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05 January 2012 @ 11:42 pm
Language is a virus?  
Word count: 4140 | Since last entry: 2382

We're taking a trip to Guadalajara this month (in fact, we leave in less than a week, aiee) and we've been studying Spanish with the Pimsleur CDs since Thanksgiving. I've never studied Spanish before, but I do have a couple of years each of Latin and French and a little Italian under my belt... which helps in some ways (I've already been exposed to concepts like grammatical gender) and hinders in others (when I reach for a Spanish word, my brain rummages in the "Romance languages I kind of know" bag and hands me something which may or may not be correct). I feel rather overwhelmed, but my experience with Japanese tells me that even a little bit of the local language helps enormously.

Yesterday our Spanish lesson included phrases such as "Yo estoy enfermo" (I am sick) and "Necesito un médico" (I need a doctor). It's sometimes kind of strange when a CD makes me lie in a foreign language (e.g. making me say "Me gusta la cerveza"), but as I was saying those things I realized that I was, in fact, feeling a bit of a scratchy throat coming on. It was as though I was actually getting sick from exposure to the concept in Spanish. Language is a virus, indeed. I took a bunch of vitamin C and sambucus before going to bed.

I felt somewhat better this morning, and I hope to be completely recovered in a day or two. But I don't have a lot of energy.

The trip to Eugene to speak to the Wordos writing group went well. There were something over a dozen people present, including Nina Kiriki Hoffman and Jerry Oltion, and they seemed pleased with my talk about the various workshops and research trips I've taken for my writing and the Q&A afterwards. The trip also included several nice meals, a view of three volcanoes, and listening to Alan Cumming read Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan. Not too shabby a day, all told.

KMS: balesvgqn on January 6th, 2012 07:52 am (UTC)
my brain rummages in the "Romance languages I kind of know" bag

Oh yes indeed. I think of it as the French part of my brain waving its hand madly while jumping up and down, saying, "I know! I know! Call on me!!"
scarlettina: English lurks in an alleyscarlettina on January 6th, 2012 05:05 pm (UTC)
...my brain rummages in the "Romance languages I kind of know" bag...

At one point I was studying both Hebrew and French simultaneously pretty intensely. Each language has its own distinctive sounds, but the one thing they both share is a rolled "R" sound pronounced in the back of the throat. What ended up happening was that every now and then, my French would sound like I was speaking it with a Hebrew accent, because the "ch" sounds from Hebrew began to creep into my French, and every now and then, a word would cross over in a peculiar way, especially in cases where the same word shows up in each language meaning something completely different. What I think is fascinating about this sort of phenomenon is the things it reveals about how the brain processes language. At those times, it seemed as though I could feel how my brain was working--somewhat the way you're describing here.

PS--Hope your throat behaves itself. I woke with a scratchy throat this morning myself, wondering if it was just that the air in my place was drying me out. 'Tis the season.

Edited at 2012-01-06 05:07 pm (UTC)
billeylerbilleyler on January 6th, 2012 06:29 pm (UTC)
I had a couple of epiphanies when I was studying Spanish.

One was that Americans tend to draw out vowels much longer than the Spanish-speakers do. While consistently pronounced, the vowels are really just clipped utterances without any dipthongy things we tend to insert. A typical American will say "May-ee Goose-toe", but a Spanish-speaker will say it about twice as fast.

Another was that, like Japanese, every letter and syllable is pronounced consistently. As far as I know (limited knowledge), they don't have any words like 'wind' that can trip you up with different pronounciations of the letter 'i' (which they pronounce 'ee' of course).

Good luck on being healthy for the trip.
billeylerbilleyler on January 6th, 2012 06:35 pm (UTC)
And that being said, makes me wonder how English got to be a written language without accent marks? (resumé doesn't count). I was remarking to Danny on our November trip to the Mediterranean how every language we encountered (Turkish, Greek, Italian, Spanish) was filled with marks over and under letters to clarify pronounciation! English r stupit! ;-)
Sue Burkemount_oregano on January 6th, 2012 08:56 pm (UTC)
I live in Madrid, and I teach English to Spanish teenagers. They've abandoned all hope about making sense of English spelling and pronunciation. But what entertains me is the way they pronounce English words in Spanish to show how they should be spelled. "Page" is "pa-he," "made" is "ma-de."

They also tell me English is easier than French and a lot easier than German -- French has more difficult spelling and German has more complex grammar. They are surprised when I say that Spanish is relatively easy. At least, if I see a word, I know how to pronounce it, even if I don't know what it means.