I was born in Alexandria, Egypt, where the language predominantly spokenis Arabic. So I learnt to speak Arabic.
My school was run by French nuns, my parents were fluent in French, and my governess was half-French. So I learnt to speak French.
My parents were well-educated and well-read, and they wanted to raise worldly daughters who could converse easily with people all over the world in the most commonly used language. So I learnt to speak English.
By the time I was a teenager, I was fluent in Arabic, French and English, and had a smattering of other languages, such as Italian; Zula, my governess, was half-Italian. French was – and is – my favourite language; I find it very beautiful on paper and spoken aloud. I read French literature at university, and initially I wrote my first novel, Burning Embers, in French.
Today, I split my time between England and France, with the odd visit to other countries, and I speak both French and English. I think and write in both languages too: they come as naturally to me as breathing.
Yet these are just two languages… Did you know that there are an estimated 7,000 different languages in the world? Of these, some 200 are spoken by more than a million people. That’s so many different ways of saying something. Imagine one of my books translated into 200 languages. Imagine all the decisions on phrasing and vocabulary the translator would need to make, and how each tiny decision would influence the final artistic product. It’s mind-boggling!
The origin and development of languages fascinates me, so I was intrigued by a new TED talk on the subject (for more on TED talks of interest to readers and writers, see my blog post later this week). If this video catches your interest, head over to the TED website for more materials: http://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-languages-evolve-alex-gendler.