We know the answer to the question: What language do you speak as your native tongue?
We know that this “native language” is the one in which we cry the most stinging tears, argue the easiest, laugh the loudest and tell our jokes, and that we whisper the softest to our children as they sleep in our arms. In English, we call this language our “mother tongue”. It is the language used by our parents and teachers to nurture our emotions, develop our character and force our knowledge to expand.
Our rawest emotions come out in this language, and if we are bilingual, then our communications might just as easily see a few second-language words and idioms mixed in, but the framework and grammatical heart of what we say will STILL be in our mother tongue. It’s a primal thing.
So that brings another question: Why can’t we call it our “father tongue”? It’s something to think about.
Some might say that, because in English and many other languages – especially Latin-based (see “contrata”), we usually talk about our countries of origin in the feminine. In English, this is a literary construct, but in Latin-based languages, it’s just the norm grammatically. Life is in the feminine and masculine. It makes things interesting, to say the least.
Some might say it’s because our “mother tongue” our most intimate mode of expression, and our relationship with our mothers is generally our most intimate relationship at the beginning of our lives when language is first formed. We show our mothers our rawest emotions, our fiercest temper tantrums, and our strongest allegiances if she has done her job right.
But then, some might say that there are those of us whose most intimate beginning relationship was actually with our father. And more cogent, some might argue that, although usually we first communicate with our mothers, it is often our expanded efforts to communicate with our fathers, for better or for worse, that actually stretch and develop our powers of language and all the nuances therein.
I don’t necessarily believe that completely, although at least some of this is true and great fodder for debate. What I do believe is that, for most of us, whether or not we have both parents in the home, an awareness of “Mother” and of “Father” plays an enormous part in the development of our language. When one of them is absent, the yearning itself provokes the need to communicate, if only with oneself.
In any case, these are just some musings and a desire to hear what others think.
In honor of Fathers Day, though, and in honor of the extraordinary love and sacrifice my husband shows our family, as well as the love my father still tries to show me despite that he was away for most of my childhood, today I will call English my “father tongue”.
I’ll revert back to “mother tongue” on Monday, Mom. Don’t worry. Pop won’t mind.
Where I found these great images: