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The Languages We Speak

by soj Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 05:14:39 AM EST

Yesterday I wrote a diary entitled Who Are We to get a sense of where ET readers are coming from.  According to the poll, it looks like about 2/3 of us are living in Europe and 30% in America or Canada.

In an effort to further gauge our abilities, I thought it was time to do another poll - this time about the languages we speak.

With the multitude of elections occurring around Europe, it would be great to know who speaks what, to help us translate articles in the local press.

For the purposes of the poll, pick the language you speak BEST.  

And yes I realize there are too many languages spoken in Europe to fit in this poll.

English isn't included because I'm assuming we all speak it and/or read it already since we're here ;)

Pax


Poll
What language do you speak?
. French 30%
. Spanish 11%
. German 27%
. Italian 4%
. Russian 9%
. Norwegian 9%
. Finnish 2%
. Bulgarian 2%
. Czech 0%
. Polish 2%

Votes: 43
Results | Other Polls
Display:
.
Grandfather spoke fluently Dutch, German, French, English, Greek, Latin, Arabic and Spanish language. I'm limited to Dutch and English with ability to read and understand German, French, Latin and Spanish.

~~~

by Oui on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 06:51:55 AM EST
Heh, by accident, my grandfather was like that too.

But foreign languages were his hobby. He would study his languages in a weekly schedule, three languages each day,  one of these a language studied only every two weeks - i.e., 28 languages in total! But he spoke well only seven, IIRC German, French, English, Italian, Russian, Spanish and Latin.

Myself, I speak Hungarian, German and English fluently (and would write in English much better - would I check for typos and would I not forget stuff when I constantly re-draft sentences in the middle of writing...), can read French, write and speak less well (currently re-learning); and used to know Russian but forgot almost completely.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 07:47:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Living in Transylvania as I do, there are sure times when I had your language abilities here.  I think Magyar is one of those languages you just need to be born into, whew it just blows my mind! :)

Pax

Night and day you can find me Flogging the Simian

by soj on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 08:27:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, that may be because Hungarian is not Indo-European.

Or, maybe there is more to it? At least anecdotically, I know that Chinese immigrants (my hometown Budapest is their European center; this will be a theme of an upcoming post of mine) find learning Hungarian is a lot harder than English or German - and for them, both Indo-European and Finno-Ugrian is totally alien.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 08:35:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is definitely because it's not Indo-European.  Its syntax and grammar and roots are just so different than it makes it extremely difficult to assimilate.  So I just memorize a few phrases like "thank you" and leave it at that ;)

Pax

Night and day you can find me Flogging the Simian

by soj on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 11:27:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Anyone who knows Hungarian has my admiration!  

Unlike the Germanic, Romance, Scandinavian or Slavic languages, there is just nothing else like it!  (Except Basque, right?)  

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 12:23:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's related to Finnish and Estonian, also in the Finno-Ugric family of Uralian languages, and more distantly, to Samoyed Uralian languages like Sami.

Basque, mysteriously, has no close relative at all.

The world's northernmost desert wind.

by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 12:37:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, the Library of Congress classifies Basque with Hungarian & Samoyedic in the Ugric section of the Uralic (Finno-Ugric) family of languages.  Could be because they didn't know what else to do with it though...  Or they could even be wrong.  Who knows?  

You're absolutely right about the relation to Finnish, etc.  But I still maintain that Hungarian is not like anything else. :)

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 01:00:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
one of my best stories about basque is from a friend who worked at the French Embassy in Moscow in Soviet times. He wa speaking in basque to his family back in France when a voice came on line and said "KGB, please use a language we can understand"

(the KGB was renowned for its linguistic expertise)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 01:38:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
.
Most famous Dutch violinist received education in Moscow and played in many concerts. What no one knew when she traveled from Moscow to the West, het violin case became a secure place to keep some manuscripts.

The KGB had no idea how Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had his manuscript published in the West - The Gulag Archipelago!


The world community is indebted to our musician - thanks Emmy.

Bruch: Violinconcert no.1 in g kl.t. op.26
Beethoven:  Symphony no.5 in c kl.t. op.67
Orchestra: Beethoven Academy olv. Jan Caeyers - Emmy Verhey, violin
Recording: 22 september 1996
broadband ●  smallband Windows Media

Paste complete URL {} in address for broadband connection:
{ javascript:var%20w=window.open('http://www.avroklassiek.nl/avplayer.aspx?streamurl=mms://media.omroep.nl/avro/klassiek/zoc/zoc_03061 1_bb.wma','avplayer','width=500,height=440'); }

~~~

by Oui on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 03:42:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Heh, the KGB...

There is an anecdote about Enrico Fermi, the Italian nuclear physicist who also worked on the Manhattan Project. When asked about whether he believes in Martians, he answered: "Heh, of course, they are already here! They call themselves 'Hungarians'!"

Unfortunately, to understand the joke, I have to explain that during the Manhattan Project, Fermi was usually sitting at a table with five other European emigree scientists, all of them Hungarian (and most Jewish), who would often change from English into Hungarian during their debates, leaving Fermi to sit stupified.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 06:14:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Linguists don't agree on Basque's relations or origins; conventional wisdom considers it an isolate, meaning there are no known related languages, living or dead. I believe some have attempted to argue for the Finno-Ugric connection on the basis of some lexical similarities, but the evidence is not compelling enough for wider acceptance.

My favorite explanation of Basque's origins comes from my Basque friend who claims that Basques came from Atlantis. :-)

I'm in the process of adding Basque to my list of languages (joining English, Spanish, French, and smatterings of German and Swedish) though at this point I find Basque so complicated that it's hard to imagine getting much beyond the level of basic phrases!

by wheylona on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 06:04:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My favorite explanation of Basque's origins comes from my Basque friend who claims that Basques came from Atlantis. :-)

I have my own, less flattering pet theory: They are the descendants of Neanderthals, who perished on the Iberian peninsula some 30 000 years ago... ;-)

The world's northernmost desert wind.

by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 07:10:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My favorite explanation of Basque's origins comes from my Basque friend who claims that Basques came from Atlantis. :-)

Aye... Southeastern Europe has a lot of these (and the fools who believe it are often rabid chauvinist politicians, so it is less funny).

For example, in Hungary there is 'theory' that Sumerians were Hungarians...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 06:16:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The LoC must have classified as such exclusively because both aren't Indo-European - as far as I know, there is nothing similar between the two.

Hungarian is maybe more special than other Finno-Ugrian languages because it is separated from even its closest relatives (spoken by two small ethnics which get assimilated by Russians).

However, don't take language families that seriously; there is enough 'cross-pollination' and mixing to make the 'tracking back' of languages unreasonable beyond some length of time. For example, Hungarian borrowed heavily from (or, was born as a mixture of a Finno-Ugric and:) Turkic languages, Slavic languages, Latin, and German languages (in this order of time); and many words were newly created from old or made-up roots by the language reform movement 200 years ago.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 06:06:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There are amazing indications of how old Basque is. My favorite is that the root of the word "axe" is the same as "stone" ("ark" if I remember right)... fascinating.
by gongo on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 09:35:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I wish this poll had been multiple choice as I speak (from fluent to less so) English, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
by Brutus on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 08:20:51 AM EST
Folks, say hello to the bafflingly multilingual Brutus - our newest member, and Norwegian numero 8...

The world's northernmost desert wind.
by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 12:17:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To our resident Norwegians: how similar are Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish? I gather (from experience with a bunch of Scnadanavian friends) that they're partly intelligible, but no one's been clear on just how close they are, and how understood someone could be to a speaker of the other two languages if they spoke in their native one...
by Scipio on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 12:32:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It depends. Norwegians usually understand both Swedish and Danish quite well, and better than Swedes and Danes, respectively, understand Norwegian - let alone, each other. This is probably because (i) Norwegian dialects vary significantly, so that Norwegians develop a 'flexible ear' as they grow up; (ii) Norwegians have been more exposed to Swedish TV, pop music, and cinema than vice versa; (iii) bokmål, the dominant of the two written forms of Norwegian, is closely related to Danish for historic reasons.

Thus, many Norwegians find it fairly easy to read Danish and understand spoken Swedish, while often hard put to comprehend what Danes are saying ("Danish isn't a language but a throat condition," as the expression goes) and finding it somewhat straining to read Swedish. Danes and Swedes also understand each other in general, but with ample misunderstandings - sometimes compounded by cultural differences.

To communicate smoothly across the languages one has to learn a glossary of terms and, above all, be aware that words can have different meanings. 'Pule' for instance, means 'play' in Swedish and, well, 'fuck' in Norwegian. I imagine it's a bit like Spanish and Portuguese, but since I speak neither I don't really know how mutually intelligible those are.

The world's northernmost desert wind.

by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 01:13:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I imagine it's a bit like Spanish and Portuguese, but since I speak neither I don't really know how mutually intelligible those are.

Spanish and Portugese are really similar.  I actually  think that Catalan is father from Spanish than Portugese (and Gallego) is.  I speak only Spanish, but I find that I can comprehend written Portugese with a little bit of trouble. I had a Brazilian friend who tried to help us learn some portugese, and then we taught him some English.  

If you want to try to learn a really hard language try to learn Basque, it's nothing like Spanish.  Speaking of Basque, I wonder if anyone else saw the mess at the illegal rally by the basque seperatist party Batasuna.  You know how Scots have the cable toss?  I think that the annual torch the trash bin and hurl towards the police might be the quintessential Basque sport. I think that this also explains the odd "No hot ashes" signs on trash bins near the apartment I lived in.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 11:37:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...probably more like Italian and Spanish. Spanish and Portuguese are mutually understandable only in writing... in spoken word, the Portuguese understand the Spanish but not the other way around usually, as the pronounciation is so complex and "chopped out". Italians and Spaniards do understand each other, much like Swedes and Danes. I am Italian and have studied both Spanish and Portuguese (Brazillian) - I still have much less trouble with Spanish.
by gongo on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 09:39:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Correction: There are actually nine of us.

The world's northernmost desert wind.
by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 07:00:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Expat American, actually, but I was speaking 3 languages by age 10, hehe.
by Brutus on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 11:16:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But by "speak German," I mean "can reliably order dinner and a beer at a Gasthaus and understand radio traffic reports".
by Texmandie on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 08:58:08 AM EST
instead of French, although I have almost never used it in written form, and have difficulty reading it very well, because I do speak it pretty well (and even better with some vodka!).

I learnt German well enough to speak it (and discuss the Wiedervereinigung extensively at that time), but it has been supplanted by Russian in regular use and I've lost most of it. But German sentences always look right to me, I've never been bothered by the order of words, it feels rights (that's from growing up in Strasbourg).

I should speak Spanish (having the Venezuelan nationality), but I don't really. I re-learn it quickly when I am fully immersed...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 09:55:59 AM EST
You voted Russian even though, living in Paris and all, I assume you speak French everyday...?

I chose Russian because while I can read French much more easily, I think my speaking skills fall on the Russian end of things.  Extremely out of practice with both though...  And I have never claimed fluency in either.  But somehow got by in both France and Russia speaking little or no English (maybe that's why the French never seemed too rude to me?)...  

My job involves working with materials published in all European languages, incl. Greek and Latin.  So I have picked up a smattering of other languages along the way, but mostly vocabulary specific to publishing and research.

Still, I am sure any skills I have pale compared to those of the Europeans in the room.  I really envy that you have so many opportunities to speak a variety of languages.  I find I get rusty pretty quickly.  But once I am immersed in a language it also comes back pretty quickly.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 12:06:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My job involves working with materials published in all European languages, incl. Greek and Latin.  So I have picked up a smattering of other languages along the way, but mostly vocabulary specific to publishing and research.

Well, that happened to me too! I can understand Spanish pretty well if it is railway literature, and all of that is self-taught (I just used a dictionary, figured out the grammar by myself). Also a bit of Italian.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 06:22:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You assume correctly (about my speaking French- - of course, my being French and living in France does help...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 05:10:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
At one time I was near fluent in French but am out of practice.  I would need at least a couple weeks immersion to get it back.  I once tried to brush up by taking a class at Alliance Francaise here in the U.S. but since I learned French by living with native French speakers, I found it quite distracting to be in a class with people speaking French with American accents.

I've been learning Portuguese for almost three years.  I speak it about two hours a week.  I've taken a couple of trips to Brazil during this time and that improved my abilities.

I'm glad the question is about languages we 'speak' because I've always found it more difficult to learn to read and write additional languages rather than learning to speak and understand.   To my native English ear, both French and Portuguese have a cadence that can't be learned from studying books.  The lyricism of the languages is what makes them fun to speak.  English is a rather 'flat' language, although  dialects in some countries, like Jamaica and Australia,  have a pleasant modulation.

I had to take Latin and Spanish in school but wasn't much interested at the time.  One of the reasons native born Americans are less likely to be multilingual is that our normal school curriculum does not require study of foreign languages before the age of 13 or 14.  I think that's a bit late for most students.  

by Grand Poobah on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 11:05:08 AM EST
normal school curriculum does not require study of foreign languages before the age of 13 or 14...

I know!  Oh, how I wish I could have begun learning a second or third language early on.  Classes weren't even offered until high school (age 14).  And yet studies all agree that the best time to learn languages is early on.  So I have been stocking my baby niece's library full of foreign language books and tapes in the hopes that she can get a head start. :)

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 12:15:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As a English only American(even though I did have a year of German/Spanish in high school/jr. college and remember nothing)I wonder if anyone can tell me of a good set of language tapes for learning Spanish?

And after reading everyone's multilingual abilities I feel like a real moron. About the only phrase that sticks in my mind that my grandmother taught me is either Polish or Bohemian-'ya milooyou tebeh'..phonetically and I believe means 'I love you'?

"People never do evil so throughly and happily as when they do it from moral conviction."-Blaise Pascal

by chocolate ink on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 05:51:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As Ben P says down in this thread, try Pimsleur.  The Spanish section is quite extensive and it WORKS.  It got my foot in the door for Romanian that's for sure.

I learned Spanish the hard way via gov't tapes.  It was more thorough but far, far too rigid and what you really want in a language is to feel like speaking it is no chore.  

Pax

Night and day you can find me Flogging the Simian

by soj on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 01:51:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
thanks for the tip, soj.

"People never do evil so throughly and happily as when they do it from moral conviction."-Blaise Pascal
by chocolate ink on Wed Aug 17th, 2005 at 09:14:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As a third gen native Californian, I grew up in the Southern California schools being taught a lot of Spanish. But I kick myself now for not taking it seriously enough...though I have a ton of words rattling around in me, and I think I could learn Spanish pretty quickly. I have now been in Switzerland a year, trying to learn High ("Hoch") Geramn, while everyone else around me speaks Swiss German dialects...and this REALLY isn't German...so I'm betwixt and between, because everyone tells me to learn hoch Deutsch, but no one speaks it...and when I try out my German, everyone wants to practice their English!! Oh, well...ich bin am lernen Deutsch sprechen, aber ist langsam process!!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 12:23:41 PM EST
but...my 1 + a few pieces of German and Spanish are a bit embarrassing, in comparison to the rest of the community...kudos to the Euro Trib community - impressive language capabilities!!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 05:11:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In my experience, the Swiss can and will switch to flawless Hochdeutsch on demand. (Tough, that experience is based on only two holiday trips and almost no contact with people outside the tourist/transport business.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 06:27:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nothing to brag about here. Aside from Norwegian, English, and the ability to understand Swedish, Danish, and a little German, I have only my rusty school French - never great to begin with, and now in a pitiful shape.

The world's northernmost desert wind.
by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 12:25:54 PM EST
You need to add 'merican to your poll...  :-)
by asdf on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 12:28:19 PM EST
murcan, please, murcan ;)
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 04:07:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Polish, French, German.

Grew up speaking Polish at home,it is strictly speaking my first language and my 'mother tongue' but once I started school English became my best language.

French - after two years in Geneva refusing to learn French my parents put me in a French speaking school - problem solved though the first couple months were pretty miserable.

German - several Goethe Institute intensive summer courses followed by an extended stay in Germany hanging out in the archives. My spoken German is currently a bit rusty though I do speak it occasionally. On the other hand I read it on a virtually daily basis for my work.

Russian - a bunch of classes, never really took. I can make out an article if I have to or fake a conversation using what I remember combined with throwing in Polish words but I can't say I actually know Russian.

by MarekNYC on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 12:33:51 PM EST
French - after two years in Geneva refusing to learn French my parents put me in a French speaking school - problem solved though the first couple months were pretty miserable.

That's how I learned German :-)

Actually, my grandfather begun to teach me German at home for a few weeks, but that was of little use: spoken German (Hessen dialect) was unintelligble for me during the first few weeks, and I even had to re-learn my initial knowledge of words by then. On the other hand, I was lucky: there was a kid in my class whose parents were ethnic Hungarian immigrants from Yugoslavia, so I had a 'translator'. Yet again on the other hand, the class was already learning English for a year, and just began French*, so I had to fast-track learning three languages at the same time!

*: I was a good French student, I can also tell that now from stuff I have written back then, but regrettably, I almost comletely forgot it due to lack of usage - am currently in the process of re-learning in a language class organised by my company.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 06:36:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As one who has no talent for learning languages, I am always humbled by those who can speak other languages.

This is indeed a resource to be used here.

by gradinski chai on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 03:08:57 PM EST
Am I wrong in thinking you speak both English and Bulgarian?  That's not small feat either.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire
by p------- on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 03:21:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well I speak Romanian but I seriously doubt anyone else here does.  Romanian actually is in its own sub-branch of Romance languages, with four living variants - Romanian, Moldovan, Aromanian and Istro-Romanian.  Plus the "odd cousin" called Vlach or Degleno-Romanian, which is spoken in Greece.

It is an official language in Romania, Moldova and the autonomous region of Vojvodina in Serbia.

I'm always amazed us Americans can learn anything but English since we're raised in such a monocultural environment.  I'm proud of my parents for learning some Spanish in their "old age"! :)  Gosh and my father has spoken nothing but English his entire life with maybe a "grazie" or "merci" mixed in there.

Pax

Night and day you can find me Flogging the Simian

by soj on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 03:54:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How closely does Romanian relate to the other romance languages?

Superficially, it seems closest to French - just having seen Romanian written.

Or is it much diff't than Spanish, Portugese, French, and Italian altogether - ie a whole different branch from these four which share more with each other than any of them - individually do - with Romanian?

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 12:43:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Romanian speakers here. I'm trying to encourage a few to join up. As for Vlachs, they are in Bulgaria as well and are recognized as one of our minorities.

Poemless, you are very kind. My Bulgarian is good, but not yet fluent.

by gradinski chai on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 04:04:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm encouraging a Romanian speaker to get interested in ET too.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 12:36:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Gee, you multilinguists really impress me! Besides my native language German and, of course, English, I only have peripheral knowledge of French and Swedish.

What I would be interested in: What's the proportion of native English speakers to non-native English speakers on Eurokos?

by Saturday (geckes(at)gmx.net) on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 05:04:50 PM EST
OOPS!

I meant Eurotrib.

by Saturday (geckes(at)gmx.net) on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 05:05:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I speak esperanto, and I'm working on French and Dutch.
by guleblanc on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 06:02:16 PM EST
Uh, put me down as an English-only 'murcan (hangs head in shame). I have ordered in Mexican restaurants using just Spanish, but the only full sentance I know is "Una mas cerveza, por favor!"

Like others upthread I am awed by the multilingual amongst us.

by US Blues on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 06:33:37 PM EST
English, Persian, Arabic, German, Spanish, Fench

Oddly enough- I can only read in German and French, I neither speak nor write.  I can speak, but not read or write Spanish.

Of course I also know the universal language American Exasperanto, a complex toanl language that involves waving ones arms and repeating simple English phrases while getting louder and louder.  It is almost always understood.  However, almost every phrase is easily mistranslated as "please spit in my food."

things fall into place, dig holes and wait

by Cicero on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 07:10:05 PM EST
Of course I also know the universal language American Exasperanto, a complex toanl language that involves waving ones arms and repeating simple English phrases while getting louder and louder.  It is almost always understood.  However, almost every phrase is easily mistranslated as "please spit in my food."

I think this also translates to please perform an anal cavity search to the average foreign customs officer.  Back a few years when I was flying home from Spain, I saw  this elderly American man trying to find his plane talking to this customs officer.  He just keeps getting louder and louder in English, which she doesn't understand.  So he just decides to try to get on a plane to Damascus.  So I kid you not, the customs officer leads away the guy with his wife snapping on a pair of rubber gloves

 

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 11:18:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Does it count if I can speak American English with two dialects?  ;)  Native midwestern and southern (acquired).  Oh yes, then there's that odd style of babylonian French which always seems to surface while vactioning in France.  But only, of course, after consuming wonderful French wine!
by caldonia on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 07:56:20 PM EST
typo:  vacationing, not vactioning
by caldonia on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 07:58:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
learning proper Southern without making it sound like just a bad immitation of some bad movie is indeed an accomplishment.
by gradinski chai on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 04:10:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Having lived in the south for a few years, I was amazed when the day arrived that I seemed to be able to comfortably say "y'all" (without wincing). The problem with filmmakers is that they seem to think there is only one type of southern accent.  It varies greatly within the region.  Interestingly, it has been noted by linguists that the south midland dialect of American English has retained more elements of Elizabethan English spoken in the time of Shakespeare, than even modern British English has retained.
by caldonia on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 12:40:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
English (primary)
Spanish, German, French
by Plan9 on Mon Aug 15th, 2005 at 10:23:24 PM EST
Well, I'm a native English speaker, but I can read French and understand it OK. I have more trouble speaking myself.

I'm also in the process of beginning to learn Spanish.

BTW, for those looking to get a foot in the door with a language - and if you aren't immersed - try Pimsleur. Its by far the best language learning course.

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 12:40:11 AM EST
That's a dialect of 'murcan een-glish spoke down here'n the suthern states.  

I recently took a one-year adult course in Japanese.  I can speak enough to to get by, but Kan-ji reading and writing is tough to learn!  You need to recognize at least four thousand of those characters to read well at all!

I can read French and some German.  I had an extensive knowledge of old Latin at one time that helps me read some Italian and Spanish, too - always with a whatever-english translation dictionary in hand though.  As for speaking any of those, that's a different story altogether... jus' tryin' to speek them thar furrin langwijiz gets me plum tuckered out in a Nu Yark minit...
:)

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -Margaret Mead

by blueneck on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 12:59:59 AM EST
Gummint taught me Russian at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA.
by DancingLarry on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 04:49:23 AM EST
Great to see you in this neck of the woods, Larry!

The world's northernmost desert wind.
by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 09:05:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I actually don't speak any language good - according to my teachers. Failed my classes in English and Latin and German. So here is a native German speaker, with some odd bits of: Latin, English, Greek(old variety), Hebrew, Indonesian, Croat, Dutch, Spanish. Not the slightest inkling with regards to French I am afraid to say (choose Greek), but it has always been my ambition to learn French (and to live in Spain - Saragossa to be precise, reading up on Balthasar Gracian...).
I wish I could keep my languages up, but as my teachers discovered early on. I am no good at languagues...
by PeWi on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 05:51:53 AM EST
have. A native Japanese speaker myself, but my wife keeps reminding me whatever I tell her in that language makes no sense and is ridiculous.

I will become a patissier, God willing.
by tuasfait on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 07:43:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Old Zen koan: If a man speaks, and his wife is not around to hear it, is he still wrong? ;-)

The world's northernmost desert wind.
by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 09:02:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
it depends if the wife is absent by design or by accident...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 10:12:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ahem...gentlemen of the world:

"Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea."
Robert A. Heinlein

The two most important words a man should know in any language:  "yes, dear."  ;)

by caldonia on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 10:31:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
True... On the other hand, though: "A woman will do anything you want - as long as you demand the opposite."

Hm, now who said that...? Humphrey Bogart?

The world's northernmost desert wind.

by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 10:53:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Are you going to keep us in suspense?  Was it Bogie?
by caldonia on Wed Aug 17th, 2005 at 07:52:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're asking me? I was hoping you knew...

Methinks though that he said either that, or this: "A wise man does not contradict his wife; he waits until she does it herself."

Picture of the day: Bogie in Sirocco (1951). ;-)



The world's northernmost desert wind.

by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Wed Aug 17th, 2005 at 10:33:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A good friend of mine is Japanese, his wife is Danish, and they met in Scotland. He always insist on teaching his kids German so they can read Kant and Hegel. I always reply: At least they won't have any problems with Kierkegaard...
by PeWi on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 11:01:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Once upon a time, a Japanese student was assigned to translate "Bonjour Monsieur" in elementary French class. The student said, "How are you Mr. Bonjour?"

A friend of mine took Russian because the instructor was reputed to be very generous, but he was not sure he passed the final. So he went to see the instructor before the final results were announced (hoping to persuade the instructor to give him the credit). As he discovered, he had scored only 7 out of 100.

I will become a patissier, God willing.

by tuasfait on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 02:22:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Have you read Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris?  He's an American comic-writer who relocated to France with his boyfriend.  He wrote a book about his attempts to learn French.  It is hilarious.  Highly recommend it.

And excerpt:

"Things began to come together, and I went from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly. "Is them the thoughts of cows?" I'd ask the butcher, pointing to the calves' brains displayed in the front window. "I want me some lamb chops with handles on `em.""

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 02:37:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wow, I love David Sedaris. I bought a copy of "Me Talk Pretty" at the Zurich airport by chance, and I kept laughing all the way home over the Siberian sky.

I will become a patissier, God willing.
by tuasfait on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 02:44:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Favorite of my wife's - We went to the baptism of one of my nephews and she said to my sister. "Das war eine wunderschoene Teufel." ups.


Teufel means devil - baptism is :Taufe, only two letters. (I told her afterwards, after I had calmed down my sister and she stopped laughing, that if she had remembered that Teufel is male and Taufe is female she would not have made that mistake.)

by PeWi on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 02:52:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I read somewhere a long time ago (before the invention of the internets) the story of a translation of a poem.

The article, I think it was in Die Zeit, described how this Goethe poem about a Rose, was translated back into German from the French, into which someone had translated it as a Japanese poem. Quite a Journey and quite a difference.
by PeWi on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 02:46:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's a travel story as told to me by an American friend from the south.  Trying to be polite and using phrasebook German while in Munich, my friend attempts to order beer at a pub.  The conversation went something like this:

Friend - "Zwei Bier bitte."
Bartender - "Was?"
Friend - "Zwei Bier bitte."
Bartender - "Was?" (Just can't understand the thick southern accent.)

Ok, this same exchange happens one more time and my frustrated southern friend says:  "two fucking beers, please!"

Bartender, in perfect English, replies:  "That's better."  Then promptly hands over two beers.
:)

by caldonia on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 03:07:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Are you talking about Southern American or Southern German:) (I understand Hochdeutsch very well, Bavarian on the other hand...)

And Swiss German(s)...

I remember one time in a restaurant in the German speaking part of the Valais (Wallis) a bilingual mountainous canton in southern Switzerland.

A Swiss German guy at the next table is try to order.

Ich moechte Roesti (traditional Swiss dish of shredded potatos, baked in a clay container, sometimes other stuff added)
Was moechten Sie?
Roesti
Was?
Roesti!

this went on for a while till the waiter suddenly said
'aaah Roesti.'  The Swiss Germans don't even understand each other sometimes, every damn valley has its own dialect. It's why the Swiss French complain that it is no use bothering to learn German, only the educated actually speak it and even they don't do so amongst themselves.

God I hate Dialekt (that and handwritten old German script. Completely illegible. Different alphabet basically where every letter looks the same in cursive, a good reason to stick to post WWII history)

by MarekNYC on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 03:45:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I learned Suetterlin in school at the tender age of 6....
by PeWi on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 03:55:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Is that like Fraktur?  I have several guides I use for deciphering that and I still go cross-eyed trying to read it.  They really took a lot of artistic lisence with that alphabet.

And Sütterlin ... ooh, that's just not right...

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 03:57:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's the cursive version of Fraktur. Learning to read the printed version is fairly easy - spend a day reading stuff and you get used to it, sort of. The handwritten stuff on the other hand. Christ. There's even a special two week intensive course for grad students at some college in Pennsylvania that people go to before they hit the archives - otherwise they're just lost. I remember trying to read the letters of a prominent Ostforscher a couple years ago while going through various Nachlaesse - they might have had interesting stuff but how am I supposed to know? Spent a day, gave up. Photocopied them and I've looked at the stuff a few more times, still can't get anywhere.
by MarekNYC on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 04:06:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, the handwritten Fraktur is a headache!!  The thing is, I sometimes have to transcribe it, so it is not enough just to be able to read and get the gist of it (skipping over the words I can't make out.)  I have to get it exactly right.  The thing is, I don't think the people originally writing in it were always getting it exactly right...

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire
by p------- on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 04:17:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Swiss Germans don't even understand each other sometimes, every damn valley has its own dialect.

There is one valley in the French part of Valois/Wallis inhabited by people with some mongoloid traits (especially eyes). The mythology has them as a marauding Hungarian tribe who decided to settle there, or alternatively, Huns a few centuries earlier.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Aug 17th, 2005 at 04:37:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I speak Dutch, English, German, and some French, and can understand Swiss German. Also a very little bit of Chinese.
by bastiaan on Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 05:30:45 PM EST


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