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Speaking With Our Mother (Tongue)

“From a first generation perspective, we don’t understand the second generation. It doesn’t seem like they care about the same things. And if we wait to see what they do–the thought being that we would like to support them, we really don’t know what they’re going to do. We have a communication problem.”

I nodded my head. Jae said the last sentence in English (all the rest he had said in Korean) as if to prove his point. Even though I understood.

“Honestly,” he continued in Korean, “It’s a language problem. It’s tiring.” Pause. He shook his head. “It’s just easier to let them do what they want and not bother with it.” Another pause. “It’s a big problem, but what else can we do?”

I responded in my own Korean. “Even though we share the same building, we act like we don’t know each other.”

Jae and I continued talking like this for about fifteen minutes in front of the bookstore, encouraging and discouraging one another with one of the more memorable moments when Jae said, “The first generation must speak first and reach out. They are the ones with the power.”

But the two words that remain with me and keep me up tonight: “It’s tiring.”

Just communicating itself is exhausting. There are so many obstacles and it takes so much time, knowing what I know of my parents’ generation and my own generation, I wonder if they will invest in one another’s language, not just to order a meal or to watch each other’s movies, but to work through deep wounds and issues of faith and meaning together.

It’s hard enough to speak to our mothers, how much harder to speak with our mother tongue? Can we worship our heavenly Father without it? What does it mean if/when we should become linguistic orphans?

In this latest article off the AP wire, “Researchers say many languages are dying” – what if one of them were ours? How does language play into identity and worship? What does it mean that we find less connection between our mother tongue and our church?


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

4 responses to “Speaking With Our Mother (Tongue)

  1. elderj

    as you know, language issues are a pet concern of mine. the article you cited mentioned that languages begin to die when ppl decide that they’re an impediment and that it usually begins with the children. That statement could be shorthand for culture as well. We are rapidly moving towards global monolinguism — or perhaps quadralinguism as the big 4 continue to do well (English, Spanish, French, Arabic) which all are used in multiple countries even though they’re not equally spoken.

  2. Don’t forget Chinese. Which throws an interesting wrench in this argument.

  3. elderj

    I intentionally omitted Chinese, which although the first language of more than any other language, is not yet truly international in the way that the big 4 are. Far fewer people speak French, but French is spoken in far more countries as a second language.

    Interestingly, this language dominance (in the case of the big 4) or nondominance (as in Chinese) is largely the result of imperialism and colonialism. Because China was not an imperial power – the Chinese language(s) did not become widespread outside of the Chinese mainland. The dominance of English is mostly due to the British Empire.

  4. technically, after reading books like “when china ruled the seas”, you can make a strong argument that china was an imperial power long before the British. but interestingly enough, once they found that they were technologically more advanced than any of the civilizations they happened upon, they decided that there was no further need for exploration. in fact, this confirmed that they were the “middle kingdom” between heaven and earth and their superiority was unrivaled. it’s interesting to juxtapose the notions of hegemony between china and western europe and what that could mean. one is push, the other pull. and i’m telling you, that “middle kingdom’ stuff can be turned into a whole new theology if that underground church continues to grow.

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