The first language I learned was Swedish, because we always spoke Swedish at home. When mum met dad, she taught herself Swedish, and then insisted on using it on me and my sister Ellie. At first because she wanted us to get that heritage while in England, and these days because she doesn’t want me to lose that heritage while I live here.

When I really want to think something through, I tend to think in Swedish because it is my first language, and strangely enough it is not so coloured by emotion. I can blush when I say foul words in English, but not in Swedish, for instance. Despite it being my first language, the language of emotion and feeling is English. The language of the mind and intellect and clarity is Swedish.

I have tried to understand why this is so, and the nearest answer is that Swedish has always, even back when I was a baby and a toddler, been an academic thing. It was something extra that was imposed on me from the outside. All my experiences, negative and positive, have been done in English. Praise and criticism, bullying and championing, moments of love and hate – it was all done in English. Swedish was just a thing of the mind, and remain a thing of the mind and not of the heart.

When we’re busy revising in school, and I was asked what the difference between Swedish and English was, this was what occurred to me, and while I had to spend some time trying to articulate an answer that satisfied, it made me think further. And it seems clear that there is a difference, and not one of language construction and origin and grammar and syntax, but of attachment and feeling.

Words matter, and words is what fills the world with feeling, and it is the exchange mechanism of feeling between two persons. But it depends on the words, and the language. In some cases it is just data noise, devoid of any deeper feeling, like knowing the ways to convey a mathematical formula correctly without feeling the emotional weight of the formula.

But why did English become the language of my heart, and not Swedish? Swedish was my first language. The first words I spoke were Swedish. Somehow, maybe experience and life, made English matter more to the heart than Swedish does.

Advertisements