Encountering many different languages throughout my life, I often have conflicted feelings about them. While these languages help me express my own identity and blend in my culture, they may also stand between me and my closed ones in ways I had not foreseen before with alienation. I had struggled in the language barrier largely because of the sense of alienation brought by the differences in languages. However, recently I personally understood that the language difference could not get in the way of people’s expression of their emotion to others. The shared values and love could bring the hearts of people speaking different languages closer.
Yao is one of my best friends who grew up with me since we were 2; however, Yao moved to Italy 9 years ago because of a change in her parents’ work. Three years ago, Yao came back to Guangzhou in her summer vacation. Missing her so much, I was so excited that I went to the airport to pick her up. She became taller and more mature, but what changed even more than her appearance was the way she talked. I talked to her using Mandarin and some slang that we used before, but the atmosphere was different.
“Yao, can you imagine how much Guangzhou has changed? There is now a newly constructed square along Zhujiang. There are also two more shopping malls and a newly built library near our residential area! Let’s liu wan er together and you will see how amazing the environment has become!”
“Dio mio! Really? I can’t wait to see that! Let’s go!”…
In the past, Yao would always use Chinese slang to communicate with me. But now she seemed to forget them all. During the time I showed her around in Guangzhou, Yao kept talking about her current life in Italy. Her Mandarin with an Italian accent was quite strange and unfamiliar for me. Moreover, she would unconsciously speak out some Italian that I could not understand when talking with me. When depicting the scenes of the Carnevale, a traditional festival of Italy, Yao constantly came out with words like Burlamacco, Meneghino, Tasi, Saltaripe, Landzette, Farinella,etc. Having little knowledge about Italian culture and almost no idea of Italian words, I found the communication between us very difficult and awkward. I could hardly make any verbal response to her so I just laughed in embarrassment. On that day I really felt a sense of estrangement between Yao and me. I even felt a little sad about it because it seemed to me that Yao was no longer the girl I used to know and the happiness of talking with each other seemed to be lost because of the large difference between the ways we talked.
I got similar feelings when I talked with my aunt. My aunt is from Canton but she has been living in Heilongjiang province ever since she was 19 when she met her husband there. Ever since I was a little child, I felt quite nervous when I talked with my aunt. Her straightforward Northeastern dialect spoken in her loud voice somehow aroused my fear for her.
“Ni gan ha ne?Ma liu li suo di! So mo ji!” “Why are you screaming? Xia ren dao guai di! It is just a mouse!”
My aunt’s consistent uses of the Northeastern dialect in her Cantonese seemed quite weird for me. The rugged tone of the Northeastern dialect often made me think of bruisers. The quick tempo also made me feel intense. Sometimes I felt that even though we knew each other, because of the different language uses, I could hardly have a sense of affinity for my aunt.
I felt quite confused about the diversity of languages. The unfamiliar vocabulary and idioms used in a foreign language or a dialect often caused language difficulties for me. In my eyes, the different cultures rooted in each different language made it harder for people to have deep emotional communication with the others. If there were only one language in the world, there might not be any gaps between people, I thought.
Years went by with me holding this idea and unpleasant feeling; however, my view was altered last year.
Yao came back to Guangzhou again. She brought a memorial little sculpture of our favorite cartoon character in our childhood and the newly updated series of the novels we were crazy for before to me as my birthday present. We started to talk about the past joyful moments when we watched our favorite cartoon together; and when we saved enough money to buy the latest bestseller by our favorite author. The past memories had come to my mind. We had been good friends; we had been good helpers for each other in both our studies and lives; we had been good listeners for each other in our experience of sadness and difficulties… It was after quite a long time that I suddenly found that I seemed to neglect the difference of our talking style and accent. I knew it was because the happy memories that we shared with each other had brought our hearts closer and made our conversation sincere and pleasant. Indeed, our languages didn’t match with each other like before, but does it really matter so much? The habit we share, the favor of styles of clothes we both hold, the same enthusiasm for novels, the ability to recognize each other’s feelings, etc. made us good friends, and this would not change just because of the differences in our language uses.
I realized the same principle applied to my aunt. In November last year, I was busy preparing for my college application. At that time I often felt quite depressed and stressed out because I had a difficult time balancing my schoolwork and writing my college essays. My parents talked about my situation with some of my relatives, including my aunt. Then one day I got a phone call from my aunt.
“Yi, this is a crucial moment in your life. No matter what happens, you need to tou gong di. You are a clever child. Believe in yourself!”
We had a long talk that day. But when I heard the Northeastern dialect in loud voice, I felt no fear but full of warmth and touch. I realized that I had put so much emphasis on her dialect before that I didn’t even notice her emotion for me. Like my parents, and my other relatives, my aunt showed her love, encouragement and expectation for me. The Northeastern dialect may sound unfamiliar to me, but the kinship between us shortened our distance caused by the difference in our languages.
For the past a few years, I used to be convinced that I could hardly have a truly close relationship with those who speak different languages or dialects from mine because of the unfamiliar language styles. Language barrier seemed to occupy a large space in my heart and troubled me. But now, my view has changed. Language itself is a medium for information. In the current era when human civilization is rapidly developing, language is also a carrier of culture and social relationship. But I believe that whether we speak the same languages or dialects could not define whether we could establish affinity for each other. It is our shared value, our shared love with each other that bond us together.