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Monday, April 18, 2005

Linguist Trap Ahead

I guess there's nothing like studying a foreign language, and having to practice every day, constantly making outrageous goofs and blunders, to drive home the point that nobody sees the world quite as you do.

Of course one could take comfort in the fact that there are native speakers of one's own language, but in fact the presumption is false, as the following story illustrates.*

So I've labored for months under the assumption that the Polish word that sounds like "eventually," i.e. "ewentualne," means something similar. In fact it's something quite different, more along the lines of "if possible" or "if necessary" and is most often used by waiters, shopkeepers and landlords to string customers along with a lot of Brooklyn bridges and paper moons, without committing to anything definite. Thank goodness I studied French years ago, otherwise a similar nonsense would have occurred with the word that sounds like "actually" and means "currently."

But even when I understand the meaning of words, I tend to project my own immediate, visceral reaction onto them, often wrongly. A cheap way to buy DVDs in Poland is when they come as a bonus extra with a magazine-- if you don't want to buy the magazine you can wait and buy them from dealers on the street later, either way it's cheap. A lot of them have an inscription in big letters: "WERSJA Z LEKTOREM," i.e. "NARRATED VERSION" with the Polish narrator who monotonously reads all the translated parts. For me this always jumped out as a WARNING, i.e. Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here. But it turns out it's actually supposed to be (gulp) an ENTICEMENT to buy the damn thing. Because these "readers," these "lecturers" (a good word for them, since they usually have a condescending, soporific tone, like your stereotypical lecturer) are an expensive and coveted luxury for Poles. Can you imagine? The only reason that foreign movies in theaters here almost always are subtitled is that nobody has the cash for a "reader." Well, all I can say is FANK GAWD FER VAT!!! Happily, it turns out more often than not you can switch the droner off and opt for subtitles instead. :) :) :)


* I'm not big on jokes, but I do also like this one: A brother and sister are sitting, facing one another, on a train. It pulls into a station, and each eagerly gazes out of the window to find out where they are. ‘Look!’ says the boy, ‘We’re at Ladies!’ ‘Idiot!’ replies his sister, ‘can’t you see we’re at Gentlemen!’

2 Comments:

At 1:11 PM, Anonymous plunderer said...

Wasn't it E. Zamyatin who said, "I neither like nor understand jokes..."

Never a truer word, and no words are true (Tiutchev).

What I wonder is if there is a difference between the impossibility of anyone ever understanding my inner world and that of me ever understanding theirs. Couldn't we allow a multiplicity of selves like the French dudes always want, all partially interpenetrated by the others, with no clear boundary between those selves that are "yours" (and thus ineffable) and "not-yours" (and thus incomprehensible)? Take "linguist trap" for example. Does this mean a trap to catch a linguist and lure him into the blogger's world or a trap constructed by a linguist to catch out the linguistically insensitive? Or did we really mean "linguistic trap" and left off the adjectival morphology, presuming it unnecessary, in the process forcing the syntactic potentials to proliferate uncontrollably? What would we have to do to allow "linguist trap" to remain all of these, although still with one meaning (our choice) hovering ghost-like over the others, the only bit of spirit able to rise up to the top? Like the PBS documentarian physics notion that for every choice we make, a new universe is born for all the rejected alternatives... (Picture cool graphic where man ordering a drink at a futuristic bar divides into mutiple doubles, each ordering a different cocktail.)

Doesn't solve any problems though I guess. Or does it?

 
At 3:04 PM, Blogger The Blunderer said...

Actually the title of the post was conceived as a rather banal play on "Tourist Trap" with "linguist" in its more catholic guise of "someone who learns languages." Just a joke... but then, the honorable S. Freud teaches us zat ve are most serious fen ve ah choking, if you'll forgive the expression. Speaking of trippy chaos theory sorta graphics, have you seen The Butterfly Effect? If I'm not mistaken, you used to say that The Doors was a Great Bad Movie. I think the Effect is an even greater one. We're talking on the level of Casblanca or The Sound of Music.

 

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