Not too long ago during one of my travels I was asked which languages I use to express anger, frustration and love. Being fluent in 2 languages and at an intermediate level in 2 others, it was an intriguing question.
The bi-lingual questioner mentioned how she enjoys cursing and expressing anger much more in Punjabi or Urdu than in English. A tri-lingual acquaintance always uses Italian for love. Everyone has their theories about the "real" mother tongue being the language one uses for strong emotion but it’s perhaps not the only factor at work.
Ask a typical Urdu/Hindi speaking desi living in America how they express love and they’re quick to point out all the endearments they use (jano, janoo, jani, even habibi/habibti) but ask them how they say "I love you" and most will admit that they use English.
Ever wonder why?
Typical desi culture is extremely inhibited in the explicit expression of love (outside of movies). Love and affection are conveyed through actions (especially related to food) but rarely through words.
Think of how much emphasis parents, aunties, uncles and elders place on eating and food. "Have more beta" "Your plate is empty" "Take some more" " I made this especially for you" "I spent hours in the kitchen making this for you" "This is your favorite food" It goes on and on, you cannot refuse without causing offense.
The other typical expression is through gifts and sacrifice. The sheer effort and the level of hardship people endure on your behalf is considered an indicator of their affection.
In terms of physical expression, children are smothered with hugs, kisses, pinches, pats and tickles but these decrease with age. Parents will only express very chaste hugs and kisses in front of their own families and kids. And yet everyone knows there is genuine, unconditional love, and sometimes suffocating possessiveness.
In a culture where it is not the norm to use language to express love, it is perhaps no wonder that when articulated, the words "I love you" slip off the tongue in English instead, a cultural ambassador for open relationships.
On the other hand, ask the same person what language they use to curse in and the answer might be very different.
To all you bi-lingual and tri-lingual readers out there, what languages do you use for anger and love? Is there a difference in your usage of Romance languages compared to Germanic languages? How much is the culture of the language a factor in your expressions?