No one else can hear the baby speak, but I can. I can hear her say ‘up’ and ‘clap’, I hear ‘stairs’. I hear ‘string’. No one believes my baby says ‘string’, but I know she does, because she loves the bit of string that is tied to the door of the car, and she says ‘shing’. You have to listen hard, I admit that.
For months we have been on call and answer. ‘Ah da da dah,’ says the child. ‘Ah dah dee doo dah,’ I say back. This conversation is surprisingly complex, and gives me a new respect for birds, whales and chimpanzees. With three or four syllables, in all their variations, we can say, the two of us, all that we need, for now, to say.
Still, I dream of the baby turning around, and opening her mouth to say something wonderful and long and syntactically amazing like, ‘Can I go to the shops?’ I know it is in there somewhere — before her first word was ever uttered, there were full sentences playing across her face. The trick is getting them out of there — like pulling down the weather.
There is nothing so exciting as speech. A baby looks at your face as you say a word, and whatever passes between you as you hear the word back, is love and love returned. It is the gaze made manifest. Teaching a child to speak is giving them the world. It is better than feeding them, I realise, as I stand beside the kitchen counter, dropping scraps of words to my daughter’s up-tilted face. And I think that all words are sublimated nurture, or a request for nurture, or its provision. All words happen in the space between you and your dear old Ma.
I develop a theory that all writers have Major Mothers, Serious Mothers, sometimes Demanding Mothers — the kind of women you always know when they are in the room. I test this theory any time I am at a reading or conference, I float it across the dinner table. The last time I did this, one of the writers did not answer. He had started to cry.
Anne Enright, ‘Speech’ in Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood, London: Vintage, 2005, 171-72.
Inork gehiago ezin du umea hizketan entzun; nik bai, ordea. “Gora” edo “ txalo” esaten entzun dezaket. “Eskailerak” entzuten dut. “Soka” entzuten dut. Inork ez du sinesten nire umeak “soka” esaten duenik, baina nik badakit esaten duena, maite duelako autoaren ateari lotuta dagoen soka puska, eta neskatikoak “ka” esaten du. Arretaz entzun behar duzu, hori onartzen dut.
Hilabeteak daramatzagu galdera-erantzunetan. “A- da-da-da,” esaten du umeak. Nik, bueltan, “a-da-di du-da,” esaten dut. Elkarrizketa hau harrigarriki konplexua da, eta txoriekiko, baleekiko eta txinpantzeekiko begirune berri bat sentiarazten dit. Hiru-lau silabekin, bere aldaera guztietan, biok esan dezakegu, une honetara arte behintzat, esateko behar dugun guztia.
Oraindik ere amets egiten dut umeak buelta ematen duela, eta bere ahoa ireki eta zerbait ederra, luzea eta sintaktikoki harrigarria esaten duela, hala nola “ dendetara joan naiteke?”. Badakit nonbaiten dagoela —bere lehendabiziko hitza ahoskatu baino lehen, esaldi osoak zeuden bere aurpegian jolasean—. Trikimailua da handik ateraraztea —eguraldia iragartzea bezala—.
Ez dago hizketa bezain gauza kitzikagarriagorik. Hitz bat esaten duzunean umeak aurpegira begiratzen dizunean, eta zuk hitza bueltan entzuten duzunean, tarte horretan gertatzen dena, elkarrekiko maitasuna da. Begirada hots bihurtzen da. Ume bati hizketan erakustea mundua ematea da. Jabetzen naiz umea elikatzea baino hobea dela sukaldeko altzariaren atzean egoten naizenean, hitz puskak botatzen nire alabaren aurpegi tentera. Eta uste dut hitz guztiak direla sublimatutako elikagaia, edo eskatutako edo emandako elikagaia. Zu eta zure Amatxo zahar maitearen arteko espazioan gertatzen dira hitz guztiak.
Garatu dudan teoria bat da idazle guztiek dituztela Maila goreneko amak, Munta handiko amak, batzuetan Ama zorrotzak —alegia gelan daudenean beti ezagutzen duzun ama mota hori—. Teoria hau irakurketa edo hitzaldi batean nagoen aldiro testatzen dut, eta hegan egiten uzten dut afariko mahaia zeharka dezan. Egin nuen azkeneko aldian idazleetako batek ez zuen erantzun. Negarrez hasi zen.
Anne Enright, “Hizketa” in Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood, London: Vintage, 2005, 171-72.
Basque, also known as Euskara, is a language isolate, unrelated to any other languages. Besides its mysterious origin, one must bear in mind that it is spoken in Northern Spain and Southwestern France. Although Euskara has very different features from those of Latin languages, there is a trace, especially regarding lexicon, of French and Castilian Spanish on each side of the frontier. I think that the greatest difficulty I faced on translating from English into Euskara was word order. Furthermore, Euskara is an agglutinative language with no grammatical mark of gender.
In this particular text, one had to make it explicit that the text referred to a girl and not a boy, so I had to turn to lexicon, not to grammatical marks. In my translation I have used the word umea to refer to baby. There is no distinction of gender in either case. However, the source text uses the pronouns her and she, and since Euskara has no similar resource, I used the noun neskatiko, which means little/baby girl. I could have used neska ‒ equivalent to girl ‒ but I really wanted to stress that she was a baby girl. I will say, as a curiosity, that I have used the noun umea instead of haurra. One could have used either term, but they are not always synonyms: umea has a broader semantic scope, as it may also refer to newborn animals, while haurra refers exclusively to humans.