I find it difficult to embrace the unfamiliar on the before side, but I adapt pretty well on the after side of a change. Depending on the circumstances, it can take a great deal of initial grit and determination for me to find a comfortable groove in new circumstances. However there are some kinds of adaptations that are effortless for me—even accidental. This is especially so when it comes to language.
I’ve never cultivated enough determination/discipline to become fluent in any language other than English, but my mind is kinda linguistically wired. This applies to dialects, accents, and colloquialisms—as well as actual foreign languages. Words (and how they are used) are what I notice first and what I pick up most readily in new surroundings. Believe it or not, this can be awkward at times.
If I spend much time around English speakers visiting from a different part of the world, for example, I find myself instinctively adopting those of their expressions that capture a thought or sentiment particularly well. My speech becomes involuntarily peppered with their particular pronunciation. I think it’s pretty subtle…at least, I hope they don’t notice. If I catch myself, I stop and blush. Do they think I’m making fun of them…or worse—trying to be impressive? What about those present who know me and share my native Northwest tongue?—Do they think I’m play-acting or something?
In 2004, when my husband and I visited Norway for just a few days, our host family spoke English…but it wasn’t our sort. I didn’t even notice that I’d assimilated Norse-flavored Oxford English into my repertoire until I returned to my own context, where it sorta stuck out.
I am recently reminded of this phenomenon because I’ve been watching the 1995 BBC version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I find myself sporadically thinking in Regency-period English. It’s weird, but it’s not altogether unheard of for me. Sometimes a song, a phrase, a flavor, or an experience acts as a trigger, shooting my synapses down a rarely used track…and I actually think a short, simple thought in another language. It never lasts very long—as soon as my brain has to look for the right word, it reverts back to English.
I’m always caught off guard and surprised by this sort of thing, but it’s kinda fun. It can, at times, be embarrassing, but it’s harmless. I have no reason to be on guard against it.
It makes me wonder, though, what other things do I assimilate into my thought-life virtually unawares? I love God. I stand on the his self-revelation in Scripture. But I do adapt; I do absorb. I am not immune to having my perspective, my world-view badly skewed by a cultural, theological, media-driven, or familial assumption—especially one that is long held, constantly fed, or particularly well suited to my way of processing things.
So my question(s): What are some ways that we, as Western Christians, allow this to occur? What is the effect? What is the preventative or the remedy? Are such measures even possible?