Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Le Francais est Ma Langue Paternelle

A spontaneous trip into a Parisian bookstore last week yielded something marvelous - a small book filled with everything I ever wanted to say about learning and learning to love a second language but never had the courage or the skill to express.

The book is called Une Langue Venue d'Ailleurs and it evoked the same emotions in me as Eva Hoffman's biography, Lost in Translation.  At last, two people who can capture all the love and sacrifice that is the lot of people who seek out other places, peoples and languages.  But while Hoffman tells a tale of loss and exile where culture and language are intertwined, Akira Mizubayashi mostly confines himself to language and his purely voluntary, almost existential, escape into the world of the language of Molière.

The journey began in the 1970's when Mizubayashi, a young Japanese student, came to the conclusion that his own language was not enough and as long as he stayed within his own mother-tongue he was a hostage to it.  After stumbling upon the work of a compatriot, Arimasa Mori, and reading what he had to say about the nature of profound and authentic experience, Mizubayashi decided:
Le texte de Mori me demandait, depuis la hauteur incoupçonnée d'un discours philosophique et sur un ton austère défiant toute attitude velléitaire, si j'étais prêt à me lancer dans une telle aventure, à m'imposer une discipline de fer, à me livrer à un terrible exercise d'endurance, à m'offrir le luxe ou le risque d'une deuxième naissance, d'une seconde vie impure, hybride, sans doute plus longue, plus aléatoire, plus exposée à des ébranlements imprévisibles, plus obstinément questionneuse que la première, suffisante, autoréférentielle, peuplée de certitudes, tendanciellement repliée sur elle-même. Ma réponse fut, sans une seconde d'hésitation, oui.

Mori's text was asking me, from the unexpected height of a philosophical discourse and with a austere tone defying all indecisive attitudes, if I was ready to launch myself into such an adventure, to impose upon myself an iron discipline, to deliver myself to a terrible exercise of endurance, to offer myself the luxury or the risk of a second birth, a hybrid and impure second life, no doubt longer, more exposed to unforeseen weaknesses, more stubborningly questioning than the first, self-referencing, filled with certainties, always folding back into itself. My reply was, without a moment's hesitation, yes. 
So much in this book to savor and think about:  his father's support in his endeavor, his trepidation and excitement on coming to France for the first time, and even his mistakes.  In particular, the ones he makes when he moves from academia into the streets of Montpelier and discovers that it is not exactly the same language that he learned in school but it is no less beautiful just because it is the language of everyday life.  I could quote endlessly from this book but then I would deprive you of the pleasure of discovering it for yourself.  Just one more:
Oui le français est un instrument de musique pour moi.  C'est le sentiment que j'ai depuis longtemps, depuis, tout compte fait, le début de min apprentissage.  Pour devenir un bon instrumentaliste, il faut de la discipline, je dirais même le sens de l'ascèse.  Et ce que je dis à mes étudiants aujourd'hui:  maîtriser le français, c'est en jouer comme jouer du violon ou du piano.  Chez un bon musicien, l'instrument fait partie de son corps.  Eh bien, le français doit faire partie de son corps chez un locuteur qui choisit de s'exprimer en français.
Yes French is a musical instrument for me.  I've had this feeling for a long time, ever since, when all is said and done, the beginning of my apprenticeship.  To become a good instrumentalist, discipline is required and even, I would say, a sense of asceticism. I tell my students even today:  mastering French means playing it like a violin or a piano.  A good musician is one where the instrument becomes a part of his body.  And so French must become a part of the body of a speaker who chooses to express himself in French.
As a French speaker and amateur violinist I can certainly concur wholeheartedly.  Something about learning both has always felt a bit masochistic whether it is my lips that ache or my stiff and sore fingers that are concerned that day.  But there comes a moment when the physical, the mental and the soul come together and what comes off the strings or the tongue is pure magic.

 This is a beautiful book.  The French is exquisite but it's really the experiences that moved me.   It's much more than an autobiography. It is definitely not a "how to" manual for second-language acquisition. Let' s just call it a love song and leave it at that.


For anyone who might be interested an interview with the author here:



Akira Mizubayashi - Une langue venue d'ailleurs par Librairie_Mollat
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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Any update on blue card?

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi there and welcome to the Flophouse! I just posted an update. Hope you the information helpful.

Victoria

Anonymous said...

thanks