When I took the decision two years ago to relearn Turkish it was an entirely selfish and emotional one.
It wasn’t for all the practical reasons that anyone else might decide to learn this particular language in Cyprus or any other language for that matter – to earn a new skill set and use it to become a translator/interpreter.
The decision wasn’t even remotely based on communicating with relatives (they speak English and Greek too).
Mine was a selfish reason: to be able to have one foot on both sides of the island, to re-claim a lost identity; to be everything to everyone and to have everything in terms of a Cypriot identity that suits me.
However as is life, nothing is ever as it seems or as you imagine. How can relearning a language have any unpleasant effects? Or to put it the way a friend of mine once did: “But how can learning a language change you?”
It changed me because language and identity are intrinsically and undeniably bound. In Cyprus, if you’re a Greek Cypriot you speak Greek and if you’re a Turkish Cypriot you speak Turkish. And there is nothing in between, except for certain members of each community who decide to learn each other’s language.
Learning the language changed me as it forced me to question and to come face to face with my own identity, finally. There were questions that were begging to be answered:
- Which community do I identify with more?
- How do people see me?
Learning a new language, or in my case relearning one does one more very important thing, as most language learners know: it opens the mind and unlocks doors to your soul you never knew existed.
As the Turkish proverb says: ‘Bir dil bir insan iki dil iki insan’.
In other words, the one who speaks only one language is one person, but one who speaks two languages is two people.
On relearning the language I not only had to accommodate grammar and vocabulary but a different me; a me that could understand so much more about the Turkish Cypriot community of the north and in turn so much more about myself.
- What’s in a name?*
- The end of the village