The other day I watched something strange. A DVD of a performance of Die Kleine Hexe at the Zürich children's theater. In the regional Swiss German dialect of my childhood. A language that, for me, is completely bound to a particular context and that I don't interact with very often anymore. But the experience was strangely comforting and evocative in ways I never expected. A few days later I watched this amazing video about a 17-year old who speaks 20 languages and that really got me thinking about language and how that relates to who we are.
When my daughter was born, I made the decision to only speak German to her, not the dialect, but the "proper" German. It was a pragmatic decision; I wanted her to be bilingual, but in a South African context I knew I had a better chance of finding German materials and people to interact with (the dialect being regionally specific and lexically, syntactically and phonologically different from the "proper" German).
It's been strange; I played in Swiss German, learnt to read in German, evolved into English and now am rekindling a language for this growing relationship with my daughter. Language is the mold you press yourself into. Its parameters become the limits of your expression, thoughts are made material out of its conventions and sentence structures. I've made my home in English now; it's become the language of writing and thinking and it feels messy to keep going between the two, yet I can feel that each language touches some different part of me, reaches somewhere that the other can't.
Sometimes existing between two languages feels a bit like a no-man's land. Neither here nor there. Languages leak across borders in a mess of code-switching and heat-of-the-moment direct translations. I listen to our fledgling interactions and wonder where it will end up.