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Ayesha Sayed

Student, UAEU

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As a trilingual or bilingual, what role does language play in the creation of your identity? Which language do you think in?

I've grown up speaking 3 very diverse languages, I feel that they've created three distinct worlds in me. I find myself moving in and out of not only languages but cultures as well.
What role do languages play in your life? Do you find yourself thinking in more than one language?

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  • Jan 29 2012: There was a time when I was perfectly trilingual, even as an adult. I have now lost my competence with one of the languages. I had given this question some thought when I was trilingual.
    Quite often, when I'm thinking about things, it is virtually spoken out inside my head. And again, quite often, there is an imaginary audience for this, and this audience is usually based on people I had related conversations with in real life. Let's say I'm a banker who likes to watch football with friends. (I'm neither.) When thinking of banking issues, I would "converse" with my colleagues, in the language that I use at work. And when I'm thinking of the game, I would converse with my drinking buddies with whom I watch the game, and I would "converse" in the language I normally use with them.

    There were times when I caught myself in idle thought when driving or riding a bus, about things I have saw then and there. And I suddenly stopped and asked myself what language that was. I tried to "speak out" the thought in each of the languages I spoke fluently, and I could make none of them fit the thought.

    So, for myself, there are times when I think, that I think in no language at all. (When I was thinking this note out, I thought in English.)
    • Jan 29 2012: This is a very interesting point and I quite agree with it. I also notice that sometimes I think concepts that I can't find words for in any language I know.
      And I agree that when I speak or think in a language, the people I spoke to most in my life in that language are present in my mind as an imaginary audience. I believe I speak the languages in relationship to them, because I learned it and practised it by speaking to them.
      It does feel a bit like I'm a different person in every language I speak, but I notice that most when I switch languages with the same person - if I'd been speaking to them in English and we switch to French or vice versa. When this happens it clearly feels like we step into a different context a bit, as if we suddenly look at the world from a different perspective - as if suddenly France is the center of the globe. And the same goes with any other language.
      • Jan 30 2012: It is interesting for me to note that many here, including you, seem to switch perspectives or culture when you switch languages. I tend to not use language in a very colloquial manner, and other multilinguals around me have told me that I speak all three languages in exactly the same manner: MY manner. I don't "get" them! Not that I have an accent in any of these. People assume I'm a native speaker unless I tell them.

        A part of my brain is probably defective ;-).

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