The Hungarian-born poet George Szirtes is an old favorite here at LH (1, 2, 3 — that last post, on Hungarian second-person pronouns, has 455 comments!), and his Guardian piece (from last May) on “what being bilingual means for my writing and identity” is worth a read. On his early experience with language:
When I was […] seven, in Budapest, I spoke only Hungarian. My vowels were pure; the mouth that produced the pure vowel shapes never closed gently into a diphthong. The letter “p” was formed further forward as was the letter “t”, maybe more the way the Irish pronounce it in Dublin. My early rzeka experience was set in Hungarian. I did, however, have a bilingual book of A A Milne’s Winnie the Pooh (known as Micimackó) in Hungarian, and Now We Are Six, both translated by the great 20th century humourist Frigyes Karinthy. My first memory of English was of the page that opened on the great capital letters, of AND, BUT, SO, which I then pronounced the Hungarian way as OHND, BUTTE and SHAW.
And on returning to Hungary:
The disadvantage of being (relatively) bilingual is that you are neither this nor that. You don’t fully belong. We spent nine months in Hungary in 1989 watching the state collapse around us and, under those circumstances, it became clear that I wasn’t truly Hungarian, but an observer – a visitor with privileges, who could be useful but not of the language or its poetry. In England, the rest of the time, a foreign-born poet is of the language until he isn’t; the point at which he hits the thick glass of English Words, where he will be deemed never quite to understand cricket or, say, John Betjeman, because these things are not in his DNA.
I can’t get enough of this kind of meditation on multilingualism. Thanks, Trevor!