“Being able to speak another language is generally linked to a more flexible brain” – Buckby, 2016
So if that’s the case, by deduction, when one is used to expressing themselves bilingually, does that cause restraint to how they express themselves when they are forced to speak only through one tongue?
Bonny Norton (n.d.), a professor of Language and Literacy Education at the University of British Columbia, claims that “the minute you speak to someone you’re engaging in an identity negotiation […],Who are you? Where are you? How do I relate to you? How do you see me?” So when someone says their personality changes, what they’re saying is: ‘When I talk to other people my personality changes,” and based on personal experience… this is very true.
“Tagalog” is what we call the specific dialect, mainly spoken in Manila, Philippines: the city where I grew up in. Most people confuse it with speaking ‘Filipino’, as it is dubbed the national language. But that’s problematic, as the archipelago is home to a diaspora of dialects, and none sound like another.
I’m half Chinese/half Filipino and a third generation New Zealand immigrant. My dad grew up here in Epsom, and even went to Auckland Grammar and finished a Bachelor of Commerce at UoA. I grew up in half and half. I moved back to Manila when I was around six years old, but lived here for each summer, some Christmases, and moved back in 2018 for my own university experience.
Candidly, it can be claimed that conversational language is the language you choose to express yourself in, and wherein you find comfort. Thus, for me that is Taglish – the use of Tagalog and English simultaneously; my brain and tongue switches in and out in a snap. Growing up in the Philippines, I never realised how intertwined my personality and my bilingualism was. I can claim I’m pretty extroverted and very outgoing, I have just always felt very loose since I’ve grown up expressing myself in two languages at the same time. Though a part of me thought that I spoke more of English; most of the content I ingest (music, shows, books, etc.) is 60% in English, and in High School – thanks to colonisation and American Imperialism – all of our textbooks were in English, and our assignments and presentations had to be too… but in hindsight? The only time I spoke in full English was when I had to be formal about it, and I never realised that persona was attached to it.
My humour, my expressions, and the way that I engage with people are so heavily tied into the fact that I’ve always felt comfortable switching in-and-out of Tagalog and English. So when I moved back to Auckland, a whole separate Gabbie debuted; she was more rigid and reserved. English is the common denominator with most of the friends I’ve made here. I really pushed to be as non-reluctant as I usually am, because this was uni – and immediately, that corresponds to a “fresh start”. I wanted to be confident and take as many opportunities as I could, and I knew language wasn’t going to be a hindrance to that.
The hardest part was having to build an identity centralised on only speaking English, especially in conversations, because how does one replicate the exact same persona through a different expression? With such aggression, I tried to force myself to have the same amount of personability and I thought that since English was one of my best subjects at school it would be easy, but it was totally different. It was condensing your regular vocabulary whilst engaging with more words to be able to fully scope what you meant or what you felt, and even then, it could not be captured. And if I’m being honest, it was really hard to gather my bearings and be truly comfortable when I moved here because I didn’t know what lines I could cross, but you just go on and hope it gets better. In the end, what propelled my hundo-identity-crisis in my two decades of living was how quick I expected myself to shift.
But! Like all shores that get washed by the tide, movement settles and turns into rhythm- my good friends, my partner, my flatmates, and my classmates – it’s a white world. To add, even the Filipinos I have met in my cohort don’t engage in Tagalog the same way I do, so there really has been a paradigm shift that took 18 months to move through – which is quicker than most, so I can only be thankful.
I used to think it was such a fraud of me to have two separate Gabbies inside of me, that could only be unleashed when one language is in use. I used to think they cancel one another out, but they really just compliment each other. They both have separate definitions of comfort that they’ve labeled for themselves, whether that’s being gregarious or being silent. I’ve also realised that the people I’ve met as English-only Gabbie, started seeing my bilingual shift as I’ve become more comfortable around them. I feel like this is a sign too, that I definitely find more comfort in one over the other, and that’s fine, because that’s how I grew up. The fact that my “sense of comfort” is oozing into the reality that I live here, only proves that I’m able to build some sense of warmth and hints of home. I doubt I’ll ever conclude on a fully merged persona, since the semantics of language and identity is ever evolving and oh-so-complex, and I think that’s okay.