Translations Of Sound by Tengku Nurin

What makes up one's identity? Confused to what she is and where she belongs, Tengku Nurin questions on where and how can she forms herself
Reading Time: 3 minutes
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Linguistics is an art form that I particularly enjoy, especially when I abuse its form and structure through my art. It’s almost a grey space where I can ‘play God’ in narrating the audience into believing any versions of the truth, whether it is constructed or the actual truth. The believability and authorship is fluid and it’s up to the audience to decide on what is what. I’m Malay and I grew up in Malaysia, but I recognize English as my mother tongue. Internal conflict regarding my cultural background and the life I am exposed to. This battle of wanting to speak Bahasa Melayu is a daily struggle, even if I am currently living in an English speaking country. I feel incompetent to be recognized as Malay, as I don’t speak the language much, or eat the food much, but I don’t identify as a westerner either. It’s a constant back and forth of who I am, who I think I am, and who people think I am.  

Many of us grew up surrounded by western media from the show that we watch to the nursery rhymes we sang. KL is also a cultural hob where English can act as a common ground between different races, despite Bahasa Melayu is the national language. There’s always this stigma of being Malay and not being able to speak Malay where you are deemed as whitewashed. It has always been a curiosity and a personal fear that I am beginning to explore in an effort to create peace for myself. Language does hold heritage and reveals a lot about the individual, but at the same time, I see it as a social construct. With each translation, a piece of me is lost, but my constructed cultural identity is gained. With translation, meanings are also often lost or comprised as something may not exist in one language but do in another and it does apply to my sense of self, potentially self-worth.

 With all this frustration of language and identity, I decided to delve into another language that I neglected, which was Jawi. It complicated things but was a gateway for me to develop a new representation of myself through language. An amalgamation of my linguistic identities: English, Bahasa Melayu, and Jawi.

With the different representations of langue, none of them is superior to the other. I may have a personal preference, but they hold no additional value other than mere convince for me when speaking. As a bilingual, I am able to recognize the different languages and they don’t always sound foreign. I wanted to now explore our perception and understanding of speech. Something that we do without thinking, but unlike a written or printed text, it’s not tangible. What you hear varies, depending on your relationship to those different languages and accents within the layered piece. Depending on what caught your attention, you may hear Bahasa Melayu, but you may also hear English. At times you might not hear anything as the individual recordings were recorded with different accents using the ‘text to speech’ feature on my laptop creating a foreign sound to a familiar language, much like my combination of languages. 

The different direction of sound also changes the significance of the speech in relation to the audience as an isolated sound may create a stronger attachment. Ultimately what you hear depends on what you consciously or subconsciously choose. It may or may not reveal your mother tongue, but the confusion and sense of longing created within the individual was the goal. To further emulate the sense of search and being in that constant stage of becoming, I’ve created 4-word searches that reflect the struggle with a slight political undertone, that is if you choose to acknowledge it. This feeling of want and search was necessary for me to manipulate as that is what I personally go through every time I try to speak my mother tongue. Gratification comes when I find the right words, but most of the time I am always in ‘search mode’, trying to form speech with words that don’t exist in my mind. The audience would also be in the ‘search mode’ as not all the words are present within the pool of letters.