Wednesday, November 26, 2008

All for one and free for all

Amynah is now back in Strasbourg, and has spent the last two days attempting to come up with a remark suitably cutting enough to encourage me to shave my nascent beard.* So far, she’s taken to calling me D’Artagnan, as in the Three Musketeers. That’s backfired, as I rather like looking like the kind of guy who could whip out his epée at the slightest provocation.

Anyway, shortly after her arrival, as we chatted in the cab on the way back from Strasbourg’s airport, I realized that I had spoken barely any English while she was gone. I had, of course, been over at Danielle and David’s place, but that barely counts as he’s British, and thus still clinging to some near-incomprehensible island dialect with only a distant relationship to English as it is spoken in the civilized world.

Otherwise, most of my socializing was conducted entirely in the language of Molière, as long as you believe Molière was a stammering bumpkin with a vocabulary of 400 words and no grasp of the future-conditional. I was quite proud of myself, frankly. It became natural enough to me that, by the end of the week, it was my default language in which to start a conversation - even when speaking to English speakers whose French was no better than mine.

Though, to be fair, much of my “French” conversation was conducted with people who were trying to improve their English, and thus spoke to me in English even while repressing their wincing as I mangled their language. My fragile comprehension skills were therefore subject to almost no duress at all.

Attempting to explain the ins-and-outs of English to none-native speakers really does make one realize how ridiculous some of our language actually is. My friend Félicie, for instance, cannot wrap her head around the expression “I feel like” meaning “I would like.” As she points out, “I feel like chocolate” would seem to imply that you’re made of chocolate. Her regular English teacher told her that “I fancy chocolate” would be a way to get around this, but personally I feel that’s so insufferably British it would be better if she just grabbed the chocolate without asking. People would understand.

Of course, my North American language biases do have their drawbacks. Earlier in the week I was having coffee with my friend Mirna, during which I complimented her on her collier - at which point she asked me for the English word.

“Necklace” I said, with perfect Canadian diction.

“Like…. N-E-C-K-L-E-S-S ?” she asked.

I explained that no, as funny an image as it may be, this was not the case, and vowed to improve my pronunciation. However, given that Mirna’s thinking of doing a postdoc in Canada, perhaps I should teach her the proper way to end a sentence with the word “eh?” and that “where’re y’at?” is a perfectly acceptable formulation. Working on another language has improved my English in other ways as well – French is a very precise language** which, I hope, has spilled over to my spoken English. As well, I remain forever grateful to Félicie for giving me the phrase “Big hugs on Amynah” which I think is a wonderful turn of phrase. Though I may be biased due to its subject.

* Photos of said beard will be posted when it graduates from “nascent” to “not laughable.”

** I say this despite that they have the same word for “spire” and “arrow,” i.e. flèche, which I’m pretty sure translates as “pointy thing.”

1 comment:

David Beeson said...

There used to be a Guinness advertising campaign in which one man says to another 'I feel like a Guinness' to which the other replies 'I wish you were'.


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