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Entries in #language (3)

Sunday
Jan202013

Word of the Day, or, Why I Love Etymology

From dictionary.com, emphasis mine:

sar·don·ic

adjective
characterized by bitter or scornful derision; mocking; cynical; sneering: a sardonic grin.
Origin: 1630-40...alluding to a Sardinian plant which when eaten was supposed to produce convusive laughter ending in death
Sunday
Oct072012

"Explosion-Covered People"

Check out this article (and portraits!) from NPR's Picture Show blog, "Voices of the 'Explosion-Covered People.'" It's well worth the five minutes, if only to learn about the elderly woman who has been providing comfort-water to A-bomb victims for decades now. This type of documentation is even more critical given that many of these people didn't feel comfortable talking about their experiences until very recently, towards the ends of their lives.

Tangentially (and I will write about this in more detail soon), the phrases "explosion-covered people" and "comfort-water" enchant me. I don't speak Japanese--never studied it at all beyond the survival basics necessary for a trip to Tokyo once over New Year's--and maybe that's why. I'm convinced that true fluency is indicated only when you are able to appreciate poetry, as poetry depends on deviation from what its readers and listeners expect from a language. If you haven't internalized the expectations, you won't understand what falls outside of them. The bittersweet side of this is that until you're at that point (or at least, it works this way for me), just about everything rings poetic and leads you to consider the what/how/why and the strange beauty of what is being expressed. Once you're able to fully appreciate poetry, that pan-poetic awareness has been lost, necessarily.

And then head on over to Wikipedia, where the sidebar will tell you that today is St. Osgyth's day (as observered by Anglicans and Eastern Orthodox types). Muse on how you've never seen this name before (despite a full year of studying Anglo-Saxon) and check out her life story, circa 700 AD. Take a moment to wonder about what life was like at that point in British history--post-Romans, right? Pre-Normans, for sure; you know that much. Ponder what else might have been going on. Finally, read about her demise: killed by Viking marauders. How very appropriate of her! 

If you do all of this, you have experienced for yourself my lazy Sunday morning browsing.

Thursday
Aug022012

A Swedish Cheferizor?

One thing I've discovered since moving to Stockholm is that this guy actually mimics the funnier parts of the Swedish language pretty accurately! (Also, yes, everyone here is aware of him, and actually pretty proud.) I think I need to spend a little bit more time studying exactly how the Swedish Chef does it, because it's amazing to me how quickly I can get an accent stuck in my head these days. Two episodes of True Blood and I have to stop myself from slipping into the Louisiana rhythms that Anna Paquin does so well, at least to my Yankee ear. I can manage, most of the time, to keep it from my voice, but my thoughts for the next hour or so are as twanging as they come.

When I lived in China, I lost my ability to spell, something I can only attribute to the lack of letters. Mandarin, despite what the BBC may have said during the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony broadcast, does not have an alphabet of any sort, and the pictographs sucked the phonics right out of me. Here in Stockholm, I wonder if the reason I'm so susceptible to an American English accent that differs from my own in pronunciation, granted, but mostly in rhythm, has to do with Swedish itself. 

Kiruna is a place in the far north of the country. It's well-known here, if only because there are so few places up there with any significant amount of people. If you read this word out loud, however, and you are not Swedish (or Danish or Norwegian, but I digress), odds are a Swedish person would have no idea where you were talking about. The problem wouldn't be the way you said the consonants or vowels, however. No tricks like that in that word, unlike some others. The problem would be the emphasis. To an American, Ki-RU-na would be a perfectly reasonable rendition. Not so much in Swedish: say KI-RU-NA, hitting each syllable as hard as you can, and Swedish eyes will light up in recognition and relief, grateful that they don't have to deal with the embarrassment of talking to a idiot and appearing impolite. They're really not big on embarrassment here.

So, as is probably clear, I've been spending a lot of time listening to the rhythm of this language and keeping my mind and ears open to those nuances. It's not really surprising, then, that I'd accidentally pick up on a few others. It's something that is distinctly harder for me to manage than accurate Chinese tones. (I may be one of the few people in the world who is like this, I'm well aware.) Next experiment: start speaking the Swedish I do know while doing my best Sookie Stackhouse imitation. It might actually get me closer.