The words we use

January 30, 2001

i don’t expect people to notice because i barely remember myself, but sometimes it will hit me, no, nudge me when i least expect it. like last night, i was listening to npr on my way home from work. it was a story about the philippines, so i turned up the volume and heard the booming voice of a woman speaking in tagalog.

“she’s speaking tagalog,” i said to brenna, who was sitting in the car with me.
“do you think she should be speaking english?” she asked, wondering probably why i even brought it up.
“no, i just don’t hear it that often.”

a mix of tagalog and english was always bouncing off the walls in the house where i grew up. my parents would speak to us in their native tongue, and we would answer them in english. sometimes, they would combine the two, but i wouldn’t even notice it was happening until a friend would come over and look at me in awe that i understood the foreign sounds coming out of my parents’ mouths. the more i toyed with the language, the more the tagalog words would roll off my tongue, and soon my parents and i were speaking a language all our own.

i hadn’t thought about it until then — the absence of language and what it means (if it means anything at all). because i no longer live in my parents’ home, i no longer hear the words. my speech is filled with other forms of expression.

on one hand, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. language changes every day. i believe that spelling, grammar and usage can evolve over time. (you may respond, “that’s whack, yo,” to which i would say, “hell no.”) yet, language is a vital part of culture; culture is a vital part of me. i can’t help but feel like i’m leaving something behind– a slice of my history, a slice of me.


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