One-minute review: The author noticed that the sounds, not the words, of his native Spanish communicated intimacy with his family, that the public language, English, did not convey that intimacy. It's not the words, but the spirit behind the words that conveys intimacy among the family. It's not the language, per se, that communicates intimacy, but the sounds and the spirit communicated through those sounds that enclosed the world of his family.
“I was then a listening child, careful to hear the very different sounds of Spanish and English…. I’d listen to sounds more than to words.”
“I’d hear her hard English sounds. I’d wait to hear her voice turn to soft-sounding Spanish.”
“There was a new silence at home. As we children learned more and more English, we shared fewer and fewer words with our parents.”
“Once I learned the public language [English], it would never again be easy for me to hear intimate family voices [in Spanish].”
“This message of intimacy could never be translated because it did not lie in the actual words she had used but passed through them.”
“The mystery of intimate utterance remains. The communication of intimacy passes through the word and enlivens its sound, but it cannot be held by the word. It cannot be retained or even quoted because it is too fluid. It depends not on words but on persons.”
“Intimacy cannot be trapped within words.”
Comment: An interesting point of view. Heightens the importance of the native language to the native speaker. RayS.
Best American Essays of the Century. Editors: Oates and Atwan.