This is what my brain is like, guys

This is what my brain is like, guys

I had a weird insight today while reading my favorite food blog. I’m not sure I can articulate it, but here’s a try…

When someone who grows up in one culture (with one language) encounters a New Word (like, say, the unfamiliar name of vegetable), a different thing happens than when someone who is bilingual encounters this New Word. Why? Because a New Word in one language is just a new word, but a new word in one of two (or more) languages could be the translation of an old word in a new language.

The difference is kind of like writing totally fresh code vs. jamming a module into a pre-existing framework, I guess.

When I see the name of a cheese I don’t know, my brain-framework goes “ooh, a new name for some type of cheese. I will map this word to the category cheese and define it as whatever contextual clues exist.” When I read a recipe for broccoli rabe pizza, however, I find myself thinking: do I know what that is? I mean, I know I don’t know what “broccoli rabe” is, but is it one of the dozens of Chinese vegetables I eat all the time but don’t know the English names of?

Dictionaries are great for some instances of this, but–usually–kind of terrible for food because of regional idiosyncrasies and other issues. I’ve found that the most reliable translation method is to look something up on Wikipedia and then see if there’s a corresponding page in Chinese; this is an act of translation more akin to what I am trying to do in my own head. Alas, broccoli rabe has no such corresponding page, so I am left to wonder.

This also points to what I presume must be a growing need–some resource 1.5 and 2nd generation immigrants can turn to so that we can finally figure out how to say * in English. It’s like we’re permatourists who need picture books to get around in our own homes…