The gift of tongues

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  • Published 20051104
  • ISBN: 9780733314544
  • Extent: 268 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm)

LANGUAGE AND PLACE no longer define us as simply as they once did. We can slip and slide between languages and places in ways difficult for our parents, impossible for our grandparents. Language, culture, family, place. Out of that mix emerges the individual personality. And, increasingly, in a world that is shrinking, in which people move ever more easily and in ever greater numbers, the interplay between the language(s) we speak and place(s) we find ourselves, is a subject of complexity and contemplation, a minefield, a creative conundrum …

In our house we spoke two languages, which was still a bit unusual back in the early ’50s. We spoke Hungarian and English, plus a few half-languages. Our first half-language, the family shorthand, was basic Hungarian peppered with bits of English when we kids couldn’t think of a Hungarian word. Then, as the years in Australia lengthened, the family started to speak more “Hunglish” – an English that could instantly transmogrify into Hun­garian for an untranslatable phrase or a word that didn’t have the requisite rich set of connotations. Hungarian would make an appearance for the length of an intimacy, endearment, curse or joke, then disappear again just as quickly.

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