Sunday, May 07, 2006

I Blame... English

Lately I've been doing everything I usually do, only not in English.
That is, I worked, talked, read, laughed, wrote, surfed sites and the rest of normal daily life, but in a different language, not in English.

This is why I found it hard to take a break, go back to English, even if it was for the 15-30 minutes it takes me to write a post. But, here, I've done it. I wasn't expecting to post before the 11th, this Thursday, which is the day I'll finally come home and immerse myself in English again, but I have.

Languages are interesting. To each their own little nuances, or not so little. Languages can be forgiving and strict in different areas. For example, English is very forgiving gender wise, while some languages, such as French, have a gender for every object. English, on the other hand, is very strict with its tenses, all that progressiveness (past progressive), while other languages have only the basic past, present and future tenses.

Take melody and intonation. In Chinese, for example, a word can receive different meaning depending on the way it is said, the melody. In other languages, the whole sentence can take a meaning just from the intonation. For example, questions in some languages need not be phrased in the form of a question, the intonation makes it clear that the sentence is a question.

Then we have vocabulary and synonyms. Some, like English, are very generous with synonyms, while others have quite a stingy vocabulary, practically half the words of the English language, or even less. And yet, even the "smallest" language, can have 300 different ways of expressing something important to that culture. The metaphors and idioms are also culture and language specific.

I do recommend studying a second language. Wholeheartedly. New ways of expressing things can easily come from other languages, not to mention that there aren't many things more rewarding than reading a book in the language it was written.

So while I'm usually confined to one language, English, lately I've been confined to another and found it difficult to write or even post in English. I'll be back by the end of this coming week to regular posting.
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10 comments:

Trée said...

Welcome back Melly. Been a long time since I threw myself into a language but your post brings back many fond memories. I love how a language will literally force us to speak of a thing in a certain way, as if the language itself was master and we were slave to its demands.

Sharon J said...

I really want to try learning Welsh. I can speak fluent Norwegian but it's donkey's years since I learned it (I lived there so long it's more like a second mother tongue than a learned language) but feel it's time to put myself out and try speaking something else. Being as Wales is close by, it seems like a good choice.

Nos da!

rdl said...

You didnt' mention what this other language is?? maybe you should've wrote the post in that language and translated for us language challenged. Nice to have you back in any language.

Deborah said...

Welcome back, Melly. :) I admire people who have mastered two or more languages, especially English. I've been told that English is the hardest to learn because it's backwards from the rest of the world.

I took two years of Spanish, but couldn't master it beyond individual words and a couple of basic sentences. Since we have a large Hispanic community in our state, I'm going to have my kids take it as early as junior high so they'll (hopefully) catch onto it faster.

ME Strauss said...

What a great post for analyzing language. We often forget how language frames how we think. Thank you for all of the nuances you reminded me of--those in the words and those in between them. :) I once caught myself thinking in Italian when I was small. I admire your ability to think in many languages. That's a flexilibity I so lack.

Charles said...

Robert Olen Butler, in a Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, notes how some of the tonal variations in Vietnamese can result in completly different meanings. "Ho Chi Minh City," when pronounced with different intonations, can mean "Intelligent Starch Paste City." "My Vietnam Lives for Ten Thousand Years" can mean "The Sunburned Duck is Lying Down."

These misreadings are all given symbolic depth, of course...

Nienke said...

Aah yes, I love other languages for inspiration. I used them a great deal back in the days when I wrote poetry. Even just the literal translation of words can be fascinating and fodder for the muse. Forex, 'strawberry' in Dutch is 'aardbei' which translates (literally) into 'earth bee.' Doesn't that just bring up such a pleasant picture in your mind?
Also, quotations and proverbs from other cultures can be a great source of inspiration for plots and stories.
Nice to have you back, Melly.

FredCQ said...

That is the best excuse for not blogging that I've ever heard! Cheers!

dog1net said...

Melly,
Exactly my sentiments. Since I've been contemplating my move to Texas, I've become intriqued with idea of finally learning Spanish. My son speaks it fairly well, and after hearing him converse with a couple of young ladies, I've become enthralled by its sound and its pasión y energía. Taking on a new language is a great way to feel invigorated.
Scot

Melly said...

Trée, thanks :)
I love how you put it about the language being a master and we just have to work around it.

Sharon, Welsh? Wow. For some reason it sounds like a brave endeavour to me. Best of luck with that.

Thanks rdl :)
You know me, I like to keep things to myself...

Deborah, I really think it's important for kids to learn another language. I'm not sure, but I think the US education system doesn't put enough emphasis on foreign languages. In Canada too, but at least we must learn both official languages, yet most of us forget one after school. Too bad.

Thanks Liz, but I can only think in two languages, and not at the same time :)
Yes, it is amazing how languages force different things out of us.

Charles, thanks for that. I knew vaguely about these differences, but the examples you brought are really funny and exactly what I mean about the different nuances.

Nienke, how wonderful. What a beautiful example. Shows you know much about the subject. Real interesting. Thanks.

Fred, shhhh :)

Scot, and then think of the books you can read in their original language. Such authors as Gabriel García Márquez and Cervantes.