Forgetting a language is easy, relearning it is sometimes not as easy.
My childhood was overflowing with languages: English, Greek and Turkish. I was incredibly lucky. It was English in my home, Turkish with my grandmother (and probably some other family members too) and Greek with everyone else.
What went wrong along the way to make me so carelessly forget about Turkish, a language I was once fluent in? Over the years, I realised that I didn’t need the language anymore – English and Greek slowly but surely took over and later French. When children don’t need a language they let it mercilessly slip away.
By age ten that part of me had been erased. Why speak to anyone in Turkish when I could just speak to them in Greek or English?
I left the language but it didn’t leave me. All it took was to find the key to the door, unlock it and there it was, waiting for me after so many years, just as I had left it in my childhood years.
However, it seems I’ve been painting a rather magical picture. It was and it wasn’t this magical and easy.
Three years ago (aged 29) I started intensive courses of the language at the University of Cyprus. I was excited and fully committed.
Something felt wrong and alien to me though. There were terms and words I was meeting for the first time. Why was I having such trouble remembering ‘siyah’ (black) and ‘etek’ (skirt)? I soon realised: I knew and had been using ‘kara’ (or in the dialect ‘gara’) and ‘entari’. Why did I keep wanting to say ‘tayka’ instead of ‘dakika’. They both mean ‘minute’ but ‘tayka’ is used in the Turkish Cypriot dialect, whereas ‘dakika’ is used in Turkish.
Three months into the course things still hadn’t clicked into place the way I had imagined they would. I still couldn’t relate to the language: I felt like a foreigner learning it. Until one day I decided to bombard myself with Turkish Cypriot programmes: I watched anything in the Turkish Cypriot dialect. And finally everything made more sense; something clicked, making it that bit easier to learn the language. Undoubtedly, I wasn’t learning the dialect at the university but I could finally relate to the language as a Turkish Cypriot at least.
Suddenly I realised why there were certain words that came to my mind but had to be suppressed in my Turkish class. They were words and an accent that had never left me.
SharedWords, where the article’s image is taken from, is a social project on shared words between different languages – in this case specifically Greek and Turkish – aiming to motivate people to focus on similarities, making us feel familiar with each other, rather than differences that may make us feel estranged from each other.