Everything I Don’t Know How to Say / sve što ne znam kako da kažem

By | 15 September 2022

We stopped speaking Bosnian as soon as we learned English. It happened quickly for my sister and I, but my mother was determined and refused to fall behind. We cast off words like winter clothes, and, not needing them under a sky so open and uncompromising, we left them behind. It was instantaneous, it took a lifetime. I felt it, but only when I looked: the words fluttering uselessly somewhere in the back of my throat. This is called language attrition. A mother tongue, disrupted by another, begins to atrophy. She is blocked by the dominant language until there is nothing left of her, until she is buried under new grammatical structures and phonemes, until the tongue and lips have forgotten the shape of her and she is unfilled from the throat, the chest.

I am told that a positive view of the mother tongue may slow this process, but I have always had a complicated relationship with my mother. She had no English before arriving on Wadjuk Country, but within three years she spoke to us almost entirely in her adopted tongue, a wonder of determination and gritted teeth. Naš jezik was reserved for when she spoke to others, or when she was angry and so the word I knew best were the ones I could not say.

This entry was posted in ESSAYS and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Related work:

Comments are closed.