For anyone following this blog, a brief survey of my own language learning might offer some insight. This could just as well go under the “Personal” heading.
There are times when I would like to delve deeply into one language and its culture the way my friend, Brian has with Mexican Spanish. You know, the way you know how people refer to a special way of preparing a pig to eat and it has a special name?
But I have been incapable of that. The reason is that I love learning this stuff but do not have a strong desire to know everything. I’m not sure that makes sense; it’s better expressed as “I don’t have a drive to completely command a language and its culture, but OTOH, I never run out of desire to learn more”.
An example: yesterday, talking to my yard guy, we got into a discussion of the culture of the Hispanic men he hires, and we were talking about how upper class women in Hispanic cultures tend to stay in the upper part of their house, an area reserved for family, but where the ama de casa may receive visitors. What she will not do is go downstairs; that’s for the staff and provides for her security as well ( I got that from Gordon’s book on Columbian culture – it’s too high on my shelf now to reach but if someone wants the info on the book, I’ll send it). He said his wife is from Columbia, so I said “ask her”. That is a way of checking on the accuracy of these cultural reports. I know Gordon’s data came from interviewing Peace Corps volunteers, so there’s plenty of room for distortions and inaccuracies.
What attracts me to languages is their variety and the insights they give me. I study English the most. For example, I’m on the Lowlands listserv which includes Scots, Scots-Irish, and Appalachian Englishes. I note that my former yard guy, speaking a fairly deep form of Black English, always said “gi” for “give”. I knew that from other people’s speech. But then I saw that it was Scots. So where someone might try to say that his pronunciation of “give” is the result of some tendency to drop final consonants in Black English, we see that it more probably comes from the slaves working side by side with Scots and Scots-Irish speakers.
I can come up with hundreds of examples that are really neat. I remember how on a listserv a person wrote in that in Russian you use the genitive case for possession. She used a sentence with a feminine name in the genitive. I’ve forgotten her point but I felt the need to write in and explain that there was another and very common way to do that, turning the noun of the possessor into an adjective e.g. Masha’s book > kniga Mashi or Mashina kniga; it’s restricted to nouns ending in -a but is nevertheless very common. The initial poster declared that wrong. So a frequent listserv participant who restricted herself to sending links to the list, wrote in to declare me correct and wrote out her full name which had a Russian “otchestvo” i.e. feminine form of father’s first name as her “middle name”. Very, very neat.
My point wasn’t to make the poster back down; it was to reveal to listmembers that you can’t do the cursory first year class grammar stuff e.g. verb endings, noun endings, adjectival agreement…… most of it based on a couple of popular languages like French and Spanish……and think you’ve got the language sewn up. You never stop learning.
So I continue to dabble in about 14 languages, seriously dabble but just at various stages, and want to begin to share more about these languages and what they offer. This is why I’ll probably never master one; I even find out new stuff about English every whipstitch.