Languages Are So Fucking Cool

You want to learn a language? Go to the country where it is spoken. Immerse yourself in it. And if you can’t do that, then I recommend getting a girl-/boyfriend who speaks that language. You’ll learn more from them in two months of affectionate conversation than in two years at a language school. Okay, I am exaggerating somewhat, but you know what I mean.
Tell your loved one to speak to you exclusively in their own tongue. It may seem inconvenient at first, but you’ll be amazed at how quickly you learn the basics in this way. And you will find that it enriches your relationship as well, because you will actually start to really listen to them. You’ll be hanging on every word, every accompanying gesture, trying to figure out what in hell they mean. You will notice things about them, about their way of thinking, their way of seeing the world, that would otherwise have escaped your attention entirely. You will be forced take them in as a whole, instead of just as a person talking to you, saying something the second half of which you understand before it even leaves their mouths. You think.
Do you listen when people speak, or are you just sort of homing in on what you think they want to say? Think about it. I am sure you will find that your understanding of speech is like a sort of predator… you are looking for certain words, certain patterns of speech, and you pounce on them like a cat, thankful that you’ve found what you wanted. You’ll scarf up those words you thought you heard, you’ll bolt them like a wolf, without chewing a single bite. You don’t give a damn if you heard them correctly or not. You’ll even give an answer… most likely it will fit, hallway at least. But only halfway… but, no matter! Your opposite in conversation will bolt down your answer without really hearing! They will accept anything you say, as long as it isn’t completely incongruent with what they said… and so on.
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This is the way people communicate. They aren’t really listening, and what they say isn’t hardly true, and even if it’s true, it probably doesn’t really pertain to the actual topic of conversation. Christ almighty. It’s a wonder anything is ever understood. Oh, but it is, at least subjectively… they believe they understood you, and you believe you understood them…
Well, better than nothing, right? Yeah, right.
Like I said, try a new language. Do a breakfast in Hindu, with the whole family. Try a Chinese breakfast. Each person can look up a few words, and then… waugh! When everyone is getting hungry and no one knows what the fuck anyone wants, gestures help, and: Ugh! Ugh! Grunts. That is something everyone understands.

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World Music

Do you listen to music the lyrics of which you can not understand? I often do, whether it be Russian or African, and I am interested in the difference it makes. I mean, when you hear the lyrics and you understand them, you listen to a song differently than you do when you don’t understand a damned thing and just listen to the music and the general feeling of a song. Any fool can tell whether it’s a melancholy song, or something upbeat, or ironical (though there it becomes difficult…).
I am in a good position to analyze this, because I live in Germany, where people listen to a lot of music with English lyrics. I understand the songs, and then I hear what the Germans think of them. They, though mostly fairly good English speakers, fail totally when listening to songs, because the lyrics are obscured by music, accents, colloquialisms and what-all. Thus the oddest, and sometimes really hilarious misunderstandings are born.
Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t better to not understand a damned thing. Then you can simply get a feel for a song, you listen to the tone of voice, and not the words. That, combined with the music, tells you everything you need to know. Maybe.
And then there is poetry, the songs you will never understand unless you understand every single word. They combine words and music in such a beautiful way… ideally so that it is a complete piece of art.
So, what’s better? Shall we, once again, compromise? No, no compromise: Listen and enjoy, no matter whether you understand or not. Do not compromise.
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Sometimes I am glad I can’t understand the lyrics. When world music bands sing in English, I discover they sometimes have an irritating tendency to try and bring across political messages concerning their particular country or whatever. Now, I am not trying to belittle the political problems of the so called third world (or any other world, for that matter), where many of these bands come from, but I just can’t bear to hear the simple and extremely politically correct messages that are often propagated.
If it must be political message, then please let it be subversive, irreverent, raunchy, perhaps despairing… but don’t try to wring a tear from my eye by singing to me earnestly that female circumcision is wrong or some such. It just won’t wash. I know it’s wrong, I don’t need someone telling me that accompanied by music, thank you very much.

Nyap

Nyap, that is the nearest equivalent that I can make up to the German word „jein“, which means yes and no bundled together. Like when one of my workmates, a confirmed misogynist in his way, asked me the other day how I liked living without a woman in my life. Nyap, I said. It’s a quick way of saying: there are pros and cons.
A definite con is that I feel lonely as hell. A pro is that I don’t have to worry about seeming to be an insensitive asshole. I am not an insensitive asshole, but women seem to mistake me for one again and again. How that comes to be I can not fathom. I have met real insensitive assholes and I can say, with absolute certainty, that I am not one. Sometimes it makes me wonder if women do not just simply enjoy accusing their men of being insensitive assholes, regardless.
In any case, the word nyap, which does, in fact, not exist in the English language, might have many wonderful applications. Most people would say „maybe“ or „I’m not sure“, but „nyap“ would be so much more succinct and to the point. It expresses the feeling of ambivalence wonderfully. And it sounds so cool.
So, my suggestion is, dear reader, that you embrace the word „nyap“ and propagate it to the best of your ability. If you do so consistently enough it might even be said you have helped a new word in to being. No one will know it was you that did it if it truly does spread enough to become a part of the language, but you know, and that should be enough.
Of course, I’ll be there, in the background, thinking haha, nyap was my idea. My readers are all just henchmen, pawns in my game to change the English language single-handedly… muahaha. Delusions of grandeur? Nyap.

Speak French

Although I speak two languages really, really fluently, I still envy people who speak French. I don’t, although I love the sound of it. To me, it’s the most beautiful sounding language in the world. I do understand one word or another, so much that, years ago, as I was visiting friends of my parents-in-law in France, they thought I understood everything. I made an appreciative, affirmative noise here and there, and replied at least halfway appropriately in English or German, and suddenly they started talking to me in rapid-fire French, assuming I had it down, at which point I was totally lost. Oh, well.
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Speak French. It is a beautiful language, it deserves to be perpetuated.
And listen to Zaz.
EDIT: And (thank you, Marissa, for reminding me) read French poetry from Verlaine and Rimbaud. Read the translation you understand, if you don’t know French, and then read the original, just to get a feeling for it.

Spell-checkers Cause Illiteracy

I can’t spell a damn thing anymore. I can’t type either, not really, never could. I am fairly quick, with three fingers from each hand workin’ the keys, which just manages to match the speed of my sluggish thoughts. But I used to be able to spell properly… until the automatic spelling correction started fucking things up.
I used to stop and think, occasionally, when I was writing and used an uncommon word. I’d ask myself for a millisecond whether I’d spelled it right, and if there was the slightest doubt in my mind I’d look it up in a dictionary after finishing what I was writing. Through the occasional renewal, review and supplementation of my knowledge that occurred naturally in this way I continued to be a good speller.
Spelling
No longer. I haven’t had to look a word up in a real dictionary for a year at least. The knowledge I had deteriorates because the machine makes the corrections for me, on the fly. And if the machine is in doubt, it pops up a bloody menu where I can lazily peruse what it considers to be possible correct alternatives for the indecipherable nonsense I’ve just typed in a drunken tizzy.
My spelling gets worse and worse. And soon, I fear I may lose my ability to read, as if were coupled somehow with the ability to spell, to decode all those little ciphers that make up a word, to juggle them in your mind’s eye until they fit your thoughts or your thoughts fit theirs. So I’ll need a computer to assist me with that, too. Oh, wait, I already have that. An mp3-player, great audio books, a program that will read from a text-document to me. Reading becomes unnecessary… and soon enough what I type will be so full of errors that the computer will throw up its hands in dismay and decide to just write the whole damned text for me. With that, writing has died out across the world, except for what the computers send back and forth, believing they are dealing with humans. And Humans writing gibberish to nirvana. God only knows what insanity will arise thereof.
As you may have noticed I’ve been traveling time in this rant. All that stuff will take hundreds of years to happen. So don’t worry about it.

Weigerungshaltung

Refusal to comply. That is what this German word translates to in English. I am always fascinated when single words aren’t directly translatable in another language, but rather have to be described in several words. It makes me wonder if the people speaking these different languages actually think differently. The fact that there is a single succinct word for refusal to comply in German makes me wonder why the Germans were so susceptible to Fascism, why they had such a penchant to compliance. On the other hand the Germans have a tendency to combine several words in to one single word, so what the hell, it probably doesn’t mean a damn thing, in the philosophical sense. We have the Germans language to thank for the word Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft. How’s that for a word?
But that’s not actually what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about Weigerungshaltung: refusal to comply. History has shown that refusal to comply, if it is done by enough people and consistently enough, is far more powerful that any other form of resistance, political or otherwise. So organize, refuse to comply, and do not waver, do not obey. As good old Winston said: “Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
Listening to Memories of Prof. Longhair by Dr. John. How’s that for a non-sequitur?
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Language and Grammar

I am particularly sensitive to grammatical mistakes in the German language, since it isn’t my native tongue. I like to think my English grammar is pretty good, but I know my German grammar is just barely acceptable, though I’ve been speaking it for twenty years now. Nevertheless, I hear Germans making grammatical mistakes in their own language all the time. It’s forgivable in the heat of a verbal conversation, but I’ll admit it sticks in my craw when I read it in normal prose, dialog aside, no matter in which language.
It’s about the flow of a story, for me. Prose has a flow, a rhythm to it, that makes it beautiful, or not. That is part of style, so you can’t simply separate grammar from style, because grammar facilitates a proper rhythm. Prose with sentences that are grammatically false is like a road with potholes, you’re always bouncing up and down, you can’t get comfortable with reading it. Like music with sudden jarringly false notes inserted, it simply doesn’t flow. Besides, there is more than enough flexibility in English grammar to encompass wildly different styles of writing without breaking the rules.
And, after all, language is an important part of the human cultural legacy that is passed on continuously, and it’s self-inherent beauty should be preserved. It’s also about proper communication, and that can’t be done when there are no common rules which everyone adheres to. That said, we also have to realize that languages are living, ever-changing beasts. The rules will be continuously bent and sometimes broken, and if enough people break and bend the same rules in the same way, it becomes common usage and will be accepted as correct grammar.
A good example of this can be seen in Germany, where the English language exerts an increasing influence over the last years. In both languages you have the possessive form, which is denoted in English by an apostrophe and the letter s attached to the noun in question, as in ”Martha’s dog“. In German it’s almost the same, except that there is actually no apostrophe, just the letter s attached, as in ”Marthas Hund“. However, over the last twenty years I have observed that the usage with apostrophe has become more and more common in the German language, though it is quite simply wrong, and I am willing to bet gold ingots against donuts that it will be accepted common usage in another ten years.
So, what’s write, and what’s rong? You’ll have to decide for yourself.