Australia Day

Yesterday I attended the sixth annual Australia Day beach barbecue, organised by my friend Kalli. This is the second year I've been, and the weather was much better than last year. Hardly any wind (it's pretty sheltered down there on the beach in any case) and no rain until right when we were leaving. Of course this is still January in Iceland, so it was freezing cold. I got there at around 3 pm and stayed drinking Kalli's excellent homebrew and eating pylsur and lamingtons until the tide came in and removed the beach. Then we all piled into someone's enormous van and went downtown for some (warm) indoor drinking. I was very glad to get inside. A great afternoon, though.

Kalli addresses the masses.
Me with Mr, Mrs and baby Australian Snowman. Sadly they were later murdered by the incoming tide.
Ewelina takes an inflatable kangaroo for a walk on the beach.

Mother Tongue

A while ago I wrote a bit about the importance of learning Icelandic in Iceland, and some of my experiences in that area. Now I'm going to write a little about the importance of one's mother tongue, especially if you want to be a translator.

This was triggered by my encountering someone (naming no names and linking no links) who had written the most astonishingly arrogant and so obviously affected thing about their language learning experience that I have ever heard. This was that they not only tried to avoid speaking English with Icelanders (surely a good idea) but that they had somehow forged such close links with the Icelandic language, that they could no longer process English when spoken to them by a fellow native English speaker who also spoke Icelandic. Even my ill-fated plan to give up English for Lent back in 2011 did not entail a blanket ban, but only speaking English to Icelanders. Two people, both learning Icelandic, but both having English as a mother tongue, might choose to chat a little in Icelandic for the sake of practice, but to entirely avoid communication in the language that both of you understand and speak best? That is mental. Of course, I don't actually believe this person for one second. That is, I believe they stringently avoid using English. However, any pretence of not processing English directed towards them or of no longer being able to produce instantaneous, fluent English is clearly feigned.

So that is nonsense, we're all agreed, yes? But what would be the motivation for making such a claim, for the apparent shame associated with speaking one's mother tongue rather than Icelandic, as an immigrant in Iceland? It can only be an over-extension of the idea that immigrants who speak Icelandic are accorded more value/respect than those who do not, and that immigrants have a certain responsibility to integrate by learning the language. If you take this to extremes I suppose it could end in a desire to reject one's own "foreign" identity entirely. You could decide that you didn't want to be an integrated foreigner and that you'd actually rather not be a foreigner at all. I think that's a little sad. I don't want to stop being English just because I don't live in England. Not that I actually have a choice in the matter. Even if I wanted it really, really hard and I tried to forget my English and speak only Icelandic and just be an Icelander, it wouldn't work. I moved here far too late in my life to actually become an Icelander. 

This all reminded me of something which was pointed out in one of my translation lectures - that the Icelandic students must take pains to always keep reading in Icelandic, and that those of us who are foreign (actually I think it's just me in that module...) must do the same in our languages. The final product of the translation process is not in the 'foreign language', but in the translator's mother tongue. Of course. So it logically follows that, although a good understanding of the source language is important, what is paramount is the ability to express ideas fluently in your native language. If you spend too little time using your own language, it's going to get rusty. Not to the extent that you stop being able to speak it, as I think we've established, but it could well lead to poor phrasing, a harder time finding the right word, a narrower range of words used, etc. Also, if you're not reading new material in your native language, your native vocabulary is going nowhere; you're not going to be learning any new words, and you can keep learning words your whole life long if you care to.

Considering the amount of English I use in my life, reading, writing and speaking, this is extremely unlikely to happen to me. If anything I should probably be using a little less English and a little more Icelandic. But still, I reminded myself the other day that I must not stop reading literature in English. It's probably more important at this stage that I keep reading a lot in Icelandic, but it would definitely be good to throw in the occasional novel in English. Maybe a trip to the library is in order.

Whether you're a translator or not, though, I don't understand how you could reject (or pretend to reject) your mother tongue like that. I love the English language, I love it far more than Icelandic. It's a part of me and I understand it infinitely better, with all its subtleties and nuances. How could anyone with the passion to learn another language not have the same level of passion for their own tongue?

Gleðilegt ár etc

Hey team. I've been back in Iceland for a few days now, since Saturday afternoon. It snowed the day before I got back, and it's still on the ground although we haven't had any more since. Some of it has been compressed and frozen and there are some extremely slippery patches about. We need either a fresh layer or some rain to wash the ice away.

It's good to be back, although the flat is somewhat in turmoil at the moment what with Ahmad moving out and the new tenant (plus cat) moving in and an American friend of ours from last year plus his boyfriend staying over New Year. I haven't actually stayed here these last few nights, been round Grétar's or in Selfoss, but I came home yesterday to give things a bit of a clean and tidy up. It's a bit better now, but there is still stuff everywhere that has yet to be sorted into the right rooms / places. Plus we have all sorts of money transfers and calculations to sort out incurred by the swapping of one tenant for another. Jæja, þetta reddast.

Happy New Year and so forth. I think 2012 was a good year for me, all told, and here's hoping that things will continue in a satisfactory fashion throughout 2013. Yesterday evening we went to Selfoss. Apparently the weather was awful on the heath coming over, drifting snow severely reducing visibility, but I was of course asleep so I didn't notice. It was a good evening with Grétar and his family - another roast turkey with all the trimmings (albeit different trimmings, sweet potato mash instead of roast potatoes and salad instead of sprouts). We watched some of Lord of the Rings, which is always fantastic, and the Áramótaskaup as we ate the chocolate cake Grétar made for pudding, which was not so good. The programme, I mean - the cake was great. Then we went outside for the actual stroke of midnight to watch the fireworks. Grétar's parents had a few, including some sparklers, but there were so many all around that all in all it was quite a display. It must be absolutely incredible in Reykjavík. Back inside for champagne and board games until I fell asleep on Grétar's shoulder at about 2.30 am. I am not the best at staying up late. My first New Year's Eve outside of the UK, and it was a pretty good evening, not so very different from what I'm used to, except more fireworks and a bit less drinking. And Christmas meat.

The spring term starts next week, and then life resumes as normal. Hope you're all enjoying 2013 so far!