Twenty years ago, my mind and ears encountered the slaughter of personal pronouns for the first time. Born and bred in Luxembourg, Luxembourgish had always been my second mother tongue. My mother and I were standing by the car, assembling our stuff to spend a cozy day at the swimming pool. A group of young people passed by and I was shocked by what I heard. The way they used language. The violent tone of their articulation. The vulgarity of speech. They had erased personal pronouns and used the word “sow” instead. For a boy: sow. For a girl: sow. For a woman: sow. A man: sow. A teacher: sow. Everybody became a sow. The tragedy is that this vulgarity has been normalised and has become an integral part of the spoken Luxembourgish language not just amongst young people and has been in existence way too long (it’s not even noticed anymore).
For a moment I refused to move and go to the swimming pool. I felt repulsed and ashamed for them. I had a conversation with my mother about it and I cried. I promised her but mostly myself that I would never ever talk like that and abuse a language in such a disgraceful manner.
When I became a teenager, “sow” had incorporated itself into my vocabulary. I had broken my promise. I used it for years. Never questioning it. Never regarding it as absurd that I, the lover of Luxembourg’s multilingual character and of languages themselves, had bowed to social pressure and grotesque speech patterns, debasing the most vital tool of communication.
I put my best effort into unlearning the use of “sow” when referring to human beings. Everybody wants to “save” the Luxembourgish language, start there. The way we express ourselves matters. Our language is a conveyor of our inner mechanisms, our culture, our sentiment toward others. I stopped talking like that years ago. When English became an everyday reality. German had always been my linguistic mother ship. At some point, I realised how ridiculous it would sound in other languages, which gave me a certain distance, and of course it sounds abhorrent in Luxembourgish as well if you step out of the social machinery for a moment and listen to yourself and others. That was the first and last time for me to butcher what I love and hold dear.
“Cartone per il Ritratto di Isabella d’Este” by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)