the individuals who speak them, I have been blessed to be around so many different kinds of languages and cultures that have made sure my language identity has not been stagnant.
A person’s own understanding of both their own and other cultural identities develops at home in childhood. In the places, they spend their time, the various attitudes and beliefs at home or in a social setting.
Having the challenge as a little girl in South Africa where at school I was quickly corrected, ridiculed or misunderstood for having a slight accent or a pronunciation different to everyone else around me, taught me from an early age that I am different but that did not force me to resent others or change who I am. My language identity was not dissuaded into conforming but more a learning process of how to use language with whom I am surrounded by and who or what my language is directed. To this day as an adult, I still have a slight accent when I speak English, and when I speak Greek I have a slight accent too.
In my daily life with my family, we still speak Greek fluently with a mixture of English in-between as this is how we have adapted in South Africa. A simple example is, Hello, ti kanies? which hello is English, and ti kanies means how are you in Greek.
At work, and in social settings, I use English most often, even though I’m surrounded by a diverse racial setting. My bosses are Indian, my colleagues are a mixture of African but from different areas e.g. Mozambique, KwaZulu-Natal, Johannesburg etc. My friends are mostly Portuguese, with roots in different areas in Portugal and this makes a big difference in how their linguistic identity is formed. My significant other and his family are a mix of Italian and South African and they too have a different linguistic upbringing
I am privileged to hear African languages, Portuguese, Italian and some Afrikaans in my daily life, even though we all initially communicate in English. We all have means of adaptation to a certain context or linguistic environment. As Linguist, Felicity Cox said Linguistic change runs parallel with social change 4. I believe, my language is greatly influenced because of my social setting.
The language that I predominantly use to think with on a daily basis is English. While writing emails, answering the phones, perusing documentation, surfing social media, reading books and studying. But my world view is not only based on thinking in English, as Greek is a major part of my life. Certain words or phrases are thought in Greek which then I have to translate into proper English, as directly translating from Greek to English at times makes no grammatical sense, A funny Greek slang example: Tha fas xilo directly translated into English means You will eat wood but the true meaning is You going to get a hiding 5, there are many examples not just in reference to slang.
My view of the world or epistemology is directly proportionate to who is standing next to me while doing so. In saying that, I do not mean that my view is based on someone else’s, but in fact, as I mentioned before, that I see the world in a detail-oriented piece of artwork, each and every stroke of paint is another persons language and attitude that intertwines with my own. All the languages and diverse cultures I have been around have allowed me to see the beauty in all, even the ones that are new to me still are beautiful and interesting to try to understand and observe.
My linguistic identity does not change as such but is continuously evolving with every interaction I have. Consciously and subconsciously my mind knows that it needs to adapt in order to survive in my linguistic environments, regardless of where or whom I am with, without compromising my own identity. I reflect who I am each time I have an interaction with another. The moment I learnt that I am not the only unique individual in this world, I learnt to greet in other languages or try to show others that I am making an effort to understand that they too are unique human beings, with their own set of cultural beliefs, ideas and linguistic identity.
As one of the most iconic idols of this world, our very own Nelson Mandela said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”.