Name: Mariya Chokova
Nationality or Ethnicity: Bulgarian
Where do you live?: the Unites States of America
Languages: Bulgarian, English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian, Russian, Turkish (not fluent yet), Farsi (not fluent yet), Greek (not fluent yet), Latin (not fluent yet).
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
When I was thirteen years old, I was fascinated with how the Spanish language sounds. I asked my parents to enrol me in a Spanish class, and it so happened that my Spanish teacher (a private tutor) was a hyperpolyglot: he spoke about twenty-five languages. During our Spanish classes, he would draw parallels with the other Romance languages in order to explain grammar and illustrate the etymology of some words. I was fascinated with the possibility of looking at language not merely as a separate and isolated entity that you learn mechanically to communicate, but as a complex system that has a history and a life of its own, and which co-exists and interacts with other such linguistic systems. I soon began taking French and Italian classes with my polyglot teacher, and by the time I graduated from high school in Bulgaria, I was fairly fluent in Spanish, French, Italian and English (English I had been learning since I was nine). In 2009, I moved to the Unites States to study at Wellesley College, and I decided to continue pursuing my love of languages, which, by that time, had also manifested itself as a love of the cultures and literatures of the countries where the respective languages are spoken. I double-majored in French and Italian Studies, and during college I also learned Portuguese and Russian: again, because I was fascinated with the way they sound and the rich cultural legacies they open doors to. During my PhD program in Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University, I learned Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian because I had always had an interest in and a passion for the common cultural history and linguistic bonds that the peoples of Balkan peninsula share. Moreover, I began to study Turkish and Farsi, because since childhood I have been fascinated with rich cultures and beautiful languages of the Middle East region.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
I wish I could spend more time practicing Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian, Turkish and Farsi.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
In the future, I would like to learn: Arabic, Hindi, Hebrew, Azeri, Romanian, Korean and Japanese.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
This is an extremely difficult question! For me personally, it varies over time. Right now, I am really in love with Turkish and Farsi.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
The first thing that has always attracted me to language-learning is the way a given language sounds. So, the greatest pleasure I derive from being able to speak in a specific tongue is being able to pronounce the words and make sentences to express myself through that language. As I already mentioned in question #1, I am also very passionate about the literatures and cultures of the languages I have studied. So, being able to have direct, unmediated access to the literary works produced in a given tongue is another major source of pleasure and fulfilment for me.
6. Some people say the world is really just going to have a few languages left in a 100 years, do you think this is really true?
I honestly do not think that this will happen, and I certainly think that it should not happen. Languages are constitutive of unique identities, and they are at the basis of the diversity of cultures in the world.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
If we want to live in a world that is diverse and culturally rich, we need to cultivate linguistic multiplicity. As a scholar and teacher of languages and literatures myself, I see it as my task – be it in my research, or in my teaching – to promote and foster people’s awareness of how important it is to preserve the diversity of human languages spoken around the globe. So, I would say to anyone interested in studying multiple languages that by doing so: on the one hand, they will contribute to preserving the cultural richness of our common human heritage, and, on the other hand, they will expand their own personal horizons on the vastness and beauty of world cultures, which are first and foremost predicated on languages.