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Nyk de Vries on bilingualism

by Nyk De Vries (Friesland / The Netherlands) on June 18th, 2010

On Tuesday there was an event about the English poems of Fernando Pessoa. In the second half of the evening there was a reading and a small discussion about bilingualism. Katia Kapovich discussed her use of Russian as well as English, having lived first in Moldavia, and then later in the US. I talked about my use of Frisian as well as Dutch.

Before the event I was thinking about bilingualism and what it means to my work. At first sight not terribly much. I muddle up the two languages and sometimes in an early stage of the writing process my text is a funny mixture of both Frisian and Dutch. On closer inspection, though, I notice that sections in Frisian sometimes seem to be a little juicier, probably because I am more aware of Frisian slang. When I use too many baroque words in Dutch I have the feeling I’m lying. On the other hand, precisely because of this, I’m very fond of the Dutch language. Perhaps it’s even a better vehicle for my prose poems. There’s a strangeness slipping into the words that underline the content of the stories. Sometimes I have the feeling when a Frisian is using Dutch language that he or she more or less imitates it, being a little bit formal. It makes me think of the way the late great Dutch writer Gerard Reve used his language, also formal and a little old-fashioned, with multiple layers of humour.

And now to end with something completely different: yesterday we had dinner with Katia in Café Elévé and at some point the situation in the US was discussed. She was asked if the future did look a little better with Obama as opposed to Bush. Katia’s answer: The future? At least he looks better.

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