I enjoy attempting to read signs that are in languages I do not speak. I take pleasure from attempting to translate phrases, songs, television captions, etc., for myself. I often check for accuracy on Google Translate. To translate what is foreign to me into something familiar, I heavily rely on the languages I currently speak. I work under the assumption that all languages have a genealogical relative while simultaneously being aware of theories proposing the existence of language isolates (for instance: Basque, Korean, etc.,). My translations from written French to English are amongst my most accurate. With every failed attempt at translation I pick-up words in new languages that later help me translate from a new language to English (i.e., new French words, in combination with knowledge of Spanish, have assisted me in understanding Catalan and Haitian Creole). There is always the risk of losing meaning in translation. There are expressions that cannot be properly translated. Communicating interlinguistically can be difficult.
As I think about languages and challenges that arise when translating information into different languages, my mind wanders towards a different type of translation that I am conducting as I aim to learn a new language. I am attempting to learn the language my feelings speak because I struggle to translate what I feel for myself; hence, often fail to communicate how I feel to others. The language spoken by my emotions and internal states seems foreign to me. It might be that my emotions are like language isolates, too unrelated to the languages I know; thus, too incomprehensible for me. In order to understand this isolate I am observing the gestures, physical reactions, and other forms of non-verbal communication my body exhibits as it attempts to communicate with my often rational mind. For many years I had turned to other people to learn about what they claimed to be feeling before making their emotions my own. This reliance on another’s emotions to understand my own has prevented me from owning my feeling and from taking ownership of the perspective allotted to me by my internal world. Today, as I try to wean away from my reliance on other people’s perspectives, I am starting to create my own understanding of the semantics of emotion-words (with the assistance of a collection of descriptions by people I encounter daily, posts on Yahoo Answers, Experience Project, and pages found while conducting simple Searches on Google). I now more heavily rely on the languages I currently speak to understand my emotional states than I had when I was mimicking the emotional states of those around me. In many situations I am still a mime, but I also see that I am spending more time rationalizing my internal experience in acts of self-reliance that assist me in my efforts to understand myself.
I remember, as a young child of either seven or eight years, I once tried to practice looking happy for picture day. As we waited in line to have our pictures taken, one of my classmates behind me in line attempted to teach me how to hold a smile for a picture; I did not achieve the intended results. Now, as an adult, I still struggle to purposely hold a smile for a picture. Facially expressing what I internally am not feeling is an act of deception I have not yet mastered. From attempting to smile when I did not want to smile, I learned that just as an individual can use spoken language to lie, many people use expressive communication to lie. I sometimes lie. My facial expressions often unintentionally deceive others– I am frequently told that I am displaying an emotion that I do not believe I am/was feeling. Of course, it is possible that I was feeling the emotion I was displaying; maybe what I perceive as an unintentional lie is an act of honest representation. I might just be unaware. Anyway, I have many memories of being in a classroom as an angry teacher reprimanded my class. I do not remember any instance in which I did not feel the need to laugh. I am sure I smiled on many of these occasions. For a long time I assumed that laughing/smiling and wanting to laugh/smile at inappropriate times made me a bad child. As a teenager I realized that I laugh when I am uncomfortable. I translated my laughter by reflecting on the context and recalling the way my body has felt in similar situations. I depend on context to know what I feel. Context is what separates my understanding of happiness, excitement, ecstasy, love, and serenity. Context creates a distinction between frustration, irritation, confusion, anger, and sadness– emotions that feel identical to me and, if felt with noticeable intensity, can lead to tears. I use words to express a wider range of emotions than I feel.
In my case, translation is an act of subtraction and addition; I often lose my raw understanding, or lack of understanding, about what I am feeling, while simultaneously creating a semantic network that links the emotion-word I have chosen with related concepts, and with memories of other instances in which I had chosen said word. My semantic network is constantly being re-created and the way in which I describe how I feel is continuously changing. I do not know if I am becoming more accurate or more inaccurate with my use of emotion-words. Being unaware of my emotions, failing to accurately express, and failing to effectively translate my emotions into spoken or written language, is frustrating (or confusing, or irritating, <insert emotion-word>).