My head’s a divided place. Sometimes I imagine that there are bulkheads, water-tight and riveted securely in case of icebergs and other acts of god. There are valves and ducts connecting the bulkheads, but otherwise they are separate. They tend to follow the same pattern, with minor variations according to the different specifications – some have an extra pocket for an ideophone, occupied by an extended adverb section in others.
I create new bulkheads every time I encounter a new language. Many are still vast empty spaces, scattered with a few broken phrases and words. Some have only the skeletons of grammar, as yet unfleshed with words. Others contain only stories, or pieces of stories – anecdotes about forgotten whisperings eradicated by smallpox or the bigotry of people from other places.
There are five full bulkheads. Some have been gathering contents since that first moment of lightning, when the bundle of neurons that were soon to be my Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas distinguished the sounds of my mother and father’s voices from the rhythmic rushing of blood and amniotic fluid. The newest has only been part of my mind for the last 12 years, a clear clean adult construction, neatly labeled and colour-coded.
There are a thousand filaments cross-referencing each word with a memory, each sound of each language linked to the melodies and imperfections of the voices that spoke it. Perhaps there are spiders in there, working in the background connecting things while I’m sleeping. Perhaps if I open them one day I’ll find that everything has been connected, and there’s no more work to be done.
Until that day, I’ll just keep on maintaining the bulkheads, keeping the languages distinct from each other, waiting in fear of icebergs.