Alfabet/Alphabet: A Memoir of a First Language

Alfabet/Alphabet: A Memoir of a First Language

Written on 04/16/2021

Author: Joanne Booy-De Moor

Sadiqa de Meijer was born in Amsterdam to a Dutch-Kenyan-Pakistani-Afghani family and moved to Canada as a child. She considers Dutch to be her mother tongue and, as a linguist, she grapples with the words of her childhood. This slim volume is academically rigorous and poetically playful as she explores questions of identity, landscape, and family. She understands the emotional link to a mother tongue, positive and negative. A language might seem like home but might still be frustratingly rusty in a casual exchange or be totally nonfunctional around a technical topic. Anyone who has learned another language knows how certain words survive and sprinkle our English with unique meaning. Words like ‘Oma’ and ‘gezellig’ carry stronger emotion and are more descriptive because they carry cultural content as well.

Those with some level of facility in Dutch and English will find enjoyable recognition in this collection of linguistic snapshots that speak to the challenges of language learning and translation but also to deep feeling and memory. This is not an immigrant story, but it does provide glimpses of immigrant experience. “Language is our fatherland, from which we can never emigrate. (De taal is ons vaderland, waaruit we nooit kunnen emigreren.)” (Palimpsest Press)

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