One effect I did not expect about learning a second language was the sense of “otherworldliness” it would bring with it. That switching between two different languages would bring with it a sense of switching between two different planets. That shutting off access to one of those languages would feel like shutting off access to a part of my self. Now that I’m not speaking Hindi on a daily basis – here are a few things I miss about that language…
The Passive Tense
There is a persistent passive tense in Hindi. It’s used every day, unlike in English where we’re told using the passive tense makes for weak writing and sounds funny when spoken. But in Hindi, it’s especially helpful when showing you’re not accusing anyone. Whereas in English we might ask, “Did you break the glass?” (emphasis on you did it) in Hindi, that sounds confrontational. Instead, we ask, “Did the glass break?” as it if just happened – cause unknown. Now that I don’t have the option available to me, I feel like I’m accusing people all of the time!
There are just certain words in Hindi that don’t have a good English translation. Like mna karna. Ajib. Descriptions and actions that just don’t exist in English…
Different Levels of You
There are three different ways to say “you” in Hindi. A formal you. A familiar, friendly you. An intimate you – only used between spouses or to address God in moments of heartfelt prayer. The you chosen speaks volumes about a relationship, about respect, about friendship. I miss being able to ascribe respect to someone or address God with an added level of intimacy just by the word chosen for you.
In Hindi, if you need to get the shopkeeper’s attention you call out bhaiya – which is the word for “older brother”. If the shopkeeper’s a woman, didi is appropriate – meaning older sister. You immediately set a tone of relation – a family relation. Children are taught to call older adults – no matter their relation – by terms meaning older sibling or aunty/uncle. If a young man is treating a young woman disrespectfully on the street, a common response from her is, “Don’t you have a mother? No sister at home?” – implying, “You should be treating me like you’d want your own sister treated”.
In London, I got so happy whenever someone called me, “sweetheart” or “luv” – not in the romantic sense of those words, but in creating a sense of community. Having words by which to address a stranger that means we’re not going to have to go by just “hey you”. It’s not really something American English has the option to create.
Do you speak a second language or have visited somewhere where they speak a different style of English? What did it make you notice about the way you use your first language?