Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Painted Into A Corner

I have painted myself into a nice little corner.

After just over eight years of living in
Britain, and roughly twice as much after I started ramping down my Serbian reading and writing, I have now found myself almost unable to do both, or at least the latter.

Don't get me wrong, I still posses all the skills required. It is just that when I think something needs writing down, what comes out naturally is in
English, not Serbian. As far as reading is concerned, what little I read in Serbian is news and current affairs analyses. Probably twice a year I grab a book that proves worth reading past the first dozen pages (my acid test -- apologies to slow ramping writers). This is, of course, the main reason for finding it hard to write in Serbian. When it comes to English literature (or more precisely, literature in English) I tend to devour roughly a book every week. With the addition of everyday life use (work, TV, etc) it is no wonder English phrases come to mind much more easily.

I still wouldn't say my
Serbian has deteriorated. It's more of a case of the conveyor belt responsible for dragging words and phrases from the deepest recesses of my mind to my tongue and fingertips has got rusty and creaky. Sometimes it doesn't even want to start rolling. Most times it runs slower than the English one. It also feels that its access to some of the vaults holding the finery is spotty at best.

But what is to be done?

It is not that I deliberately want to forget my native language. Not by a long shot that isn't the case, even if, being
British as well, I can now claim English as my "second", rather than a "foreign" language. And just see what I've just done there. English is my second language. It always will be, even if it eventually surpasses Serbian as my language of choice or, more importantly, the language I am proficient in.

Shall I force myself to write in
Serbian more than I do now? That'd be easy, seeing as I barely write an odd e-mail in Serbian. I'll probably have to, and for the following reasons:

Serbian (and Croatian; here when I say Serbian, I mean both, or Serbo-Croatian if you want) literary output in the past 20 years has been both less prolific and of lesser quality than would meet my needs. There's just not enough new material that is to my taste.

Serbian (but, interestingly, not Croatian) translations from other languages have been frankly disastrous. Pretty much every book I grabbed that has been translated from English was a pile of excrement, and a smoking one at that. The problem doesn't seem to be that translators do not know enough English. It is their Serbian, their native language, that is shamefully poor. And having seen a good few of such massacred books, now I refrain even from translations from other languages. Once bitten, twice shy, as they say here (or, bitten by a snake, afraid of the lizard, as they say there).

With the view of the two points above, and especially since there's always going to be much more reading to be done in
English, I guess I'll have to start writing in Serbian more. Much more. Look, I chose to write this in English, for Pete's sake!

I'll let you know how it goes. I may even write a few of these in
Serbian. Mix it up a little. Maybe translate a few entries. Maybe start translating them all? I'll see.

Stay tuned.

An interesting topic for some other time: I have noticed my understanding of
Croatian is, ever so slowly, deteriorating, too. It won't go away, but it used to be way better. I've a few words to say on that topic also.