Thursday, October 7, 2010

Some Linguistic Observations

I was recently in a waiting room where there were quite a few East Africans. I'm always amazed by the fact that no words stand out when I hear Somalis speak. In many languages, even Arabic, there will be a word here or there that recognizable. And so this guy was talking, talking, talking absolutely unintelligible when all of a sudden I hear, "Public swimming pool."

How odd is that? Was he switching languages partway through the conversation or is there no Somali word for public swimming pool? If that's the case is there a word for pool? Swimming? Public?

This is one of the many benefits of knitting. If I'd been reading I probably wouldn't have noticed.

On another day, a day of glorious sunshine, I was drinking coffee and knitting on a bench outside a public library in suburban Hennepin County. There was a group of young men chatting nearby. I couldn't believe my ears - the same conversation I've heard at that bus stop on University and Vandalia a number of times. I always called that bus stop my "Mofo" bus stop because the young men have such a limited vocabulary: Mother F%&*!, N@#%! B#$%* and a few conjunctions. It's universal. What a pity.

In the meantime, Boy-child is learning Finnish. The other day he said they were working on colors, so I asked him what the word for purple is in Finnish. "Violeta," he told me. "Oh!" I replied, "so they didn't have a word and had to borrow it" ... he told me that Finnish color words are limited and yadda yadda. I paused, and said, "Do you think that's true or do you think it's because your teacher is a man?"

I think he took offense. I was serious. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

What other language is Finnish related to? I'm pretty sure it grew from different roots than Swedish and Norwegian. Maybe searching that other language would answer your question. I kinda doubt that is it is just because the teacher is male; after all, no matter what gender the teacher is, s/he would have to learn ALL the words.

GehneeMarie said...

Filipinos switch between Tagalog and English all the time. It's always very smooth and they don't have to think about it. My whole life listening to my mom talk with her friends has been, "blahlahlah blahlahlah elevator, blahlahlah blahlahlah pumpkin pie." Too bad she never taught me what all the blahlahlahs mean.