When a Language Dies

When a language dies. We lose cultures, entire civilizations but also we lose people. We lose perspectives, ideas, opinions, most importantly we lose a unique way of being human.”

Trevor English: “What Happens When a Language Dies and is Forgotten”

It’s only been in the recent past, since Redress mainly, that I’ve been looking seriously into my life in terms of my loss of the Japanese language. I was born in 1939 on Cordova Street, Japan Town in Vancouver, greeting the beginning of World War Two. It’s hard to believe that I spoke Japanese as my first language.

In another article , an interview of the Irish author Manchan Magan, he says:

“…we talk about everything about the language except what is vital about it: that it has preserved this ancient knowledge about being in the world and our connection with the landscape….We are on this desperate search for our psyche…..Who the hell I am in this world. It just happens to all be contained within the language.….”

He goes on to talk about the loss of ancient, meaningful Irish which really resonated with me. It was like a “Eureka!” moment……

“…..the loneliness you feel at cockcrow when you are the only person awake and experience that existential pang of disconnect – of not belonging”.

Often waking with the birds in early spring and standing in our back  yard…..the fresh chill and smell of greenery would evoke an inexplicable feeling of sadness – a feeling of aloneness. I often wondered about these experiences until I read that one line in the context of language. This is the essence, for me, of living as a Nikkei in an Anglo-saxon culture…not being specifically of one culture or the other…cut off from one culture by lack of language and distance and the other by one’s heritage and history.


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