Limited Vocabulary by Astrid Braun

I wondered the other day, as I lay in bed, whether writers are ever satisfied with their attempts to express emotions. The older I get, the more limiting the English language seems to me — I flip through my thesaurus in an attempt to expand my vocabulary, but there are concepts that have not yet been put into words. In our language, at least.

The Hindi word jijivisha refers to the strong, eternal desire to live and to continue living. The Spanish word querer describes a love of friends or family that is purely platonic; amor describing its counterpart.

Does the lack of terminology for these feelings in English reveal the blind spots of our cultural values, or does it only show a difference in language development? I assume both — language development and culture are tightly woven together. After all, even if I were to adopt jijivisha into my own everyday vocabulary, it would not convey what I want it to, because we don’t have the cultural understanding to surround the word.

But it could serve its purpose for me, if I developed its meaning enough in the context of my life. I cannot write papers for English class that use después, because somehow it fits better than “after,” but if I choose to do so in my own writing, I can employ whatever words I want. Eventually, still, I will run out of words.

So it is that same cultural understanding — the one that limits me so much — that I need to rely on in order to have any confidence that I’ve conveyed my feelings correctly. I have to know that everyone takes in the same short breath when they come across a deer in the woods, or the same joyful soreness in their neck after they’ve watched fireworks all night. But I know that no one experiences anything the same, and that will always be both my advantage and disadvantage.

No one will ever understand what it is to be me, but maybe my words can help them better understand what it is to be them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *