Masks and languages.

Communication like Life, sometimes needs to be interpreted. In many situations, we use language in the same way that we use our approach to life. In the light of this, the Italian writer Luigi Pirandello, in the novel by the title “One, no one and one hundred thousand”, describes the multiple identities that a single individual can take. By wearing masks, we try to arrange situations and languages to give specific elements about our life. For example, in every situation we behave in different ways: with friends, at home, at school. All this, however, does not mean that we are fake people. Likewise, we cannot utilize the same language in all situations: I use slang with friends, formal language with people that I do not know, or in the class. In the same way, the meaning of words change if I translate phrases or metaphors, into other languages ​​without considering the cultural aspects.

In this review, I want to explain the way that writers use to talk about life in a different way. Also, both the use of the metaphor as the use of the mask, in a particular situation, (as write a book, an article or in the real life) becomes interesting.

 “Language is more than what we say”, points out Alberto Alvaro Rios in the article “Translating Translation: finding the beginning”. It means that we need to understand many situations, because things are not clear as we think. This imply which in all situations as in life, there is always a mask. When we try to speak a foreign language, words are not always what they seem: for example, the meanings of many expressions are different in other language (the expression “hit the roof” in english means “get very angry” and in italian does not make sense, because if I translate it litterally, the expression “toccare il soffitto” means something different: “to be happy”). Like a mask, It seems something else than its real meaning. However, the use of “a mask” does not necessarily indicate fiction.

The meaning of the mask, both for languages and life, is like the metaphor that Rios (1994) use for languages: a binocular. The writer uses this metaphor to emphasize the duality of the language. For example, he argues that we cannot make use of the same method for all languages. There are many different situations that we need to value if we want really to understand other languages.

The physicality of language, the different lenses that we use in every situation, are also prominent in authors as Lan S. Chang. In the story “San”, Chang (1983) utilizes many metaphors to explain how characters feel, how are the approach whom they have to life. Many objects and visual images are used by the author, to convey meaning in the story. Specifically, Chang, uses many details to indicate different meanings. For example, the device of the umbrella in Mandarin means “to fall apart”, or at the end of the chapter, the author writes: “This sudden openness, this coming out of darkness into a new world […]” (pg.133), as Chang suggests, means “hard time”, something which must be passed.

Likewise, the author compares through an interesting metaphor the concept of mathematic with love. Chang wrote: “In mathematics, as in love, the riddles matter most” (pg.133). At the end of the story, after failing out of college, she accepts that in life we cannot understand all.

In the same way, Brian Doyle in the article “Joyas Voladoras”, utilizes the world of animals to tell us through metaphors, the meanings of the life, how is important to live in the better way our moments:

“Consider for a moment those hummingbirds who did not open their yes again   today…each thunderous wild heart the size of an infant’s fingernail, each mad heart silent, a brilliant music stilled.”

Obviously, the author is doing far more than describing animals. In explaining about the hearts of animals, he tried to lead us through the metaphor into this reality. Our design is to live life deeply. With sorrows and joys: we must move on.

“We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart.  Perhaps we must.  Perhaps we could not bear to be so naked, for fear of a constantly harrowed heart”.

In those examples, as in others, the key point is that the physicality of language, the singular lenses that we use in different situation, is the same just as we use a mask to deal with various situations. People need a specific languages, as in different situations people need different masks. As we use metaphors in language, as people use masks to live moments. This means that I am a student when I am in the class, but I am a different person when I am with my friends, also I  “wear another mask” when I am in the class like teacher.

Despite the previous arguments, many problems arise when you try to translate metaphors into other languages. Also, utilizing a mask could be problematic if the use of it, isn’t in the right way.  Rios (1994), explains and describes with many and different examples his interpretation of language through translation. The meaning of Languages is not simple, above all, when we try to translate litterally the words. There are many different situations that we need to value if we want really to understand other languages. To demonstrate it, Rios narrates a personal episode.

He writes: “My mother […] said to the workers who where all Mexican, and who spoke very little English, límon”(1994).  The result was that the kitchen was painted “bright green”. Because the Mexican limones are small and green. According to Rios, “moving from one language to another is more than translating words”. Language is not just a sequences of particular words, but primarily a combination of the meanings. In other words, he claims that translation is not only a process of changing words into another language, but also a process of understandind and interacting. In the same way, to utilize a mask could be problematic in the society if we do not understand the real meaning of it. We need to distinguish the use of it. For instance, a mask should not be understood as an element of falsehood: but as adaptation element. Just as we use a metaphor or a translation, if you want to utilize a mask, you need to comprehend different situations.

The mask, as a metaphor, must be used for purposes intelligent and useful. For example, if I go to a conference, I cannot be the same person who jokes with friends. In addition, I use metaphor when I want to emphasize something important. But what happens when I try to translate it in another language? The result will not be the same if you translate it word for word. Some expressions have no meaning in other languages. This is the reason why we must understand the context. In other words it is essential not only to understand the duality of language but also the context in which it develops.

In the same way works the mask for a person: if you do not understand the context, the result will be distorted, inappropriate. Mask as metaphor, could be represent the duality of communication. The meaning of an action is related to how we act. For instance, we can be “one, no one and one hundred thousand” as we can use a metaphor to say that our life is too complicate. The result depends on what we want to be and what we want to say.

For example, in the story “San”, Chang (1983) describe the young girl’s father as a good father when he is with her daughter. When he is in other place, he wears a mask. This mask is completely different from the person that Caroline (the young daughter) knows. But, the man wants really to be a good father when he is with the girl, while he is completely different outside: we can only suppose that the mask which he use with Caroline, is not a bad mask.

Every day, unexpectedly we use metaphors in language as in attitudes by using a mask. Languages ​​and lives, meanings and cultures, sometimes are understandable, sometimes not. In many situations, we use language in the same way that we use our approach to life, like wearing masks.

“A reality there was not given […], we have to do it: it will never be one for all and forever but continuously and infinitely mutable”. (Pirandello, 1992)


  1. Hang, Lan Samanta, “San”, in Hunger, Norton, New York, 1983.
  2. Pirandello, Luigi, “One, no one and one hundred thousand, Marsilio Publishers, Venezia, 1992.
  3. Rios, A. Alvaro, “Translatin Translation: Finding a beginning”, in Best of Prairie Schooner: Personal Essays, Lincoln NE, (2000), pp. 104-107.
  4. Doyle, Bryan, “Joyas Voladoras”, in The Wet Engine: Exploring Mad Wild Miracle of Heart, Paraclete Press, Orleans, MA, 2005, pg.79.


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