Sunday, March 06, 2005

121 days left (before departure, but not mine)

Two people experience a loss. They recover their sanity and their cheer in the course of a road trip. They decide that road trips are the way to go. And so they plan to set out, for a year, traveling randomly around the country, 121 days from today. [This is my terse summary – don’t neglect clicking onto the travelers’ own version, planted in their sidebar.]

I have blogrolling to thank for the various blog connections that I have made this week-end – all inclined toward the story telling that I love so much. I cannot end this day without urging you to check this one as well: home sweet road. It’s like a book that you can’t put down, only you read it backwards, in the way that happens with blogs.

More on learning languages

Isn’t it funny that a chapter on the Polish language should itself make use of a term in a way that is incorrect in that given context! A reader reminds me that “steep learning curve” (as in: Polish has a steep learning curve) is so often used to mean "hard to learn" whereas it actually implies just the opposite.

Ah well, it could be that “steep learning curve” will eventually become so standard in its misuse that it will replace the technical term (with its original source in engineering).

And speaking of incorrect meaning, I thought of still another delicious aspect of the Polish language: it makes use of sounds that Americans simply cannot reproduce. For example, the “sz” letter combination creates a harsh version of an English “sh.” Now, if you say the simple word “prosze” in Polish, you are saying (depending on the inflexion and context) either “here you are” or “take this please” or “what would you like” or “you’re welcome” or “what did you say?” All those meanings in one word!

But I can guarantee that the list of meanings does not include “pig.” Yet, the English speaking person invariably pronounces it as “pro-sh-eh.” Thus, in an attempt at courtesy, they are telling the listener “Pig! You pig! You rotten hog in a pig sty!” It’s quite funny to the impartial observer.


An morning walk on a sunny day revealed this:
only one small patch so far, but it's enough to make you grin. Posted by Hello

Learning languages

I was just reading a book about the Polish language. Why, you might ask? Don’t I know it already? Oh yes, sure, of course. But I had this curiosity about what it is that I know. For example, these heretofore unknown to me truths emerged:

* Linguistic associations rank Polish as belonging to the group of ten most difficult languages in the world.
* In addition to the difficulties of the language itself (all those consonants! A simple word like wzbronione seems to cause English speaking people great pain, and they totally fall apart when faced with a little nothing, like szczerze), understanding is further confounded by the fact that meaning often changes depending on inflexion, pronunciation and emphasis. [I love the example given: in Polish, when you say “Iran attack Iraq” it can mean either that Iran attacked Iraq, or vice versa, depending on the context.]
* Polish has seven characters that exist in no other alphabet.
* Polish has seven cases, two numbers and three genders and an adjective qualifying a noun must agree in all three respects OR ELSE!
* And finally, this is said of it: Polish has a steep learning curve.

I have no idea what they mean – it took me no time at all to pick it up. A babe could do it.

And it’s not as if English doesn’t present its own challenges. As a new kid on the English-speaking block, I had to come to terms with the fact that English has sixteen verb tenses.
You truly are insane! Why do you need all those verb tenses? In Polish, we only have three: past, present, future. Why muck around with all the absurd had beens and will have hads? Perhaps you should stop trying to simplify the tax code and concentrate instead (since you clearly want to make English the universal language) on getting rid of 13 of the tenses. You’ll do some three billion people an enormous favor.

One child left behind

I know, I'm now engaged in the mutual blogrolling thing and so you can find him on my list here, on the left, but if you’re not a roll clicker, then at least click here in this post. You just have to read this guy. Blogging, to me, has always been all about picking up little bits from a day (or from the past, or from one's mind) and writing short little stories around them. His are phenomenally well done.

Are we gonna let de-elevator bring us down, Oh, no let’s go! Let’s go crazy, Let’s go nuts!

The last time I felt that engaged with dancing was on a field trip, in a Polish youth hostel, with my new classmates (I had just that year come back from the States), when I was fourteen. That day was marked by significant bridge-building for me. It’s as if I was desperate to hang onto my fading American ways. I danced as if my life really did depend on it. It was so new to be dancing in this way in Poland, in the spring of 1967. I felt like I’d been all wound up and then someone pressed the “go” button.

So what explains last night? I am not one of those people who lives to dance, who cannot say no to an evening of movin’ to the beat. Fine, yes, my foot twitches to the sound of music, but it stops there. With few exceptions (all in the last year, actually), I don’t normally get up and dance for significant number of hours, without pause, without catching my breath.

It had to be the coming of spring. Or my thinking so much lately about Poland and that period where I was more Polish again than American (and which am I now?). It must be that the hostess created the right conditions. Yeah, that’s it! The dance space, people drifting in and out, in the way that people drift in and out of your life in general – engaged, then off at the sidelines, partnering you then letting go, standing back as you continue to do your thing.

When did I finally stop? At some point, well after midnight. I was all danced out. Like at the hostel in Poland, something inside you says – okay, that was good, now it’s time to put it aside and move on to the next day.