How the Language I Speak Changes My Personality

When I switch between languages, my values and demeanor shift too

Ivanha Paz
Human Parts
Published in
10 min readJul 18, 2019

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Photo: Laura Salas/EyeEm/Getty Images

IIt’s a sunny, crisp fall morning in Brookline, Massachusetts. I’m in considerably happy spirits: It’s Saturday, I’m walking to brunch, and life is good. A couple passes by with a small dachshund. Its tiny legs move furiously beneath its comically long body. Naturally, I must stop and meet this perfectly huggable being.

“Do you mind if I pet your dog?” I ask the woman. “It’s so cute! What’s its name?” I don’t consciously make the decision to shift languages, but as I lean down to pet Pippa my white-girl inflection evaporates and is replaced by something else entirely.

Hola chiquitica! Cosita linda — siiiii eres una chiquita bella y amada!” I talk emphatically to this dog in Spanish while her startled owners eye me. But I don’t mind. I must tell this puppy she is small, beautiful, and most of all very loved.

To me, all dogs and cats speak Spanish, and they are always “chiquita,” regardless of gender. The innocence of animals inspires nurturing feelings and brings out my maternal side — one I’ve learned only in Spanish from my own mother, who still calls me her chiquita. Spanish words are like a cup of coffee — pero guayoyito, guayoyito — in the morning: soothing, homey, a warm…

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Ivanha Paz
Human Parts

Writer. Venezuelan-American living in Mexico. Once cried at a reindeer video because I forgot they were real. ivanhapaz@gmail.com Tweet @ivanhapaz