On Learning a Second Language without Having a First Language

japanese-second-languageMiss Geneviève Falconer once said: “Most English-speaking people would benefit immensely from learning a first language”. The witticism is apt and much appreciated, but in my case it is more literal than it was ever intended to be.

As a space alien (as one of my fellow exiles so amusingly puts it) I am very aware that English is not really my first language, although currently it is my only language (I have a smattering of a few other languages, but am not yet fluent in any). I write books in English, so I suppose, up to a point, I have gotten into the cage with the chair and whip and made the language do some of the tricks I want it to do. But it is really not my language.

There are many things I want to express, and I kind-of know the words for them but those words don’t exist in English. It is an interesting challenge to try to force and twist the language into expressing what I need to say, and I don’t claim not to enjoy it, at least upon occasion. I am in the unusual position of having a native speaker’s facility with the language, but not a native speaker’s culture and sensibility, and to be actuated by thoughts and feelings that do not seem to belong in English at all. It really feels like speaking a second language while not knowing more than snatches of my first language.

Language does not exist in a vacuum. All languages ultimately derive from “the first, the mother language”. Just as “numbers were before there were things to be numbered” (a saying from my homeland), so words were before there were incarnate beings to speak them. Just as music derives from the Primordial Note and descends via the unheard Music of the Spheres to the realm of things palpable (or in this case, audible), so language derives from the Primordial Word and descends via the unheard Language of the Angels to the worlds of incarnate souls.

The languages that beings speak are formed by centuries of thinking and feeling. Languages, like all things have a warp and a weft – a vertical and a horizontal dimension. The vertical dimension of the fabric of language is the Primordial Language, without which no being could speak a word. The horizontal dimension is what happens to language through its exposure to the world of flux and change. This, of course, includes the special character of each dialect, or “language” into which the Primordial Tongue is broken, which is shaped by the particular character of the collectivity that speaks and forms that dialect. So English has its own particular character, as do French and German, Japanese and Chinese and all the other languages of this world and of all other worlds. Each one corresponds to a particular “genius”, with all its strengths and weaknesses.

No serious philologist doubts that the “progress” of language is a degeneration. The earliest known languages are the most complex, subtle and sophisticated (compare Sanskrit to Hindi, Latin to its various modern derivative languages or ancient Greek to modern Greek – or any other like comparison you care to make). That the implication of this is “down from the Angels” rather than “up from the apes” they naturally avoid, for this would conflict with the current ideology of their world, but the fact that the entire known history of language is a history of decline is indisputable.

This is not to denigrate modern languages, since the decline is a part of the process of manifestation, and to a degree what languages lose in depth they gain in breadth – a poor exchange but one that is metaphysically necessary. My own is no exception, of course. Modern Western languages, though, and English in particular, have been shaped by centuries of de facto materialism and individualism. As such it is about as far from the sensibility of my people as a language can get. It makes me wonder why I – like several others – was deployed in the Anglosphere, though doubtless there are good reasons. It certainly makes the expression of the thoughts and sensibility that I have to convey a little more challenging.

On a personal level, it also very much increases my sense of isolation – which I suppose is not necessarily a bad thing (except from the standpoint of my own humble emotions) since I am not supposed to “go native” – and going native is near-to-inevitable in a life-deployment unless one is provided with unusual circumstances and a teflon soul. Both of which seem to have been the case with me.

I have had an opportunity to observe the effect of language as a “filter” for the manifestation of a soul in a dear friend who is an American English-speaker but fluent in Japanese. Her English-self is beautiful in a way that is rare in these times, but her Japanese-self is something else – something more beautiful and more true (I believe) to who she really is.

Japan has long been cited as something of a this-world analogue to my home nation (by no means an exact analogue, of course, since the all-possibility is limitless and the exact same Form does not manifest twice). I had always accepted that, and have always been somewhat fascinated by the Japanese language.

But in seriously beginning to learn it I became for the first time aware that there might actually be a language that allows my soul to be filtered into manifestation in a way closer to its true nature than is made possible by its current linguistic medium.

Time for the Great Experiment.

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