Definitions are not learned from a book, but from life experiences.
I’ve been immersed in English since day one. My parent’s native tongue is English, their family speaks only English, and the most commonly taught second language is also English. So it seemed that learning any other language fluently besides English was unnecessary. Sometimes I think about how unfortunate it is that I was born in a country that natively speaks English. I feel that to some extent, I’m being held back from experiencing the world around me: I really only see the world half as much as I should because I can only use one single language to describe it.
A bilingual speaker, like Zhuang, not only knows what Fertilize
mean in English, but she knows what Shi Yue Huai Tai
means in Chinese. Consequently, both these two words have similar, but not exact, meanings. In English, Fertilize
is to provide a plant or animal with sperm or pollen to bring about fertilization. Z claims that in “Chinese we say Shi Yue Huai Tai.
It means giving the birth after ten months pregnant.” (54) “I think this became the greatest obstacle in the way of Z learning both the meaning of words in the English language and their cultural applications. Languages are not created equally, what means something in one language could mean something entirely different in another. Most words do not have an exact translation. We know exactly what the word “annoyed” means, when to use it and how to apply it to the appropriate situation. In China, the closest translation for “annoyed” could be more similar to “bothered”. Although synonyms, these words carry slightly different meanings and aren’t interchangeable. For Z, this makes learning difficult; grappling with the simple nuances of a word, nuances that take years of living in London to pick up on.
Occasionally, Zhuang is familiar with certain English words, but to her, they are useless. Take privacy
for example, “the freedom from interference or public attention” (85). Privacy has very little place in the Chinese culture because privacy creates boundaries and forces people apart. To Zhuang, privacy creates a distance between lovers and between family. Maybe this
is why Westerners don’t know how to love fully, she thinks.
Sex seems to be a language that both Zhuang and her lover can speak fluently, and so the two not only find pleasure in the act itself, but in he joining of their beings, the conversation they can have without saying anything at all. Touch is a universal language, and since Z was unfamiliar with sex before moving to London, she delights in indulging her curiosities with You. Guo’s A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
is probably the most sexually charged novel we have read, but it needs to be. It needs to have a third, mutual language that’s not literate in order for the reader to understand exactly how two people that are so different can fall in love.