E did not speak any English until she was almost 5. It all began the night I moved out of the apartment, how she found the words for the first time. Before that she spoke Russian, but when we lived in America she was exposed to many languages at a makeshift International school. When she was 9 months old she told me something in Chinese, which her teacher had to translate for me. She had been standing behind a curtain, and told me "I am invisible". Those were her first words.
V has been talking nonstop. She began addressing the colors some months ago, and now there is a complete set of names she uses. They are a hodgepodge of Russian and English, but the names of objects have replaced some of them. For example, orange is "markovka" for her, which is the Russian word for carrot. Black, she says ""back" in English. White is "beh", short for the Russian word for white "belieh". Green is "agurshei" her way of saying the Russian word for cucumber. Pink is "pika" - a fabrication, a mix of the word she uses to describe a pig and just her imagination.
She points at the markers, and we draw things for her. Of course we drew carrots for her with the orange marker, and maybe that is why she calls it a carrot color. We draw bears with a brown marker and of course the color is "Boba", the nickname for her teddy bear. But blue, she says is blue, and yellow is pretty much yellow. Purple is hard to say, but it sounds a lot like purple. Sitting with her for five minutes is a walk in strange lands, the circling thoughts in her head expressed without hesitation. Fingers jabbing in the air, her quiet face nodding in satisfaction when she is understood. She cracks such a Mona Lisa smile when the page is full of drawings of our little family, and a monkey and a pig and some snowflakes and some vegetables.
I have read about the way language shapes thought, how the lack or abundance of words to express something in a culture manifests itself in people's actions. The confines of language can limit thought. Living in more than one culture often feels like an act of stretching, of bridging two lands that do not want to have anything to do with each other. So many things in Russia (and Russian) are the opposite to the West. Do you want to go, yes? Or, do you want to go, no? Wedding rings in Russia are worn on the right hand. Every time I go back to New York, I have an odd tradition of changing my wedding ring to my left hand once the plane lands.
But there are wonderful words in both - sincere, naive, classic, absolutely - that I find myself using here, without hesitation. I know that they mean what I think they mean. Sincere is sincere, freedom is freedom.
I wonder what is in store for V, and what expressions she will invent next. I imagine she will have her own adjectives, based on the color of the sky, or the sound of the crow in the tree outside our window.