Changing one's selfOne of our first s encounters with Malagasy culture was our language course. We had a crash course of Bara, which is the dialect spoken in the south, were our Field Project is. For me especially this was a very interesting experience. Malagasy is a language derivated from the immigration from South East Asia, and is therefore related, however distantly, to Sanskrit and all the indo European and indo Aryan languages that descent from it. There are different theories about language shaping the cultures and of cultures shaping the languages accordingly to their vision of the world, and the Self. Of course as in any field, especially for social sciences, there is a lot of disagreement and different theories. However, I have found in my studies that there are some correlations between the language formation and some cultural conceptions.
For instance most of western languages are centered in the Subject as being the first and most important item of a sentence and an idea. The whole structure of the language is centered around the subject. I found, to my amazement, that, as in many Asiatic languages, this is not the case neither for Malagasy nor for Bara. The whole sentences are based and take as starting point the verb and or the noun, and the subject only arrives at the end, except on counted exceptions. I ve always found this very interesting and indeed personal shaping. Is it possible that we think differently accordingly as to what we think is more important? Even in a sentence? Does it has anything to do at all as to how a society is shaped and evolves, the place they give to the subject, the “Self”, the “Me”?
I think that probably it does have some importance. It was very interesting for me to learn a new language were subject comes at the end. It forces you to think in a different way, put yourself aside, you and all your prejudices and pre conceptions. This is actually a very good exercise, in general, but specially for people working in an international or foreign cultures environment. The challenge to forget about you, or anyone really, and focus on the action in order to build an idea is refreshing and a very useful state of mind while working with unknown people, in an unknown atmosphere and with new, and also unknown, work ahead.
I have also been told once, don’t remember by whom, that it is said that when you learn to think in a new language, your mind changes a bit, and something shifts in yourself. While I am definitely not there yet with Bara dialect, I did notice a shift at some point during our learning course. I started the week writing all in capitals, to make sure to remember each word as written and pronounce it correctly. I just had the need to do so. After four full days of language course, eight hours a week and full immersion, I automatically shifted to my normal writing. There was no more need to write in capitals to remember the new formations of the words and sounds, with my normal writing was enough. The words even if new, sounded familiar and comfortable to write.
I think this was definitely a first step towards a different phase. Bara was not the unknown anymore, just the unlearned. And “I” was not at the front anymore, but at the back, all the way behind the Others. Self, was already shifting places: Changing were ourselves.
WWF Volunteer Camila Cosse Braslavsky, Madagascar 2012