materinski jezik – the mother tongue

Frenk, tell me, why you not use
you mother language some more, hmmm?

You speak Australski, yes,
but this is not you mother tongue.
You mother tongue is Hrvatski,
you call him Croatia, no?
That is language you was born with
and you papa and mama speak him.
Why you no speak him more?
Why always Australski, Australski?

Yes, Frenk,
of course you not too lovely speaking him,
if you don’t get praksa, the practice,
how you can be speaking him good?

even you mama and you papa mix him up now,
with the Australski and the Hrvatski sve in jedan.

And your tetak iz Chermany, too? What he do?
Oh, he mix deutsch with the Hrvatski? Ha!
This mjeshanje of languages is no good.
I think svako, eh, everyone, should speak
mother language proper, no more mixing-ups.

Frenki, you go now to you grandma, to you oma,
and you speak her and you listen to her
to proper Hrvatski speaking – this beautiful language.
Maybe is something you can be learning.

What you saying, Frenk? Oma is mixing Australski, too?
Oh, joj!

© Frank Prem 2003, 2016


This is one of a series of poems I’ve written that make use of a ‘foreign’ or immigrant voice – Croatian-English in this case.

This is a voice that I grew up surrounded by, and there was a period of time when I was able to capture it for my poetic purposes.

I’ve had the good fortune to have a few of these pieces appear in publications of capture prizes from time to time. This piece – materinski jezik – was featured on the UNESCO site as their Poem of the Month, back in 2003.

Hope you enjoy reading the piece.

9 thoughts on “materinski jezik – the mother tongue

  1. I am fascinated by languages and how they affect identity. I have two lots of friends with bilingual children. In both cases one parent is English, the other not. As teenagers both sets went through phases of refusing to speak the other language in favour of English, but now they use the other language when needed, and some use the other language regularly at work. The poem expresses something slightly different – the immigrant’s dilemma, I suppose. And the tension between holding on to heritage and fitting in to the society around.
    Terrific poem, deserving to be chosen by UNESCO.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Ali. It’s remarkable for me to be getting back in touch with some of these older poems of mine, and lovely to have a place to share them.

      I’ve got a few pieces in this ‘croatian-english’ voice that I’ll put on the blog over the next little while.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This is wonderful – a real treasure – and so deserving of the honour.

    I can relate because I’m of mixed languages – all Slavic – not my maternal tongue – but when one grows up hearing a mix of English, French, and then Polish/Ukrainian,Russian,etc. it’s like the UN has come to roost! Throw in it being totally normal (when I was a kid) for most of my friends to be kids of immigrant families, so then it really got interesting, with Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Swiss, and those of Celtic descent coming in too. Conversations were definitely interesting! Multilingualism is wonderful in my opinion – I love it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Wildchild. It’s quite a part of the upbringing when surrounded by these mixed languages. I had a period in my writing where I channelled this voice quite a bit. I’ll post some more in due course, probably, but a few other things to get online first.

      So glad you enjoyed the piece.



      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well I’ve already commented before, as Wildchild …. and even reading this again, it still resonates and I still think this is so deserving of the honours it and you have received. And I’m glad that you decided it deserved another “light of day” 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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