How would you describe your language to someone who doesn’t speak it?

Answer by Erika Batista:

Ironically, I think it's easier to describe a language when you don't actually speak it, because you can't make sense of the words so you can only appreciate its raw essence. I'll give it a try.

Spanish is my mother tongue. I come from the Dominican Republic, and like every other Hispanophone country, we have a very particular way of speaking, even though we don't really have a "singing" to our accent like most Latin American countries.

Whatever we say, it seems like we are in a hurry to say it. Words pour out of our mouths at unbelievable speeds, and sometimes a whole sentence becomes one word. In order to achieve this speed, we must cut the 's' and 'r' at the end of most words, and even contract other words making then significantly different than their original spelling. We have mostly open vowels, and very coarse sounds. Even in a formal setting, we find it very awkward to speak in a correct way.

We are very influenced by American culture, so we use a lot of English words with a completely different meaning. "Heavy" becomes "cool", "full" is said when agreeing with someone, "charlie" is someone/something lame, and so on. 

We speak very, very loud. I've had Dominican friends visit me where I live in Paris, and can't help feeling embarrassed because of all the nasty looks we get while they're "yelling" at a cafe. My brother speaks so loud it actually gives me headaches sometimes. Finally, I had a friend whose neighbors in Paris called the police on him because of the noise him and his Dominican friends where making while chatting in his flat.

Dominicans are very cheerful. We are storytellers, so our language uses a lot of humor. We usually make fun of our hardships in order to make them more bearable. So our language contains a lot of slang, and it's hard even for a native speaker to keep up with the new vocabulary coming out every month.

People who don't speak Spanish are usually at a loss trying to figure out what language it is that we're speaking. When I speak Spanish to someone who is not Dominican, I feel as if I were speaking a foreign language.

So, to sum it up, our way of speaking is very loud, chopped up and separate words are sometimes indistinguishable. Still, it's a very charming humorous language.

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La couleur du temps

Time, that double-edge sword, treacherous friend, who turns into honey even the bitterest of memories. It tricks us into giving more value to things that would have otherwise been worthless. A newspaper clipping, 50 years added, will become an invaluable relic and a window to a distant past. A teenage crush is a passionate love in the heart of an old man. We worship magnificent castles that belonged to ancient tyrants, forgetting the many lives that perished under their rule.

Time is a painter whom with its soft colors almost imperceptibly decorates our memory. With its graceful hands every instant becomes a true chef-d’œuvre capable of inspiring the deepest emotions.

I am here, here as an adjective of time, standing at Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris. I can appreciate this moment in its full splendorous beauty. I think not of the history of this place, nor the story behind its paradoxical name. I look at the sun as it descends, marking the end of a moment that will be later remembered. I am not a victim of time, yet.

But even I cannot deny that perhaps many years from now, I will be standing on this very spot, or maybe not even, and time will easily turn the contemplation of this moment into something even more stunning.

I can only hope that when it happens, my heart is able to bear such intensity.

Freedom, here, now

Image

One thing is to learn a new lesson, and another completely to grasp it.

Last year, when I made the last payment to a credit card debt that had been taking my sleep, I could only feel joy and relief. But it wasn’t until the following day that the true underlying lesson finally dawned on me: financial freedom has little to do with money, and everything to do with me.

It’s been over a year now, and even though I don’t necessarily have more money than I did back then, I certainly feel less restricted. On my journey to attain freedom, there were three things that I realized I had to leave behind. I have succeeded in some aspects, but it’s a work in process. I am referring specifically to financial freedom, but this could apply to anything, really.

Let’s start with the first:

1. Let go of your needs

Financial autonomy does not derive from your purchasing power, but rather in the absence of needs that restrain you. A “need” is something that must be satisfied, while a “want” is a rational choice. In order to be free, you must be able to distinguish the two and realize that, in fact, you need very little.

Let me tell you, it’s hard. We’ve been engineered to confuse our desires with necessities from the very beginning. Technically, you need water and sleep, but you don’t need that new pair of shoes.

That can be a very tough philosophy to live by, parting from the premise that you don’t need anything, and then work your way up from there.

But what if, we replaced the material things we so furtively long for with actions towards our desires on a deeper level? Instead of buying the latest smartphone, why not writing that short story you’ve had on your mind for months? Remember the time when there were no cell phones?

2. Less is more (unclutter your life)

As da Vinci said, and Steve Jobs made sure to repeat many times, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. Just think of the iPhone (ironic to mention that after I just told you to ditch your phone, but bear with me), so much functionality in a device with a single button, or Apple’s bold decision to ditch the floppy drive when releasing the iMac. These are the kind of decisions towards integration and simplicity that have helped their products perform better by getting rid of the nonessential.

On a more personal note, I will tell you about my most recent trip to New York City. Usually I travel with a large suitcase, so I can have the “freedom” to dress from a wider variety of clothes during my trip and have room to buy more things. That is in theory, since what actually happens is that I bring a bunch of clothes I never wear and don’t even have room for anything new. I’m sure many will relate to this. But this time around, thanks to the good influence of my husband, I did things differently. I traveled only with a small backpack, where I brought a few changes of clothes, some underwear and personal items. I was a bit afraid when I first got on the plane, thinking I would miss stuff, but at the end of our trip I thought I still could have brought less with me. I should probably mention that we were Couch Surfing, so it’s not like I was at a relative’s house where I could borrow an extra towel.

Think about it. A two weeks trip. One small backpack.

3. Forget your social status

Friendship is a great thing. Friends are always there to support you through hardship and failure, and to celebrate with you on those special joyous occasions.

But, friends are often the reason why you run out of cash. Quickly. Picture this: you just got paid. Three birthday parties and one wedding later, you find yourself completely out of money. Or, let’s say, your friend invites you to dinner and you feel the need to return the gesture. All that is nice, when you can afford it. But we live in a society where it’s very hard to say no, and most friends, as understanding as they can be, sometimes do not grasp the concept of being broke, especially when they are in a better situation.

Another common habit is to attend events simply because people expect you to be there. Living up to social standards is incompatible with financial freedom.

By forgetting your social status, you are able to make rational assessments, even a cost-benefit analysis if you will, but most importantly, you can be honest to yourself and your acquaintances, and as we say in the Dominican Republic “tuck insofar the blanket covers”.

***

These three things have made a huge difference in my life. If I could add a fourth item to that list, though, it would be to live in the present. But I’m putting it aside on its own, because it drifts away a bit from the main topic.

Sometimes I wonder if I really like what I’m doing, and then I get the craziest ideas: “go to hairdressing school, study linguistics, maybe even a major in some foreign language, no, study Latin! That’s what you have to do”. In the end we all want to be a big shot in some way, but the most important lesson I’ve learned this year is that all I need is to love what I’m doing right now, and that’s enough.

Identity crises come from not loving what you do, either because you have been constantly choosing something other than what you’re passionate about, or because you are desperate to attain success without doing what it takes or enjoying the path to get there.

To tie up the last part with the main idea of this article, if you love what you’re doing, all the sacrifices you need to make in order to get there will be easier to endure.

I must say my life has completely turned around in the last year, in a good way. I’m in a good place now. Hope this helps you get a bit closer to that good place of yours.

Is social media a new form of existentialism?

(She just realized nobody liked her new profile picture)

The setting: walking around the Louvre with a friend. Enter the halls of history and have a look at the past. In a room full of French paintings from the 14th century, there are scores of portraits of random people. Well, random wealthy people.

Contemplating these old images made me wonder: What was it like for those who couldn’t afford to commission a painting? Socio-economic considerations aside, it was considerably more difficult (not to say impossible) for the average person to leave their “mark” or their contribution to the world. Mind you, with the famine, plague and war that marked the end of the middle ages, I guess there was not much time left for pondering about legacy. A friend jokes at this point: “I guess that’s why we didn’t have existentialism until the 19th century!”

Coming from a time where people take a picture only to rush to post it on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or whichever platform they fancy, I can’t help but wonder what kind of paradigm we’re developing.

Existentialism is already hard enough to define, much harder to understand. But we can all agree that it emerged as a reaction against the then-prevailing systematic philosophies. Existentialists just couldn’t relate to them. Indeed, one of Kierkegaard’s propositions is that the task of giving meaning to life should be left to each person, who is to determine how to live it “authentically”.

That rings familiar to me when thinking of the emergence of the so-called Web 2.0 and social media. It is not the task of certain people to create content, but everyone’s. We are no longer passive viewers but contributors. And now it’s the moment where I have fun, by analyzing the main subjects of existentialism in the light of social media:

Warning: this is not to be taken too seriously.

L’existence précède l’essence

Well, clearly, this is the case. When it comes to social media, existence comes before essence. Without overextending the already vast creative license I have given myself with this topic, it is obvious that when producing content we care more that the content is out there rather than whether it should be. This is the reason why we get so many “Good morning everyone!” tweets or “Can’t sleep again” status updates. Seriously, who cares? Over the hundred thousand topics you could write about, you chose your breakfast? Thanks Sartre, you just ruined the Internet for everyone.

Authenticity

Now seriously, the first notion proposes that we all exist before anything else, and each individual performs an act of self-creation. Authentic existence is thus the need to find that identity. This has never been easier than now, when we have so many platforms to express ourselves. Eventually, most of us discover what our true voice sounds like, even though some prefer to become echoes of their time. But, hey, that’s freedom.

Angst

Once we’ve discovered that unique voice that defines us, that’s it. Right? Well, no. Then comes the dread or anxiety that comes with trying to live coherently within all the aspects of your life. You have too much freedom. Say hello to your good ol’ friend, Existential Angst.

How does that translate into social media? Well, first of all, the conflict between the responsibilities to others and to ourselves can be evidenced through the fact that we keep separate profiles for different audiences. The LinkedIn profile with a professional picture of myself for my employer, my Twitter account where I rant about my employer, and of course the Facebook account where I post pictures of myself drunk. Not all of us are like that, but enough of us. We compartmentalize our online image in order to have fun and stay consistent.

Despair

This is the state where one loses everything that defines one’s identity, having nothing else to rely on. This condition is typically related to the loss of something so significant it shakes to the ground the meaning of your own life and any hope to finding new significance. Like when you break up with your long-time boyfriend, or lose that job that was so important to you, and it puts everything into question. In other words, it’s when we discover we have the wrong conception of ourselves.

But, thanks to social media, we are able to quickly create an image of ourselves, modify it, and make it whatever we want. We strive to create that vision and then hold on to it for dear life. So we are no longer ourselves (whoever that is), but that image we’ve created. You are that profile picture, which looks nothing like you. Those posts which portray you as the happiest couple, even though you’re miserable. That website which accounts for your inexistent success. How can we lose our identity when we already live with one that does not correspond to whom we truly are?

This is an issue probably as old as humanity, and social media gives it an all-new meaning.

The Absurd

But then, after all, even the existentialist had to admit that even if we do find meaning to life and to ourselves, that still doesn’t mean that this constructed meaning corresponds to the real thing. The world is whatever you define it, and is therefore meaningless.

So at the end of day, you can create whatever image of yourself you want to show the world, depict yourself anyhow, and it will be real. No one can tell the difference.

So carry on, my children.

A presentation

First of all, before starting (yet) another blog, I find it appropriate to introduce myself and more or less describe what you can expect from me here.

I’ve been writing on and off throughout my life. However, like most writers, I am dissatisfied with everything I produce and therefore end up eventually quitting. This has to stop.

My husband started a new blog recently, and kindly invited me to contribute. I did, and my article was freshly pressed! What a joy. So with all the praise and comments, I was very motivated to continue my endeavor. But, alas! As I was writing my next post the following day, my husband kicked me out of his blog! He said “Go write your own!”. He did it with love, as the mommy bird kicks the baby bird out of the nest. Are my wings ready to fly on my own? We’ll see.

So my name is Erika. I am 25 years old. I went to law school in the Dominican Republic, where I come from. I worked as a lawyer in civil litigation for almost two years. Then I left my country to do a master’s degree in Law & Economics, and got the chance to live in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. I fell in love with a classmate and now we’re happily married and live in France, where he’s from. I love linguistics, and can speak fluently in 4 languages. I’m also a self-proclaimed Beatles expert.

My goal is to develop some writing skills, give some insight on current events with the help of my legal background and previous experiences. I am currently enrolled in a second year of Master’s at University Panthéon-Assas. It is focused on law, economics and information systems, so I’ll also be writing a lot about new technologies and such.

Hopefully I will bring something interesting to this already saturated environment. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

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