Monday, 22 September 2014

Linguistically Challenged Part Eleven: Michael Ampersant


Michael Ampersant was the founder and director of the Applied Logic Laboratory of the University of Amsterdam (NL). He has finished his first manuscript of  literary fiction, “Green Eyes---an erotic novel (sort of),” and is working on a sequel. He has also written short stories and feature scripts. His next story “Corniche d’Or” will appear in a few days on the pages ofTemptation Magazine. Seek him out on his website:

The Questions

-    What language do you speak most of the time?

English---with my partner (Chang, who is Korean) and my friends/neighbors (who are mostly English or American).

-    What language do you think in?

I don’t think that thinking is generally done in a language---sure, one does think in a language when thinking about language or about using language. Otherwise, one thinks in (mental) models, the type of model depending on the domain. So, when one is thinking about a mathematical proof, say (your last interviewee), one thinks in terms of the mathematical objects at hand (and not in English or German). When one is thinking about garden work, one thinks in terms of flowers and bees and so on. I don’t even know the names for most of the plants in my garden (in neither language), I can still plan or do garden work. When I write one of my smutty M/M stories, I think about the characters, their emotions, their unspeakable activities. Writing sex scenes is difficult because you finally have to translate the sex into appropriate linguistic expressions. Language enters as a matter of recording the results of thought processes, it’s rarely their medium.

(Lit: The work of Philip Johnson-Laird

This said: I wouldn’t deny that language interferes in very important ways with thoughts, especially abstract thoughts. Philosophy, for example, is largely language-dependent.

-    What language do you dream in?


-    What language do you swear in after you’ve really hurt yourself?

Swearing involves speech acts, so it’s always done in one language or other. I swear in German, English, Dutch. Rarely in French (people think the most popular swearword in French is merde, but that’s true only for females. For males, it’s putain(whore)).

-    What language are you most comfortable in?

None. I always found it difficult to express myself. I use English for my writing because it provides more flexibility than other languages I know. French is very flexible too, but I’m not fluent enough in it. English, with its multiple etymological roots in Germanic and Latin languages (plus assimilated vocabularies from all over the place) is easily the most versatile western language. 

-    How easy or difficult is it for you to switch from one language to the other?

Really depends. I worked in the Netherlands for a long time and then found it difficult to switch between German and Dutch. Now I live in France and find it relatively easy to switch between any of the languages I know. I summer in Switzerland  [first time in my life I use “summer” as a verb, common in waspy America], and am amazed at the ease with which my Swiss neighbors switch from Swiss-Swiss to Swiss-German.

-    Does it affect you when you’re in a group where both languages are being spoken?

I live in multilingual groups. I’m used to it.

-    Do you ever speak the ‘wrong’ language to someone?

Yes, happens all the time. I address Chang in German or French or even Dutch (we normally communicate in English). I am (and have always been) fairly absent-minded. Absentmindedness is a strength, I think, not a weakness, in general it’s a good thing to be somewhere else with your mind.

-    Would you translate yourself from one language into the other or ask someone else (professional) to do it?

I did it on occasion with my academic work, found it always EXTREMELY difficult. I could not do it with my literary work now (if we speak about English --> German),  because I didn’t live in Germany for 40 years and wouldn’t be able to conjure modern informal German. Language lives.

-    If size of (potential) market wasn’t an issue what language would you be writing in?

English, still.

Upcoming Releases:

I finished my first M/M book, Green Eyes, still trying to find a publisher for it. Even if I self-publish, the publication date would possibly be a year off. I wrote a few short stories, and the Temptation Magazine is publishing one later this month, but I don’t know the date.

Selected chapters of Green Eyes can be found on Michael’s website:

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