Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and how to be a writer of the world

4 min read

I was thinking about my English writing the other day. How I couldn’t care less if my words sound this or that to native speakers. Cause I use English as a lingua franca not to reach a native speaker in particular.

If I wanted to sound American or British, I would just write like Hemmingway or Dickens or Orwell cause I love their works. And my conclusion was this: I love writing in English, I love how the English and North American writers sound. But my top five favorite writers are Machado de Assis, Umberto Eco, Dostoyevsky, Mario de Andrade, and Gabriel García Marquez. And I only use English because you can be anywhere in the world, and you’ll understand these words now without translation or much thinking.

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, or language relativity hypothesis, is a principle that suggests that the structure of a language affects its speaker’s perceptions and thoughts, thus affecting their behavior. It’s also said that native speakers don’t realize that influence until they find themselves immersed in another culture and language. And my guess is that many people never realize that influence in their lives at all.

Being aware of that influence can protect your integrity, authenticity and personalty from any fuckery related to language domination.

My native tongue is Brazilian Portuguese, a language that comes from Latin, borrowing a bit of Greek, French, Arabic, and differing from the original Portuguese from Portugal by the addition of many Tupi Guarani and African words. So, it’s already imbued with a mixed behavior. By the way, that makes the Brazilian Portuguese a beautiful and wonderful language of multisyllabic, soft and cerebral words with a rhythm and taste I couldn’t find in any other language so far.

But it’s true. Writing in English made me start behaving like a writer of the English language a bit. It also worked for me as too for the creation of my new persona or my alter ego as writer who didn’t cringe every time he wrote his words on a paper. That’s because it wasn’t part of my daily life and by using another language, I wasn’t just creating a new me with that, I was retiring my habits and thinking and behavior, and that’s where I believe that “language relativity” was beneficial for me.

So, writing in English forced me to act like a writer who expresses himself in English, and so I built my writing habit as well as I figured out my personality as a writer. In addition to that, English words tend to be short, simple and blunt. And I let the simple short bluntness of the language affect my daily writing a little, I see that. But, overall, it didn’t engulf my literary influence. And that’s what I want to bring here for discussion.

I WRITE in English, but “writing” in Portuguese for me is still “escrever”. You don’t have to know the pronunciation of it to notice that the vowels make the word longer and more contemplative in a certain way. I noticed that, no matter in what language I write, even if I think in that language TO write, that mix of behaviors and the influence and languages and sounds that built my brain when the time was right can never leave me.

I want you to think about it if you’re not an English native-speaker. If you write in another language too, think about it. And I understand if you chose English as your literary language, especially if you’re Brazilian (where reading is ridiculously seen as a forbidden activity for the “opressed” thanks to misreadings of Hegel and now embedded in our culture where people look at readers and call them nerds or “elite”). English is an advantage for those who want to be read in the whole world. Like Latin in ancient days was the lingua franca, the common language in the world, English the common language today.

But think about what I said. Don’t let words and their meaning for native-speakers of the languages influence your behavior and literary thinking. I mean, yes, there are certain words you cannot use. You don’t want to offend anyone, but don’t let it all mold your personality and your behavior.

I will write in English but on the influence of my favoite Latin authors but also being myself and using the words I find intersting to use. And I’m proud of that.

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