Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pass the thing

When Luca and I first met and taught each other our respective language, we delighted in words the other used. Italian and Spanish are both beautiful, and have many similarities, despite of which they are a lot more different than people assume.

Our favorite anecdotes are around “false pairs”, where the same word, spelled the same, means very different things in each language. (Try putting a word you know and use into a sentence where it means the opposite and examine your immediate reaction to it. If I told you “get in the car” actually meant “get out of the car” and let a day go by and yelled “get in the car!” what do you think you’d do?)

Learning each other’s language, and the fun inherent to it, continue to entertain us.

We have now been living in the United States for ten years, where we speak English in the office all day. Having three languages in common, we have adopted words from each one and peppered our sentences with a mix that we realize has become incomprehensible to anyone else (and often to each other.)

Most recently, we’ve discovered we are incapable of getting through a whole thought without some kind of abuse to all language. In place of the original creative flourish we displayed, we have reduced ourselves to sounding something like this: “Ah, we need to go to the watchamacalit to get the thingamajig” or “hon, did you, ummm, you know, whatever?”

The most alarming aspect is that about 90% of the time, even when the sentence is devoid of nouns (and sometimes verbs) we know what the other is talking about. The other 10% of the time, one of us stares while the other sits there locked in an internal struggle for recall. Or, we begin to holler, “Come on! Say it! Say it in ANY language!”

I fear we’ll soon be reduced to incoherent blabber.

We’ve hence resolved to lay down the law: a sentence begun in a language must be finished coherently in that language. No inserting words that don’t belong. No making up words (my favorite.) No long pauses where one secretly hopes the other will finish the sentence.

This is going to be…yeah. Phew. You know.


Amit Pradhan said...

So, like you know, really, like yr like whateva, like 80% of like you know, people. Word. Yo.

Dushka said...

Like that. Except, words in different languages. Tipo, como, cazzus Lu, ma no podemos hablar asi, do you agree?

Amit Pradhan said...

I once tipo-toed over a como, like, you know, then took like a break, cazzus i had to go to the Lu, like you know, then settled for a full stop. See? Si?

Anonymous said...

This extraordinary experience occurs in all long-term relationships that are essentially successful, and where the people involved are integrated by symbiosis. The lapses are sometimes attributed to age, to mental infirmity or whatever, but anyone multilingual, or who processes on several levels simultaneously, understands exactly...what was that you said?

David said...

I say "abandon your new rule!" There is nothing quite as fun as mixing languages mid-sentence, especially when you no longer realise you're doing it...and you are baffling all around you!

Dushka said...

We're in Mexico this week and our brains have completely short-circuited. If we don't stick to the rule, David, we'll forget how to speak in anything at all!

bob pasker said...

i think the term for what you call "false pair" is actually "false cognate"

In "THe Name of the Rose" the narrator, says “I realized Salvatore [the hunchback'] spoke all languages, and no language," because he mixes up words and phrases from many different languages. those of us who have a few Romance languages and English, have no trouble understanding what he says.

In my grandparents house, my mother and her mother and father all spoke english, yiddish and romanian, but each had their favorite language to talk in. when the three had a conversation, each one used a different language.

Dushka said...

Hey, Bob!

False cognates are pairs of words in the same or different languages that are similar in form and meaning but have different roots.

False pairs are pairs of words that have the same root, but different meanings, as their usage evolved in different ways: Italian and Spanish (and, incidentally, Romanian) are predominantly Latin, but many words evolved to mean different - even opposite - things.

Your grandparents house sounds like my kind of household. I speak to my mother in English and my father in Spanish, even when we're all at the same table. Luca's presence has added Italian to the mix.

Thanks for visiting!