Mother Tongue

HLA says on my new Hebrew blog: “It must be noted that it is much more fun for me to read in Hebrew.”

I’m glad to optimize for fun (PDF file).

But it must be noted, that it is not easier for me to read in Hebrew than it is in English. And it is not easier for me to read in Russian than in Hebrew or in English. I can read these three pretty much equally well. And it’s not necessarily good.

I hardly have a mother tongue.

Russian is probably still the best shot if i have to name my mother tongue. When i made my contribution to English Speech Accent Archive (requires QuickTime for audio), i was classified as a Russian speaker; it was academic, but rather artificial. When i speak Hebrew i sometimes makes funny mistakes, Russianisms; being a linguist i become aware of them, but a moment too late. The most common such mistake must be saying phrases such as “We went with my my friend to a movie.” It usually means “I went with a friend to a movie” – two people. In Russian it is perfectly correct to say it – Мы ходили с другом в кино, but in Hebrew and English it is weird. Occasionally i say “да, я, но” instead of “yes, i, but”.

But then i also have occasional Hebraisms slipping into my Russian and English speech and Anglicisms slipping into Hebrew and Russian.

When i read texts about politics and and news in Russian, it feels differently. I can say that it feels more lively and expressive, but i can’t say that it’s easier.

So i hardly have any mother tongue.

Which is probably not that good.


3 thoughts on “Mother Tongue

  1. I don’t think it’s very unique among Russian Israelis, or migrant generations in general.

    The more fascinating aspect we grasped (I believe) is the ability to think in multiple languages, switching them on-the-fly. According to Vladimir Dal’s definition, native tongue is the one used while thinking.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily bad; it definitely improves understanding of other cultures. “

  2. That’s the thing – i think in all three. I sometimes even catch myself thinking in Italian, even though i can hardly speak it.

    My situation is a bit unique, because i dabble with linguistics, so i am quite aware of these phenomena.

    It’s both good and bad.

    I guess that it’s like being a biologist – if you don’t know much about biology, then the nature may seem like one big beautiful miracle, but when you are starting to understand the processes, it may seem less so … but i am not a biologist.

    N., do you have a comment?

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