It can be disorienting when someone we’re close to is fluent in a foreign vocabulary. I say vocabulary instead of language because I’m thinking of specialized groups of words within a language. When my partner talks about their work—psychology and dance movement therapy—in depth, I often need translation help. When I talk about poetry (also, Twitter) bridges must be cast so that we can understand each other.
Technical language is an extreme version. Legal jargon. Science and medicine. These vocabularies require a deep array of memorizations and associations that can exist so far outside your experience that the effect is close to reading a foreign language.
Love and affection is grounded in seeing and hearing—not in the literal sense, but in the work that goes into affirming and receiving someone’s presence. To be open to this other person’s life more fully than others. Language, in whatever form, is the strongest bridge.
‘E. faecalis, Emails, English: Multi-generational Citations,’ an essay by Jasmine An in Nat. Brut, is a beautiful narrative of language—of science, poetry, and love—between a grandmother and her granddaughter. The author’s grandmother was a scientist, and An writes of finding her research papers. There is a melancholic magic in not quite understanding, in just having a glimpse of recognition. These research papers run alongside emails the two exchanged when An was young—emails with poems and many exclamation points and boundless love. Adding yet more dimension is the place of language in a multi-generational immigrant family.
In what is ultimately a short, straightforward essay about language and vocabulary sets, An is able to capture something that, ultimately, doesn’t have a language, and doesn’t need one.