“Language, Memory, & the Borders of Saudade” Series | Third of Nine Articles

I surmised, musing the statements of a possible inclusive saudade made by my friend and imagined wife and despite the declarations made by the guardians of language instruction, that there may be a key moment of metaphysics (a turning point, of sorts) in which, after years of living in Bahia, the Portuguese language soaks deeply enough into one’s psyche that the heart and soul of even a non-“native” speaker can feel saudade and live in that beautiful, expansive, nostalgic torment.

Perhaps, I pondered hopefully, saudade removes that entire rigid linguistic category of “nativity” and “heritage speaker” (a categorization of language “dominance” that always seemed more like an assigned identity framed around singularity, a mathetmatics formula that the lovers of applied linguistics tossed about). Perhaps, I mused, access to saudades side-steps these tenets of applied linguistics and becomes the indicator of exposure, the threshold that opens the way to aspects of proficiency yet to be measured in that field that so scientifically structures language, this immense ‘unstructurable’ being.

Unknown.jpegOr perhaps there are people ‘from outside’ who are pre-destined to feel the tearing, tragic, mournful sentiment, the persistence of memory, the emotive home that the act of reminiscing can become. But that possibility was in sharp contrast to my first weeks in Brazil in the language courses, the words of the Portuguese instructors, who at that time, to me, embodied the language itself. I remember more the word saudade—actually visualizing it in written letters in my mind (I tend to do this, one of my first frame-worthy pieces of artwork was the word ‘often’ because I liked its sound)—than the discussion of the national boundaries built around feeling and translating its essence. It took me back in time. And it made me wonder or not the existence of a word that signifies a state of being can deny access to its essence.


Written in English by Jacob Dyer Spiegel, this is the Third of Nine Articles on “Language, Memory, & the Borders of Saudade.” There are many more articles on language, culture, and translation themes on the SiroccoBlue Facebook Page. Please check it out and “Like” it!

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