14 June 2000
I've always been interested in languages. I have lesson books on almost every major language in the world-- and Klingon, too. From time to time, I make a stab at learning this or that or the other. But there's no one around me who speaks another language, no one to try out phrases on...
During the war in Kosovo I got out the Russian and Polish books and brushed up my Cyrillic alphabet so that I could read the subtitles on CNN phonetically.
Now and again I tune in WUNI and listen to the programs in Spanish. When they speak slowly enough, I almost know what they're saying. One of the best programs was a series about Theresa of Avila, founder of the Carmelite Order. That was all in Castillian Spanish. Very neat. Very nicely articulated. I knew what was going on.
Sometimes I listen to the Portugese station. The news has been enlightening. See, they interview people who speak French, German, Spanish, and English all the time and they overdub in Portugese and put in Portugese subtitles. Once you understand the peculiarities of the pronunciation, Portugese words begin to sound very familiar.
Last March I asked David, my T'ai Chi instructor, what he was saying at the end of the session. It sounded like "shee-shee." It was Chinese, of course. He gave me the address of a website where I could learn Chinese. I investigated and found out a lot about the Chinese language. Like, for instance, the difference between saying "I arrived on a plane," and "I arrived on a fat chicken," is only a matter of intonation-- and here's a thought: that means the Chinese don't have homonyms-- words that are spelled and pronounced alike, but mean quite different things-- so, what do they do for puns? Or is it enough to hear people declare they've just arrived on a fat chicken?
And so I've always dabbled at other languages, but I've never stuck with the learning, though I've regretted it. It's not that I'm lazy or undisciplined, but one needs to use a language...
Week before last, at the end of one of my first days at the JCB Library, Michael came over and said, "Tell me, what's your language of preference?" Caught by surprise, I blurted out, "Well, I almost speak English." Of course that was the wrong answer, and I could tell I was demoted on the spot. Michael speaks Spanish and other languages. He says he has an ear for them.
Monday, I was getting coffee in the break room at JCB when I overheard Eileen (of the novenas) saying she was planning to take a Latin refresher course this summer. I thought that sounded neat. All I remember of my Latin is "Agricolae in agro sunt," and a bit more along those lines-- I believe there was "frumentum" (grain) involved. I enjoyed Latin. I've always wished I could've continued taking it long enough to read Caesar's Gallic Wars and Marcus Aurelius' writings in Latin.
Later in the conversation, Jennifer bemoaned having to listen to her high school students murdering French. She said she longed to hear just one complete sentence in French. I long to be able to construct and speak one...
Happily, and quite by accident, I find I have fallen amongst true scholars-- Linguists. I love it! It's exactly where I've always wanted to be--
But it makes me feel stupid.
Today, at Jesse Smith Library, I mentioned to Cindy how stupid I felt being among people all of whom speak two or more languages. She laughed and said, "But so do you. You speak computers."
And so I do. There is grace.
Copyright © 2000 New Moon
If you have something you'd like translated, try Babelfish at Altavista. Very useful. (And don't forget to check out the original story of the Babel fish!)
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