SPEAKING A NEW LANGUAGE

UNE NOUVELLE LANGUE PAR RICH PASCHALL

What if you could wake up tomorrow and be able to speak a new language?  Suppose you did not have to work at it at all.  There would be no boring repetition of words and phrases.  You would not have to study rules of grammar.  You would not have to learn to conjugate.  You would not take home lessons to write out.  The language would just be there at your command.  Your speech would be fluent and your understanding clear.  What language would you choose?

My best guess is that most people would consider a language of their ancestors.  If they came from Poland, then Polish might be their first choice.  In a city like Chicago, with a large population of Polish immigrants and descendants, this would make perfect sense.  If you have a relative that speaks the language, wouldn’t you be pleased to speak to them in their own language?  Your Polish grandmother would be so proud, and you, of course, would take great joy in this.

My elementary school was largely populated by kids of Irish descendent.  The Irish priests and an Irish American Bishop, who was also pastor, of course attracted a large student body made up of blond and red-haired children.  I can not say I ever heard any Gaelic, however.  I suppose some spoke it.  Many had a brogue so thick, I could not understand them.  Still, I can not say I was interested in knowing Irish language.

For much of my life, I lived in a German American neighborhood.  My maternal grandmother spoke German and would sometimes gossip (I thought it was gossip, anyway) with other old German-speaking neighbors.  The parish we lived in after the grade school years, was largely German American.  It was started by German immigrants who built the church.  For decades there was a mass in German.  I thought it would be cool to know this language, especially years later.  I was encouraged to take Latin in high school, however.

This proved to be a big disappointment as we grew up and took part in German fests.  There was Mai Fest and Oktoberfest and Rosenmontag and more feasts then you can imagine.  We learned songs in German and sang along at dances, festivals and anywhere a band was playing.  Unfortunately, my conversation was limited to Guten Tag, Auf Wiedersehen und zwei Bier bitte!

Sprechen sie Deutsch?
Sprechen sie Deutsch?

Years later as many Hispanic groups arrived and there were many more Spanish speakers, it seemed to me that learning Spanish would make far more sense.  The old Germans I knew were dying out, my grandmother was gone and I had less occasion to speak German.

Now there is a large Spanish population from Puerto Rico, Mexico and a variety of Spanish-speaking countries.  I have neighbors from Guatemala and Colombia nearby.  There are ethnic restaurants all around and in the summer, Spanish music fills the air in our area of the city.  There are so many cultures I could learn, if I just knew this one language. It seems like a logical choice.

What is the second language of your community?  Is there even a second language?  Perhaps you are in an area where you only hear English and there is no immigrant population or descendants to pass along another language.  Even if this is so, would it not be great to learn another language and travel to countries where this language is spoken.

In recent years, the desire to automatically know German, Spanish or even Polish have given way to another.  All of the above would be interesting and certainly useful. Whether I would travel to countries where these languages were spoken, or use them right here in our local communities, I still have a different interest in a language. I would never have thought to learn it just a decade ago.  Friendship has become the determining factor, however.

A previous job of mine brought in interns from other countries, particularly France.  As a result I made a number of friends from France, and I even got to know other friends and family members of these co-workers.  It was not just that I learned some of the culture.  Yes, we went to French restaurants and talked about their local communities.  Of course, we talked French politics and sports.  Indeed I learned about the regions that were home to many of my young French colleagues.  But in the process, something important happened.

This way?
This way?

Now one of my best friends in the world is a Frenchman.  We have gone on many adventures here and in Europe.  I have visited his home and the home of his parents.  We have visited all across Alsace.  For eight years, France has been on my vacation list.  It turns out that the language I would like to know tomorrow when I wake up is French.  It is not about the neighborhood I live in, the ancestors I have, or the neighbors that have recently moved in.  It is not about my grandmother.  It is not about a particular parish.  It is not about countries I may someday visit.

The language I would like to know is all about my friends.  In fact, it is about one of my best friends, and it does not matter that he is fluent in English.  Some of my closest friends are French and I wish I could more fully participate in our adventures whenever we meet.  Is there a better reason than friendship to know another language?

HIGH ENTERTAINMENT AND LANGUAGE LESSONS – Marilyn Armstrong

Learning (or, in my case, trying to learn) another language was high entertainment.

In English, I rarely if ever used a word the wrong way. I was a serious reader very young and had a big passive vocabulary. By passive, I mean I knew a lot of words but had never used them in conversation. I knew what they meant and how to spell them, but not how they sounded.

I had no idea that Too-son and Tucson were one place. Or that ep-ee-TOME was epitome. I remember those two examples because of the hilarity they caused the adults in the area. I was all of 8, but adults were not all that nice to kids. They still aren’t, if I think about it.

language school

I was even more entertaining in Israel. I am sure that my fumbling attempts to learn the language, having caused hysterical laughter, probably played a part in my never properly learning Hebrew. I was so embarrassed by my errors, it didn’t seem worth it, especially since everyone knew at least a little English.

My first big discovery — during my first week in the country — was that Zion (Zy-on) means penis. In Hebrew, it’s tzee-own. So if you say that Israel is the Land of Zion using your good American pronunciation, you will reduce Israelis within earshot to tears of laughter.

They can be a rough crowd.

To add another layer of problems over the difficulty in just getting the words out through my teeth which were clearly not designed for all those gutturals, many words in Hebrew are very much like one another, yet have hugely different meanings. Sha-ah is an hour. Shan-nah is a year. So there you are saying “My Hebrew isn’t all that good, I’ve only been here for two hours.”

After a while, I mostly spoke English and used Hebrew words as needed when I could find no English equivalent. Eventually, I got to a point where almost everyone could be expected to understand most of what I said. Without laughing at me. But not happily. My accent made their ears hurt.

You might consider this when you meet immigrants who are trying to learn English. I mention this only because, having been on the other side of this experience, a bit of kindness to people trying to work through a difficult life transition while learning a new language and culture can go a long way to make them feel less lonely, threatened, excluded, and generally miserable.

Just a thought.

AN ARTICULATE EUPHEMISM – Marilyn Armstrong

Euphemistically articulate and civil, too

A euphemism is a way of saying something we don’t want to say. It needs to be close enough to the thing you are trying to say so listeners don’t look at each other and say “Huh?” yet distant enough from “the real deal” so no one gets offended and runs to call the PC police.

It’s a thin edge from which I frequently fall.

I find “the N word,” as an example, an annoying euphemism. Why? Because so many people use the word anyway. Who are we hiding from? Ourselves?

It’s an ugly word, a hate-filled word, a crude word … but it’s the word those people use. Our avoiding the “center of the story” makes the story less powerful. It’s effectively letting “them” get away with it.

Do they mean “weapon”? Photo: Garry Armstrong

We need a better euphemism. A more articulate, intelligent euphemism. So you can make your point and get everyone angry enough to realize why the word is so ugly. When we dance around it, no one “feels” it.

Does this make sense? No? Never mind. I said it was a thin edge and I just fell off it again.

No Trespassing! Not all farms are as friendly as others. Photo: Garry Armstrong

I don’t know what I am more tired of. Politically correct language that misses the point of the conversation, or crude language that whacks you over the head and make you yearn for day where a simple act of civility would have saved the moment.

I would mostly prefer everyone stop hating each other. Stop using crude language full of ugliness and evil. We don’t need better euphemisms. We need better, kinder people who can say what they mean without spewing vileness.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

CONJURING MAGIC WORDS – TURNING LATIN TO SORT OF ENGLISH

I WOULD CONJURE MAGIC, BUT …
NO LATIN ALLOWED


I hadn’t thought about it. To be honest, my eyes have seen it. My brain has skimmed over it. Whoosh. Away it went with no thought given to its meaning. I do know what a couple of “Latin as part of English” shortcuts supposedly mean.

“Illegitimi non carborumdum” — which I believed (and lots of other people also believe) translates to: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down,” from the mock-Latin word, illegitimatus, or bastard, and carborundum, an ancient brand of abrasive stone. But apparently, it’s not “real” Latin. Who speaks “real Latin” anyway? Whatever Latin you speak, it ain’t the real deal. Whoever speaks Latin speaks a reconstruction of it based on what we know from old writings. No native speakers hanging around in this century.

But QED? From this morning’s Boston Globe’s Theresa Hanafin, comes this bright light for the day:


The Question of the Day from The Old Farmer’s Almanac is: What does the abbreviation “QED” stand for? It’s Latin — quod erat demonstrandum — and means “that which was to be demonstrated.” It’s often used at the end of math proofs or philosophical treatises where the writer reaches a conclusion. Sort of a “ta-da!” I always thought it stood for “Quick, eat the doughnuts,” which has been very helpful over the years.”


What does this have to do with anything?

Well, since I cannot find any conjurable magic (is that a word?), the closest I’ve got are those little Latin sayings we drop into our English language. When I was first working as a tech writer in the U.S., having been working in Israel as a tech writer for five or six years, I encountered an actual English-language editor. My editors in Israel had been a lovely French woman who had excellent English, but sometimes her editorial decisions were a bit … continental. I had a great Russian guy and some of his editorial decisions were … unique.

This was the first time I got to fight over my words in my native tongue with another New York native.

ARTWORK: Evil Squirrel’s Nest

She was fixated on never using a Latin expression if there was an equivalent English word for the same thing. Should she come upon “etcetera” she would always change it to “and so on.”

“We do not speak Latin in this department,” she would announce. To this day, when I’m editing anyone else’s work — Garry or one of the other writers on our “team” and I see an etcetera looming, I can hear her voice carrying over the television or audiobook:


WE DO NOT SPEAK LATIN IN THIS DEPARTMENT.


I am forced to change it to “and so on” and occasionally, to something more obscure like “moreover.” Can’t use “ad infinitum” either … a sad waste of clever language skills.


Ad infinitum is a Latin phrase meaning “to infinity” or “forevermore”. Description: In context, it usually means “continue forever, without limit” and this can be used to describe a non-terminating process, a non-terminating repeating process, or a set of instructions to be repeated “forever,” among other uses.


It’s amazing how a single determined editor can fix something in your brain forever, even when you have long since passed a point where you need instructions.

Thus if you are doing any conjuring today, please do it without Latin. We don’t speak Latin here.

A SHITTY LEGACY – TOM CURLEY  

Every president leaves a legacy. It’s a big deal. How will history remember the president? How will history remember his administration? For Lincoln, it was the Civil War and ending slavery.

For Herbert Hoover, it was the Depression.

For FDR, it was The New Deal.

You get the point. So, what will the legacy of the current occupant of the Oval Office be? Will it be that an ignorant, moronic, racist, misogynistic, narcissistic, senile asshole should probably not be the President?

Well, sure, that’s a given. But I think his legacy will be even more than just the obvious. He will be remembered for something far more profound.

The President of The United States gave the mainstream media a great gift. A gift they never could have gotten on their own. Newspapers, cable news, network news — especially network news — finally got something they could never have gotten any other way!

This is the best gift ever!

What was it?


The President made it OK to say shit on national TV. Watching it happen was a wondrous event.


The story was that SCROTUS described countries like Haiti and African countries as “Shitholes” in front of a bunch of Congressmen. The story exploded, like every other stupid thing he does. But this story was different. Something new happened. I was wandering thru the news channels as it happened.  And it was awesome. It was adorable. It was like watching a child speak for the first time.

Haiti is a shithole!

Initially, everyone was hesitant. They all didn’t say shithole, they said “The S-word”. And all the chyrons, the lower thirds, all said “S#@THOLES”.

All the cable news anchors fell all over each other saying how much it disturbed them to have to say a word they don’t want to say because it’s so vile. So they said “The S-Word” And they said The “S-Word” as often as they could.

And then, as the evening wore on, I noticed something. The lower thirds suddenly said “SHITHOLE”.

Wow, I thought. And then like a puppy opening his or her eyes for the first time and seeing a new world, it happened.

Wow, this place is a shithole

Suddenly Rachel Maddow and all the others on TV took the leap. “The President said Shithole!” they all declared! And the flood gates opened up.

By the next day everybody was on the ‘shit-bandwagon’. Every headline had some play on the word shit.

There was not a “S##THOLE” anywhere to be found!

I realize at this point that many of you might not understand why I think this is so important. It has to do with the media. I know what I’m talking about because I’ve been in the media for over 40 years.

There are a lot of things the media can and can’t do, or should or shouldn’t do. But there is one thing that they absolutely can’t do. And that is they can’t say dirty words. To be more specific “The Seven Dirty Words”.

The seven dirty words? What’s that? Well, the words are from a George Carlin routine from around 1972.

The bit was about words you can’t say on radio or TV and the words were: “Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits.”

The record was played on a Pacifica radio station in NYC, WBAI. That lead to the FCC fining the station.

And that lead to a Supreme Court case. “FCC vs Pacifica Foundation.” It was a big first amendment case and what came out if it was a decision that the FCC couldn’t limit your first amendment rights, but they were OK banning the seven dirty words on mainstream media.

And that is a big thing if you work in the mainstream media. Many anchors have been fired for accidentally saying “fuck” on the air. It was instant death, you were gone. Period. And you have no idea how media people talk, especially  off the air.

I worked for the ABC Radio Network in the early 1970’s, WCBS FM in the late 1970’s and CBS News until today and I always marveled at how some news announcers could go thru an entire newscast hitting the mute button on their mike to yell at someone in between doing the actual newscast.

ANCHOR: In the news today, Vietnam peace talks have stalled, more after this.
MUTED ANCHOR: What the fuck??! Who ate my fucking Goddamn yogurt! You all know that’s my motherfucking yogurt!
ME: (talking in announcer’s ear) We’re back in 3,2,1, cue.
ANCHOR: Moving on to sports, here’s Howard Cosell.
MUTED ANCHOR: God fucking damn it! This is the third time this month my motherfucking yogurt is gone! I will find you, you cocksucker  and I will FUCK YOU UP!!

I know you think I’m making this up. And I also know for a fact that as Garry is reading this, he is rolling on the floor laughing.

My point is, this is a milestone. On January 11th, the year of our lord 2018, a miraculous thing happened. Trump overturned FCC vs Pacifica. The mainstream media got to say one of the Sacred Seven Dirty Words.

Broadcasters are loving it! Now that the precedent is broken, where can we all go next? Oh right — there are still six more dirty words!

So, to sum up this president’s legacy:

  • A shithead decided to run for president.
  • A bunch of shitheads decided to vote for him.
  • A bunch of other shitheads decided that there was no difference between him and the other shithead running for president, so they voted for a third shithead.
  • And half the country didn’t give enough of a shit to vote at all.

You can’t make this shit up. But at least we can say shit now! Thank God, because the president is doing his damnedest to turn this country into a real shithole.

We are all in such deep shit. On top of everything else,  we’re going to need 7 new dirty words.

THE COMPASS

Hebrew works differently than English and the only language very similar to it is — unsurprisingly — Arabic.

Hebrew uses root words and then twists them into various shapes to form adjectives, nouns, verbs, and other word forms that all, in some way take their original meaning from that root.

The word in Hebrew for “compass” means — as it does in English — a device that points you in a direction. But it also means the direction “North” and by mental rhyming, it also means “conscience.”

Because a compass points you north as your consciences points you in the “right direction.”

A logical language.

YIDDISH: THE LANGUAGE I WISH I’D LEARNED – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I grew up in a bilingual household. Everyone spoke both English and Yiddish. Both my parents and both my grandparents. It was spoken all the time in my home.

My grandfather actually spoke and read four languages, Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew and English. My grandmother spoke Russian and Yiddish in addition to English but not Hebrew.

My dad spoke German, Yiddish, some French and English. He had a knack for languages. At one point in his life he got into studying ancient cultures. He decided to learn the dead language Sanskrit, so he could read some ancient texts in the original. This is one of the things that most impressed me about my dad. His boundless curiosity, his drive and his perseverance. How many people would actually do that? How many people would even want to.

As an aside. In the 1930’s, my father didn’t like the way the wood floors were laid when he was building his house in Connecticut. They were laid with pegs, not nails, an old-fashioned technique. So he learned how to correctly lay the floor boards and redid it himself.

Anyway, my mom just spoke English and Yiddish, but a lot of conversations between the ‘grown ups’ in my family, were conducted in Yiddish. Unfortunately, no one tried to help me learn the language. In fact, they used it primarily to talk ‘over my head’ about things they didn’t want me to know about.

Me and my parents when I was about 8 years old

Early on I figured out when they were talking about my bedtime. One of the only phrases I learned in Yiddish is “I don’t want to go to bed”. It’s a pity that I never learned to speak a language that I heard every day growing up.

For years I didn’t even realize that Yiddish was a separate language. I was often confused about which words were English and which were Yiddish. For example, there is a large, spurting fountain or aerator near my house in Connecticut. My grandfather always referred to it as the “Shpritz vasser” or spraying water in Yiddish. I thought that was its English name and was surprised when no one knew what I was talking about when I used the phrase.

The Yiddish newspaper my grandfather always read

My mother always used the Yiddish word for tush or butt, “tuchas.” Again, I thought this was an American word and I used it all the time. My friends thought I was crazy.

I thought they were ignorant.

Yiddish is not a very useful language to know these days, but I think it would have been wonderful to have grown up speaking it, like everyone else in my family. It might even have helped me master other languages at school.

I took French through junior high and high school and I loved it. But I was better at reading than speaking. This is common because of the way languages are taught in America. I spent time in France as an adult and got a little better at speaking and understanding the language. But I could never really carry on an intelligent conversation.

I always regretted not being fluent in at least one other language. I’m surprised that my family didn’t want to pass down the tradition of speaking Yiddish. But they obviously didn’t care. That’s really a shame – for me.