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.

SOBRIQUET MEANS “NICKNAME” – Marilyn Armstrong


so·bri·quet
ˈsōbrəˌkā,ˈsōbrəˌket/
noun
Definition: A person’s nickname.

IT MEANS “NICK-NAME.”

I suppose when asked if I have a nickname, I could lugubriously point out that “I lack a sobriquet,” but I would feel like an idiot.

Sobriquet can also be occasionally used to mean a place, like “The Met” rather than The Metropolitan Opera or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The problem becomes then which of these two items — both commonly called “the Met” do you mean?

Mostly, it means “nick-name.” Generally, for a person, not a place. I think airports may be the only things that get nicknames that stick. Logan is always Boston as LAX is Los Angeles.

After more than 30 years as a tech writer, I find fancy versions of simple words weirdly off-putting. I also taught technical writer for a few years and if there is one thing we carefully beat into our young writer’s heads was that using a complicated “look it up” word when a simple, easy-to-understand one is available will pretty much always annoy and confuse readers.

The more flowery and “complicated” the text, the worse the writing is. A lot of people use twenty-dollar words because they think it makes them sound smarter.

It really doesn’t work.

Use the five dollar word. Reading is not supposed to be a vocabulary test unless you are in fifth grade and it’s a reader and they are making you do it. That’s what makes “readers” so very popular and why kids are so eager to engage with them.

I don’t have a sobriquet. I also don’t have a nick-name.

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.

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.

THE PERFECT CAMERA BAG … I THINK

I was window shopping online. I liked the way this bag looked, so I read its description, hoping to get the dimensions.

Anyone know what this means? Translation, please!


Product Highlights:

This kind of bag is made from pure cotton canvas, texture is soft, strong and durable, carry comfortable. The Lord of the bag is a pocket, the upper used the cotton rope of convergent way, plus a lid, the structure is simple. External vice bags and the ornament of fastener broke the appearance of drudgery, optional but not casually, fashion and brief. It makes the whole bag beautiful and easy, and never lose plain. This kind of bag is very suitable for photography lovers do for short trips, also can be used in the daily travel.


Who is the Lord of the bag? Does he cost extra? What is an external vice bag? The ornament of fastener broke the appearance of drudgery — which sounds like a good thing, but why? And I am glad it is options, yet not casually. Fashion and brief? Is that also transitory?

camera-bagI still don’t know the dimensions, but the price is pretty good. I’m just not sure I want to buy anything that comes with a Lord or external vice bags.

THINKING ABOUT THINKING

I have no doubt my dogs think. They have a short-term version of planning and will work together to accomplish a goal. Like opening a gate — or dismembering a toy. Surely they would hunt together if they had something to hunt. Dogs are, after all, pack animals.

They communicate. We watch them. They sit silently staring into each other’s eyes. Then they get up, together, and go out to bark, or to the kitchen to remind us they need to eat, now please. I suspect they believe we won’t remember to feed them unless they remind us.

300-gibbs-sofa-dog-13122016_002

What forms do their thoughts take? They don’t use words. Even though they understand some words if we use them, I doubt that’s how they form ideas. So they must employ their other senses. How much is visual? Do they also think in sound and scent? It’s obvious they know what they want. They can be remarkably clever and creative in getting it … but how can they plan with no words?

Now and again, I try to “think” without words. I always fail. Inevitably, anything in my head comes with narration, conversation, and a lot of subtext.

300-bonnie-window-dec-dogs-02122016_006

Dolphins and whales talk to each other in some version of language, but words used human-style is apparently species-specific. We can teach other creatures to understand and sometimes even use words, but it’s unnatural for them. Only people need words. It’s not only how we communicate, it’s inherent to our understanding of our world. It’s the way we categorize everything, remember anything.

300-garry-oil-dogs-grooming-day-07122016_04

Ideas and concepts can’t exist without words. Language has the hooks on which we hang everything, real and conceptual. We are the only species that needs a spoken language and the only one that writes. Along with the opposable thumb, it’s how we rule the earth.

If we were to lose our languages, we would probably lose it all. I don’t think thumbs would save us.