Sunday, 8 June 2014

I have just completed a

"French exam" and come out with an "A".
I cannot work out how to put the link in here but Elizabeth Chadwick posted it into her Twitter feed line and, being a curious cat, I had to have a look - and then of course I had to try it.
Now I have never formally studied French. Like every other language I know anything about, I have taught myself almost everything I know about French.
The test was on something called "Buzz Feed" and was a "multiple choice" type exercise. It was not difficult. The questions about irregular verbs defeated me but I could read the other questions well enough to guess the meaning and answer the question - in English.
In other words, use some common sense and what little vocabulary you know and you might be able to work out the meaning if given the context. I have to work like that all the time. Fortunately technical language is often so close to English that it is relatively easy to guess - and most of what I need to read is in technical language of one sort or another.
What interests me is the number of times I can hear or see a word in another language which is so close to English. Sometimes the word has simply been lifted from English and put into another language. Sometimes the spelling and/or pronunciation will be slightly different but the meaning will be the same. One of the easiest words to recognise in Indonesian is "taksi" - yes, "taxi" and another is "polis" for "police".
And, if you listen carefully to someone speaking while also reading the sub-titles in a documentary there are other things it is also possible to learn. The Senior Cat and I were watching a documentary set in Nepal recently. The documentary was about the process for choosing recruits for the British Ghurka regiments - a remarkably tough selection process indeed. I don't know a word of Nepalese but I suddenly heard the words "competition" and "selection" - in the middle of the Nepalese.
And that told me something I had never consciously thought about before. The Nepalese did not need words for "competition" and "selection" because, although there would have been some competition and selection in their society prior to the entry of the British Army into their lives, they would have approached the processes of competing and selecting quite differently. They would also have spoken about it in a different way and the words would not have had the same meaning.
Where I live it almost never snows. If we do get a very light snowfall in the hills behind me the snow has normally melted before the morning is over. It might make the news the occurrence is so rare. We do not need multiple words for "snow" but people in places like Finland do need multiple words - just as Australian indigenous languages needed multiple words for direction. If we needed those words we might well borrow them too.
And so I can "pass a French exam" for things we all need but I would be totally lost trying to differentiate between different sorts of snow or sand.  All I can do is marvel yet again and the complexity of the thing we call "language". How on earth did we ever learn to use it?

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