The DNA languages of cultures.

     After 266 days in Scotland, 5 days in Ireland, 1 in Denmark, 43 in Poland, 1 in Belgium, and finally 21 so far in the Netherlands, I could say the clouds in my mind have scattered, I am able to accommodate to the ‘DNA of the culture’ as I like to call it, which strikes me most when it comes to the language.

     There is some sort of specific ‘feel’ in each and every place. Once you start moving with your life and being open-minded, you can feel the place in much more profound way.

When I visited Dublin for 5 mentioned days, I immediately felt that different ‘feel’ rather than in Scotland, but still a familiar one. Even though Ireland has euros as their currency, Ireland is not part of the UK. Ireland is Europe, and bears a completely different feel than England. Slightly more similar to Scotland. Ireland has their own pride in Guinness and Jameson whisky, just like Scotland swims in their whisky. There are Irish pubs with irish fonts on their signboards and Gaelic language seen even on the street signs.


Still, Gaelic and Brittonic are languages of Celts, that first infiltrated Britain around 500 BC. In the Gaelic group we’ve got both Irish and Scottish, which might explain why Ireland felt just like good ol’ Scotland after all.

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And if you look at the geographic spread of Celtic language, you can see how England remains untouched. England, and the English language came from Germanic tribe of Anglo-Saxons, who arrived on the British Isles at least 600 years after Celts had been already there.
English did not even originate from the British Isles, since those who brought it, Anglo-Saxons, came from continental Europe, pushing Celts outwards North and West.
And yet so many people name the whole of British Isles as “England” just because they all speak English, which gets me on my nerves.

It was inevitable for me to be affected by Dutch language in the Netherlands as well. Suddenly it struck me how my thinking and writing would be faster and better, if it was only in Dutch. And I do not mean sole communication with other people, rather the cognition of all around you. Knowing Dutch, especially etymologically, would allow me to apprehend so many more things. Here is a place for operations in Dutch, not English. Smoking in here in not that smooth like the english word itself is, the smoke from my cigarette did not swirled gracefully from it as usual. “Roken” is Dutch for “smoking”. Beginning with that characteristic Dutch hoarse rattle, cracking and wheezing the sound of letter “r”. Roken in here is harsh. And yes, after trying cigarettes in here I was coughing indeed. Hoarse, rough, hard roken. Smooth, soothing, comfortable smoking.

A nightingale is mysterious and unknown, like the night it bears in its name. They also sing in the evening, hence the name. Ending with ‘gale‘ which means strong wind, suggesting that the bird can withstand it. Even more, word ‘gale’ comes from the Old Norse word ‘galinn’, which means “mad”, “frantic” or “bewitched”. Whereas Old Norse is the language of the Vikings. Earliest inscriptions from Scandinavia were written in runes on stones, swords and artefacts. A nightingale seems mighty, strong, a secret rune of the night. Semantically belonging more to Celts than to Anglo-Saxons, now that we speak about it.

“(…) the peculiarities of mind and temper which can be still observed in the Irish or the Welsh on the one hand and the English on the other: the wild incalculable poetic Celt, full of vague and misty imaginations, and the Saxon, solid and practical when not under the influence of beer.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien’s “English and Welsh”, the inauguration speech for the O’Donnel lectures.
Whereas in Polish a nightingale is “słowik“, close to “słowo” which means a “word“. Quite a talkative bird then it is, suggesting its singing is words. Morever, suffix “ik” in Polish is used to create a pet name of a rather patronizing connotation. English nightingale is mighty and mysterious singer of the night, whereas Polish słowik is a small, annoying jabbering gibberish blabber.


“When the surroundings speaks only in an unknown language, one begins to listen to it alongside with the whole environment. And if we linger long enough, the time existing in this environment will master the language for us. That was in my case, the mind did not know at all how did it happen. I think people don’t appreciate the listening and hearing words. And the listening prepares itself to speak up. One day my mouth started speaking. Romanian was then just like my mother tongue. Its Romanian words could not believe when I was involuntary comparing them with my German words.”
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The Language Advantage of foreigners

     From my own experience, I am coming to a conclusion that foreign language is one of the best tools to boost self confidence, especially in speech. Resigning on intuition-based learning of the language, which comes through childhood to form your mother tongue holds some distinctive advantages.
  1. If you learn the language from movies, series, books, you become the characters.
    That is the case of most foreigners learning English. Our vocabulary expands in directions guided by our favourites protagonists, our accents imitate favourite actors and actresses. As they have introduced as to particular phrases first, any time we use them, we can ‘become’ those people, which leverages self esteem to a completely different level.
  2. No emotional load.
    Assuming studying the language as more mature individual, foreigners are lucky to skip the awkward early teenage phase of the language. When word sex raises awkward giggle (generally anything sexually related taboo subject that causes kids to be uncomfortable), when first swearwords are scolded by parents. ‘Internationals’ are likely to operate freely in the new language just as they wish, with no memory-based background of emotions behind words. There is no undercover feeling of stupidity or some words feeling weird, awkward. Those are the people who speak their mind in most straightforward way.
  3. It forces you to become accurate in speech.
    There is a phase every foreigner encounters when studying a language; you can’t fully express yourself as in your mother tongue. It seems like there are not enough words for you; like the words you choose are close, but not exactly what you mean. As you break through this stage you suddenly find yourself accurate, specific, relevant. You are able to extract the essence of words and random statements. Risk of becoming judgemental involved as you start to interpret meaning of what one is saying. As most of your vocabulary you have learnt comes straight from books and dictionaries you have been checking multiple times, eloquence is inevitable. You have come across too many fully-fledged academic definitions so to not assess meaning of words on a daily basis.
  4. Swearing can be unpredictable.
    As a foreigner, I did not have a chance to meet with an ’emotional scale’ of swearing. There was nobody to scold me as a teenager for the very first ‘fuck’ coming out my mouth, and my teachers in this topic were random actors and singers. I do not know which swearwords are mild, which are common, which sound childish or stupid, which sound like from previous century and, of course- what combination of them all would be the absolute worst.
  5. You may experience the ‘pendulum moment’.
    One of the most interesting experiences I have had was something I like to call a ‘pendulum moment’. It is the switch, when you find yourself in some kind of a hinterland between two languages, unsure which one suits you better. When you feel equally comfortable in both of them.
    In my international high school class we used to blend Polish and English as it suited as. It felt as if we had doubled the number of options to express what we want to say. However, switching completely to a different language- your pendulum moment- can be the best personal investment in yourself, as you breach the transitional phase of struggling with a language.
  6. Idioglossia
    Pertaining to mentioned earlier blending of two languages, idioglossia is a language invented and spoken by several individuals, which often forms in international settings, created by foreigners as an attempt to make up for unknown phrases, idioms, words. Suddenly, some words are not good enough, and you may find yourself inventing new ones. It results in most interesting language alterations, hilarious mistakes, incorporation of generic Latin-rooted words, not even knowing or caring whether it is grammatically correct. It requires much intuition in guessing the whole range of meanings and feeling behind particular words, and creativity in blending them with other ones, sourcing from any languages we know. It’s like writing Finnegans Wake in real life, and most entertaining experience.
  7. You are slightly different in other languages.
    Whether it’s the difference in words used, or what exact definitions of them you know- you reason differently in other languages than in your own. Your logic can be either distorted, forcing you to skillfully navigate through meanings you are decoding, or can be more objective, free from emotional bias present in your mother tongue. One way or another, it is surely a challenge worth experiencing.

“Banal” is not that banal.

     I tend to use this word quite a lot, and here is why I love it so much.
     First of all, and paradoxically, the word itself is not so obvious as its meaning:
banal calls a synonym “obvious” first for Polish, but “common” first for Romanians. At least the one that I got to chat about it with. And on the other hand, “trivial” calls for word “ordinary” first for Polish, and “ordinary” for Romanian as well.
     So Romanian people get it, saying “banal“. Italian people say “banale“, Polish people saying “banalny“, Dutch say “banaal“, Germans say “banal” as well.
All of those people, speaking Latin-founded languages get the exact meaning of this word, given that they got to know it by experience. Even the way this word sounds when you say it. Requires minimum movement of the mouth, as if even saying it would bore you just as much as whatever you are describing with it.
     Semantic meaning of this word, i.e. the array of a word’s synonyms and meanings, which I like to extend to metaphors, would be utterly flat. Plain, predictable, obvious, not surprising by any fluctuation or change of pace.
     The letters used in that word seem round and mild, sort of melting in your mouth when you say it. This word crawls lazily out of your mouth. It is nothing like any sharp, specific word, let’s say, ‘knife‘. Saying knife is fast, dynamic, ending with that characteristic whiz on letter ‘f’ which reminds you of the sound that an actual knife makes when swung fast in air.
     Even the way we write ‘knife‘, or ‘knives‘ looks much more edged than ‘banal‘. Letters kiv are outright and critical. If you write them vigorously, they might even tear paper underneath. With banal, you are able to effortlessly swirl your pen alongside the letters, not even elevating your hand.
     It’s interesting to think how differently must those words sound in Arabic, or Chinese. Do they intonate their words in a similar way as well? Is word ‘boring’ boring as well, in a way you can prolong syllable ‘o’ or say the entire word with not even separating your teeth?
That is why I like ‘banal ‘ as an example, to wonder whether ‘latin-dynamic’ words are dynamic in other languages as well.

Talk is Cheap

          While growing up, moving from one place to another, going through various groups of people and getting to know huge amount of diversity among them, I have come to a point at which I start to realize what I really value in people, what I want, why I want it and – most importantly how to express it all.
            I do not want to chit-chat about meaningless first-hand topics, just to kill the silence. That talk is cheap. I want a conversation that is layered; the one that holds allegories and second meaning that you and the other person catch with a subtle laugh, look at each other, smile, intonation.
            I am tired of being the driving force of a conversation; I don’t want just a passive listener, one who laughs at my jokes, one who agrees – I want an equal interaction, created on many levels, able to dig into topics discussed days ago just to mention them as an allegory to something completely else discussed now. I want it so to transform a usual conversation into having thousand discussions at one time, filled with inside jokes, coded double meanings of words used, that one knows only if they have paid attention before. I yearn for that responsiveness, apparently so rarely found. The kind of responsiveness capable of intriguing strangers, raising creativity and laughter in most mundane and casual conversations. 
            I want to speak about random topics all at once, and then connect them all with one quote at the end, surprising not only the listener, but also myself with how it all suddenly makes sense. To speak about something and use it as a bridge to a next topic, which leads and feeds to something completely else, only to discover that we already have perfectly accurate comment on this subject, mentioned days ago in another context when we yet did not know it that we will use it again, but we are able to dig into our memory so to bring previous conversation to the surface. To pick up topics from events happening all around us, as we stand outside for a chat, social smoke, drink, or walk together. Situations and things you see around, incorporated as topics into the subjects you are already discussing make the best anecdotes. It is about linking it all; what you know, what you remember, what you’ve studied, what you see around, what you dream of. Suddenly everything you do merges together, grows in meaning because you actively pay attention to it. Because by doing so, you are capable of creating most witty, intelligent, funny, meaningful links and additions to a most mundane talk. You are able to turn any moment into an adventure, a caricature, into just anything that you want it to be. Suddenly, a conversation about anything becomes most inspiring. Most boring subjects are engaging, just by the way you carry the talk, by the additions you choose and the approach towards it you express.
                    Suddenly, some words are not quite accurate to express what you think, and you may find yourself inventing new ones, building your own idioglossia of meanings, signs and allegories. Your language becomes malleable as the conversation is demanding and challenging.
             Whether it’s my experience, maturity, or simply boredom, no discussion is entertaining unless it involves an opinion or real meaning. Besides, this is exactly what definition of ‘discussion’ itself assumes. I like opinionated people. I like those who put themselves high up. It is this confidence that allows to disagree and bring something meaningful into a conversation, instead of relying on one person to guide whole talk. Instead of a small talk. Talking, but not really saying anything. Just a noise to fill up blank spaces in a conversation, cause you were unable to pick up previous subject and lead it further. Why? Because of not paying attention? Not being that interested in what people say, or simply being unable to come up with something creative to say, even though being thrown all easy open subjects into your face.
            Conversation should go under “Art” heading. Two that create it can either build a masterpiece, or a wall between them. And once you start to understand what a real dialogue is, you’ll never want to go back to those that bring nothing into your life. You’ll grow demanding, skeptical, wishing for every conversation to be an opportunity leading to some next point. Wishing for it to leave you thoughtful, moved, unable to stay still, unable to fall asleep. These are those that you do not simply forget, those that serve you as a bridge to the next topic, those that you can combine all in few sentences of your next talk.