…düşleyin siz de!, dedi, birkaç satırlık küçük düşler, uzun destanların kapısını açar…
I was so excited when my dear nieces Julie and Lydia wanted to spend some time with me at our summer house. They know only a few Turkish words that their daddy often uses: Aşkım, kızım, var, yapmayın, Babane… Their Grandmother (Babane) was sad that she had no way to communicate with them although she had gone to Florida to care for them when they were babies. This summer Julie is 8 and Lydia is 6 years old, and they keep away from Babane because of that language gap. This reminds me of my own childhood; I lived with my grandma for some years and she did not speak Turkish well, but she was fluent in the Laz language. When i asked her how we could communicate, she answered, I cannot learn Turkish at this age, so you had better learn Lazuri. I did so and almost forty years later I wrote an article about the Laz Language as the otherising language in memory of her.*
My brother, the girls’ father, has been living in Florida for 15 years, working to achieve his American Dream as his wife says. I do not know what his dreams were when he moved there. I can only talk about his today life: a big house at Palm Beach, a charming American wife, four daughters, a dog, two cats, seven fish and four cars.
On their first day in Turkey, my nieces learned their most essential sentence for them: Dondurma istiyorum lütfen (I want ice cream, please). During their stay, Lydia complained that she became confused by hearing Turkish all day. She also corrected my English. Once when we were at dinner with my cousins, the girls forced us to speak only English. It was odd that so many Turkish kids did not speak to them in English alhough they had been studing English in their school. Either they were too shy to talk with native speakers or There were problems in the way English was being taught. I believe that the problem is the second explanation. During their final days here, Julie was holding pillows against her ears so that she could drown out the sound of us talking in Turkish.
My happiest moments were listening to them talk about their Memeland. In their words:
Memeland is in a bright star. Chocolates, olives, gammy worms, gummy bears and any kind of junk food is popular in Memeland. You play, you eat, you are never bored in Memeland. There is one special chocolate floor where you can do anything; you can skate, you can swing, you can slide and you can swim. Of course, you speak the Meme language in Memeland.
The girls liked every dog they saw. We even prepared tea parties for the dogs and their owners. Julie and Lydia invited as many owners as they could. However, during the parties, they were only close to the ones who could speak English and they avoided the Turkish speakers. Thus, I realized that language is the main channel to survival in a community. We cannot participate and control anything without speaking. Their tea party concept reminded me of what Noam Chomsky, who studies language acquisition, said a few years ago at the Gathering for Freedom of Thought Conference in İstanbul. “Ridiculing the tea party shenanigans is a serious error”.
On their final day, Lydia asked us to come Amerika so that there would not be any problem in communication and our relationship. She invited all her relatives who speak English. Yes, she was very happy being in Turkey, except that she was bored because she did not speak Turkish.
The two weeks with my nieces became a language experience for me. It was one that might start me studying languages of the world.