A complicated, and perhaps not fully realized epiphany on language, people, and place
An epiphany is something that cannot be forced. But certainly a realization is something that can be discovered via writing. Or rather, a further understanding of one’s grand thoughts, one’s moment of recognition defined by the epic and overwhelming word ‘epiphany’.
So here I am, in Buenos Aires, in Argentina, in South America, a predominantly Spanish-speaking continent (save Brazil, the Guyanas and Suriname). And this place I’m in is defined by all of these characteristics. And the inhabitants of this place are here because they speak Spanish, or this place exists because Spanish is spoken. A reciprocal relationship reigns; language, place, and people are inextricably connected.
I suppose one could label that my ‘epiphany’ of sorts, particularly because it is something that can only be noted once placed outside of one’s home country. I am from the United States. I speak English. I am a student, I learn Spanish; I travel to Argentina, I use that Spanish. I live in Buenos Aires, I adapt to the porteño, castellano
accent. It’s all very simple, with some parts inherent and others a process (and others still an inherent process). But what are the further implications of being in a place where they speak Spanish, a language I struggle to perfect? I’m sure several language and travel theorists have explored this exact issue, but I am far from being well read enough to know just whom they are. Thus the attempt is my own.
Knowing a second language is extremely beneficial, and encouraged in education globally. Learners are able to construct different realities within these different languages, without even knowing it. These different realities are primarily based off of culture associated with the language… for example: if I were to say the word lunch one would think of generally a sandwich or a salad or something of that sort, but if I were to say almuerzo
, one may think of something more common for lunch in either Spain or Latin America. Beyond these cognitive, linguistic abilities, however, there’s another branch to linguistics directly related to this: linguistic anthropology, or the “ethnography of speaking.”
So I go to a café and have my respective almuerzo
and I go to school and I run errands and I take the bus and I am speaking Spanish within all of these daily activities. And the people I know and see are formed in my mind as being who they are because they speak Spanish, because I speak Spanish with them, whether they are originally from Argentina or not. I have travelled to Chile and Uruguay now, and the Spanish there is different, and of course differs anywhere you go. But the Spanish here in Buenos Aires is now my Spanish, and porteños
and travelers alike can attain cultural identity via their special way of speaking the language. And so I have come to realize that all the Spanish I learned has been completely altered, to a new reality, because I finally exist within a Spanish-speaking place and interacting with its inhabitants, and that reality constructed and based on my first second language is now my own, personal reality. And so this ethnography of speaking I am undergoing reaches beyond cultural and social identity, and touches upon my own identity.