Thursday, 28 March 2013

Question 6a: What does language mean to you?

The best thing I have and know of. I hear language in colours. It’s a system of noises.

Communication. That’s the word most people mentioned. In general the people in England found it a very difficult, abstract question to answer. But once they answered they gave thoughtful answers about colours and sounds. The Swedes found it easier to talk about language. My theory is that this is due to English people often being able to speak their language when they go abroad, but Swedish people are forced to speak another language (read English) as soon as they leave Scandinavia.


“I like it when foreigners speak, their different ways of constructing a sentence. I adore the sound of another language. But I feel alienated if I hear a lot of foreign languages on a bus, and long to hear English.”

“It allows me to communicate. I’m lucky to be born in Britain, the international language for travelling, it’s horrible to say but it’s the best language to know. You can go anywhere and do anything.”

“I like to know grammatical structure. I don’t like being in a country, not being able to speak to the people, I’d like to break the tradition of English people thinking that everyone knows English.”

“Communication. I like playing with language when I write, I like changing it, describing things in a way you normally wouldn’t.”

“I went on date and went round to his house and he had the telly on the whole time, saying he wasn’t a good conversationalist, so language is really important to communicate.”

“It represents communication, keeping in contact with people.”

“I hear language in colours, when people speak, I see it in bits of colour.”

“It’s a system of noises. If we decided not to speak we would develop a sign language. We have to accept evolution of language, developing sounds to mean something.”

“It’s a variation of what chimpanzees do, but a bit more elaborate than that. Another part of me loves it when it’s used well, like a drama that has a good script. And I can sometimes use it in a way that entertains people.”

“It’s the main thing that gives my life meaning. I have a facility for learning language and that also goes into creative language.”

“Dialogue means a lot, I like to remember things, and quote them word by word.”

“It’s a source of fun and amusement, a constant hobby, definitely something I’m forever fascinated by. I love learning new words in other languages.”

“It gives you your cultural identity.”

Sometimes it drives me mad and I want to get right away from it, get into music or painting or whatever, but it’s just essential to me. It’s like asking what blood or water means to you.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s a tool, it pre-exists us, it’s the air we breathe, the medium through which we spin. It gives a chance for everyone to be creative with it. It’s used in law, politics, government. Power can be played cause we can play with language, it’s a structure we can’t escape.”


”There’s something special about your mother tongue, the language you can express yourself best in.”

”When you live in Sweden, I don’t think it means that much, but when you’re abroad it means much more. It’s nice to listen to Swedish songs and understand what they sing about. That you can actually communicate in a language that no one else knows where you are.”

”When I write poems I always return to Swedish. It’s easier to express complicated things. But song lyrics I find impossible to write in Swedish, everything sounds so naff in a way.”

”In my everyday life I seldom reflect over what language I speak. The times I’m aware of my relationship to language is when I write lyrics. I’ve chosen to write in English even though I’m better at Swedish. In Swedish the lyrics would be in your face and I don’t want the words to take that space.”

”It’s natural as you speak it and have it in yourself. But Swedish is a difficult language to learn. Many dialects, variations, influenced by other languages as well. It’s a good way of communicating with other Swedes, a very small language.”

”It’s an important tool, communication. I find dialects amusing. The language I speak is important, but then it doesn’t matter that much that it’s Swedish in particular. It’s exciting that Eskimos have so many words for snow, but no word for sun. And that “lagom” doesn’t really translate.”

”I’m so bad at other language so in that aspect, Swedish means a lot. I like reading and writing and argumentation and interpret words, to describe reality or distort reality with words.

”Swedish is the only language I master. It means very much. I like the words, to write and use the language.”

”It means everything, it’s the best thing I have and know of. Whatever happens I can always write something.”

”It’s about understanding and being understood. I’m fascinating by the way people write, I love enjoying a book that just flows, it’s like seeing a painting or hearing music.”

”I don’t like translations, some words annoy me. Every language has its own sentence structure, it can’t really be translated. I’m often hit by Swedish authors – often it’s just the language that does it.”

My feeling is that Swedish and English aren’t just different because they are different language, but the whole structure, how you express yourself and make your voice heard is very different. That creates one English identity and one Swedish identity.”


Language is my life! I’m hyper aware of what words people use and it can annoy me to see or hear words I don’t like. Now that I’ve been in Sweden for a while I notice that I’m a bit more relaxed when I use the language. I don’t worry about making mistakes in the same way as I do when I’m in England. I feel less tense when I have conversations, because I don’t stop to think about if my accent sounds terrible. 

But as a contradiction I feel more shy in Swedish. In English I feel more cheeky, there’s more space for making a joke – often on my own behalf; I can get away with things because I’m Swedish. So there’s definitely such a thing as having one Swedish identity and one English identity.

This study is by no means scientific, the answers to this question are based on interviews with 15 people in England and 15 people Sweden, aged 22-59. Next question: Do you mind if people use the language incorrectly?

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