The Beauty of Bilingual English

Mastering a balance between the vernacular and the language of Veritas

It’s an inconvenient fact of nature that Harvard’s most celebrated weekends inevitably tend to fall on the eve of midterms. After a raging Head of the Charles, it was a shock to me that my Korean midterm (that seemed so far off in September) was on Monday at 9 a.m. As I rushed by the John Harvard statue, trying to make it to my test by seven-past, I couldn’t help but overhear admissions tour guide Erica V. Eastspring ’11 explaining to a crowd of feisty, prep-school seniors why she love, loves Harvard so, so much.

“To be quite frank,” she shouted, striking up an inappropriately academic tone for the setting at hand, “I absolutely adore Harvard’s quaint, collegiate, neo-Georgian architecture and its professorial staff. But an institution is built from its student body and it is the stellar intellectual manpower our students which I love.”

The corner of my eye spied one prospective member of ’13 scribble “stellar intellectual manpower” onto her legal pad.

But if there’s one quality Eastspring didn’t add to her effusive list of Harvard’s reputed traits, it’s that most Harvard students—even if they can only speak English—are bilingual.

For instance, the night after spotting Eastspring in the Yard, I ran into her in the Eliot House dining hall, where she was sassily spreading cream cheese onto a bagel at brainbreak. But here, she seemed to be speaking in an entirely different language.

“What’s a girl gotta do to get some Hemp-plus granola?” she retorted, stuffing a pack of stale bagels into her navy blue Longchamps bag before darting off to a meeting.

A bit confused, I headed back to the library where I was studying with Henry J. Flemings ’09, a friend from class whom I questioned about my curious linguistic run-in with Eastspring.

“Dude, it’s like, some people just know how to talk. I’m an Ec concentrator so we just haveta do Psets and stuff, not really, you know, talk. Some people are just good at that stuff,” he whispered in a language I could understand.

But later that week, Flemings made a guest appearance in my section—he was going to have to miss class to row in the Head of the Charles. It was then that I discovered that Flemings, despite his apparent disingenuousness, had been hiding something.

He, too, spoke the second language of the Harvard student.

“I take issue with the state Court’s decision in Sweatt v. Painter,” he said with a surprising oratorical grace that seemed to arise from nowhere. “From an objective standpoint, parity between educational institutions was not manifested in either situation presented in the readings.”

He was well versed in the basic words and phrases of this language of Veritas, painstakingly pronouncing his desire to be quite frank, take issue, and look at situations from an objective standpoint. I could see that he had mastered the manifold pretentious tones of the tongue, so difficult for non-native speakers.

I could suddenly feel a language barrier arise between us.