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Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

One of the things I love about languages is that they give an insight into the culture and mindset of the people who use those languages. For example, the laid-back Thais’ word for a workaholic translates as “crazy for work.”

I talk about walking around my suburb for exercise (usually approximately 5-6.5 kms/3-4 miles) or going on an afternoon walk in the bush, the hills, or around the coast for an hour or three. Then on a US programme I watched recently, they referred to a 3.4 mile hike, and my response was immediate.

“That’s a walk,” I thought scornfully, “not a hike!”

We usually translate hike –a word we understand but do not tend to use here in NZ except in hitch-hike – to tramp. A tramp is a serious, overnight at least, usually multi-day, walk out in the wild, and many people belong to Tramping clubs.

Calling a walk a hike is like calling McDonald’s a “restaurant.”

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I vs We

I say “we” a lot. When I talk about my childhood, I often find myself saying “we” meaning my family, or (often) my younger sister and I. These days, I talk about “we” including my husband in the experience, and generally always make it inclusive. I was taught not to focus on myself, or to take too much credit for what I did – such a typical female upbringing. My husband, on the other hand, might, for example, see a photograph and exclaim, “I’ve been there.”

“Goodness,” (or some other suitable word I won’t write here) I will reply, “I wonder who you were there with?”

He doesn’t get it.

Do you experience this too? 

Edit: With men OR women?

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I was never really taught grammar. It wasn’t in vogue in New Zealand in the 1970s, and frankly, I’m not sure it is in vogue here now either. When studying Chinese, our Chinese teacher was appalled that we didn’t really understand the names for all the different tenses etc. So learning Mandarin meant that I learnt more about English too. My grammar knowledge is, therefore, largely self-taught. But if there’s one thing I hate, it’s finding typos and errors in my work. I find them easy to identify in someone else’s work. Show me a blackboard menu and I can pick out all the spelling mistakes and incorrectly placed apostrophe’s. Gotcha! I was just kidding, I know it is apostrophes.

So I use Grammarly, cursing their preference for American spellings, to check my writing. Sometimes I ignore its suggestions, though, and sometimes it just drives me bonkers, as in the few examples below:

It won’t allow me to write “hospital” as a stand-alone word. Eg, “when I was in hospital.”

It doesn’t like “a sombre few weeks.”

It wanted me to replace “I have little time” with “a little time” which changes the meaning of the sentence.

Of course, it hates the fact that I don’t use plurals for Maori words – eg “the tui are singing in my garden.” Actually, it’s not too fond of Maori words in the first place.

Worse, it will include all these disagreements in my emailed weekly report, which is like a school report, and it makes me feel as if I need to defend myself!

I am thankful for it, though. I cut and paste a lot when I’m drafting a blog, trying to get it to flow. Unfortunately, by the time I’ve finished the post, I often cannot be bothered proof-reading. Then months or years later, when re-reading any of my posts, I get a nasty shock finding typos, confused tenses, and half-sentences, amongst other egregious grammatical errors. I am mortified when I find these. But I do thank you, my readers, for being too polite to point these out!

Fortunately, Grammarly isn’t so polite.

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I love the phrase “it’s never too old to teach an old dog new tricks.” I love it because I’m fast becoming that thing, an old dog or a middle-aged woman, that society tends to write off. I love it because I feel there is still so much to learn in this life, and I’m going to run out of time. Or, like my mother perhaps, run out of brain-power time.
Languages and self-taught internet stuff are the main things I learn these days. I like learning. It makes me feel as if I still understand the world, rather than watching it catch up and ultimately overtake me. I remember the last few weeks of the summer holiday when I was at school. My brain was ready for learning new things, and I’d start doing maths problems, or trying to learn new things – any new things – to feel challenged and alive.

I’m a bit the same now. So here’s a short list of things I’d like to learn* over the next year:

  1. Some new recipes – including but not limited to pumpkin gnocchi.
  2. Spanish. I taught myself some basics for our trip to Spain back in 2007. I’d like to refresh and improve on that. After all, if we can ever afford to travel again, we’ll be heading eastward, towards Latin America.
  3. Chinese. I studied it about 18 years ago, but have forgotten almost all I learned. My Chinese teacher said to me “the second time you learn a language, it sticks.” It was true with Thai.  I hope it works  now at my advanced age too.
  4. Computer coding. Maybe starting just with html, as I only know the bare basics. But I’d like to explore other areas too.
  5. Yoga. I need to get into an exercise form that doesn’t put too much pressure on my knees, and that helps with stretching. I’ve always wanted to learn yoga, but have been put off by the skinny young things at the classes. So I’ll have to figure out a way to do it until I can feel comfortable at a class.
  6. Maths. I always enjoyed it as an academic exercise. I’d like to remind myself of this again, having forgotten so much since my last formal lesson over 34 years ago.
  7. How to put my theoretical knowledge into practice when it comes to marketing and (self) promotion.

* Inspired by Bridgett at South City Musings. The first thing she says to describe herself is “I like to learn.”

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1.  Be original.  This post is a complete copy of Bridgett’s idea, and some of my items are also direct lifts from her post.  They’re here though because they spoke to me so strongly.  I wish I’d thought of this first!

2.  Wake up early, full of enthusiasm for the day, full of energy.  I’ve never been a morning person.  I love the dawn, the early morning hush, the start of activity in a community.  I especially love dawn when I am travelling.  But I don’t love getting up for it.  I don’t love the death-warmed-up feeling I have as I fall out of bed, and usually stays with me for the next half hour.  My husband can leap out of bed at 6 am and feel fine.  He doesn’t understand me, and I think he’s an alien.

3.  Speak a language fluently. I fear I am too old to ever achieve this. Yes, I speak Thai, but I’ve forgotten so much, and the more I learned, the more fluency rushed off ahead of me, daring me to try to reach it. I’ve forgotten so much Mandarin that I can’t really speak it at all now. I’m working intermittently on Spanish, and would dearly love to improve my schoolgirl French, that comes so naturally at times, and completely deserts me at others.  Italian appeals too – just because I love the way it sounds (and I could use it to order pasta and gelato, two of my favourite things).  This of course is precisely the reason why I can’t speak a language fluently!  I find them all too interesting, and too attractive, to focus just one.

4.   Ski. I would love to be able to ski. I’ve only tried it once, and the boots hurt my shin bones so dreadfully I had to give up after half a day, just as I was getting the hang of it.  I have this romantic notion of swishing  down the slopes, of jetting off for ski-ing holidays to Canada or Colorado or the French Alps or Zermatt.  The fact I don’t like heights, or the cold, is of course irrelevant in this fantasy.

5.   Ride a horse.  Oh, I dreamed of riding when I was little.  All those English girls’ books about riding and horses and ponies sucked me in completely.  But I never  got the opportunity.  Now I’d worry about the poor horse having to hold me up – but I’d still like to learn.  I love the idea of moseying along a trail somewhere in North America, or racing across lush green grass.

6.  Ditto for tennis. I can play, but I’d like to be able to play much better. Or live in a place where playing would be easier.  Ditto for golf.

7.  Stay organised and tidy.  I know how to be organised.  I know how to set up systems to be organised.  I can do all that without difficulty.  But I don’t do it.  (Another example of doing not as I say.)  Then it becomes overwhelming, too hard, and the disorganisation creates further disorganisation.  I could take a photo of my desk at the moment to prove this.  But I won’t.  The shame, the shame!

8.  Make my own patterns.  I like sewing.  Or rather, I did like sewing.  I made a lot of my own clothes when I first started working – sewed my own 1980s suits, complete with lining and shoulder pads.  I stopped when I got cats.  They liked playing with the cotton and fabric, and laying out the fabric on the floor, on the thin pattern tissue paper, was just asking for trouble.  They thought I was giving them a game.  Anyway, I often have an idea in my head of what I want to make, but when I go to buy patterns, they never have anything quite right.  I’d love to be able to make my own patterns, and sew my own ideas.  I watch Project Runway in envy.

9.  Be brave.  It would be nice to be physically brave – to not worry about heights, to be able to hop and skip across a swing bridge, to hike the wonderful scenic routes in the southern parts of this country without fear.  And to be brave in other terms – to be brave enough to put myself out there emotionally.  I do it sometimes – I mean, taking off at 17 to live in Bangkok was pretty brave.  But other times, I don’t even want to pick up the telephone.  (I mean, it is a menacing, evil machine at times!)

10.  Not worry about what other people think.  Yes, I know this is related to #9, and being emotionally brave.  Perhaps it is worth noting a second time.  Perhaps this is why my latest crush is on Brene Brown who writes about vulnerability.  (But I’m getting ahead of myself.  More on that to come …)

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We met at 16. She was the foreigner, the stranger from Buffalo, New York, USA. She’d crossed the world and ended up in our little town. I was the enthusiastic sixth former, hoping for (but at the time unaware of) the opportunity to go on a similar adventure of my own. We became friends, and shared a great year. I remember the day Betsy left. Another friend and I got up early, and headed to the airport of the nearest city, ready to farewell her. January 1980: It was a gloomy morning, reflective of all our moods. It took 20 years for us to meet again, this time in Florida, in February 2000. I met her husband, and we found again we had a lot in common.

We didn’t have to wait so long for our most recent reunion. This last week, a mere 12 years since our last meeting, Betsy returned to New Zealand for the first time in 32 years. It was her husband’s first visit here. They arrived in time to sit down, with a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, and check the US election results. They were happy, we were happy, and we proceeded to have a good couple of days together. I showed them Wellington, and besides the bitter chill in the air (freezing to Floridians), the harbour city put on a good day. Yesterday we ventured over the hill to the Martinborough wine village, and tasted some wine and ate lunch amongst the vines. We laughed at the occasional linguistic difficulties – accents, and terminology. Translating rocket to arugula, and explaining fritters, learning about hush puppies (I thought they were shoes). The sky was blue, unmarred by clouds, and the sun – thankfully –warmed the bones of the travellers and residents alike. Today we said good-bye, making plans to meet again – perhaps in five years or so, and perhaps somewhere like Napa Valley, where we could indulge our shared interest in wine. Before we get out the Zimmer frames at least!

It was wrong that we had both turned 50 this year. We still felt like the teenagers we were when we had met. She at least still looks like the teenager I knew. My first US friendship. Not my last. And now there’s Craig too. But I am counting on my friendship with Betsy being the longest.

At times though I feel I have too many far-flung relationships. They take a toll; missing people who were, no … are, an important part of my life (whether I’ve met them yet or not). Yet they bring great joy too. I hope you all know that.

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A Canadian friend taunted me recently. To generalise, our dialogue has centred on the linguistic differences between us. Her behaviour is amusing, though wrong! Helen, in finalising this, I dedicate it to you.

In my mind, there are no grey areas here. I harbour a real fondness for the aesthetics of the English language. In its defence, I kick to the kerb any notion that we might harmonise our usage, abandon the elegant “s” for the harsher, uglier “z” (pronounced zed of course), and amongst all the clamour from my North American friend, I must baulk at the loss of colour in this beautiful and complex language I have learnt since before my birth. No, I argue that any standardisation should be in favour of English, and we should practise the spelling specialities of the language, and expel the tumour, the move away from those fun quirks we love so much.

In an effort to emphasise practice rather than just pure emotion, I turned to Google. Google, in response to my enquiry, shows that in this matter, Canadians sit on the fence, half-way between true English, and US English. So Helen, we apparently have quite a lot in common? The discovery of a list of spellings with English, US and Canadian usage was a marvellous resource, adding to my previously meagre knowledge of the extent to which those Americans have changed the language. I of course was familiar with their use of the zed. And, I confess (shudder even), that some New Zealanders also do this, though it is not yet a majority usage. But there were spelling variations on this list that shocked me. Clearly, I am exercising judgement here. (Of course, I must add that I am resting cosy, with this smug demeanour, reliant on the fact that this list is accurate. Please don’t penalise me if it is not. Though I realise that mistakes would mean this post could lose its lustre, I hope it will cause no rancour. I am not sceptical – I have no reason to think that mistakes will be made – though I am sure you will point them out.) So I shall continue my labour with vigour, if not glamour. I shall not apologise, so humour me, my friends, recognise the calibre of my argument, and understand my candour.

Right, let’s plough on, shall we? On with the programme. Let me share some titbits that amused me from this list. But first, I must close the door. There’s a cold draught coming in, since that summer downpour that started a few hours ago. This summer I have seriously taken offence at the weather. Nature is playing jokes on us – perhaps her oestrogen levels are low. Perhaps she wants to see our dependants huddled together, taken warmth from chilli as there is none from the sun. Perhaps this is her way of dialling us up, of getting our attention. But no, what she’s really doing is promoting the growth of mould in our leaky homes, paralysing our efforts to fulfil New Year’s resolutions, rather than galvanising us to honour our good fortune and enjoy our favourite season. The pretence that we are in summer is wearing thin. Rumour has it the warm weather will not return, fuelling my resolve to go travelling in search of weather that doesn’t require me to wear woollen clothing. Not yet.

Clearly I need a counsellor. (And a dietician, but that’s a post for another day, when I’m ready to give up lasagne and doughnuts, though I know an omelette would be healthier). Someone bring me the cheque. One instalment is enough. Time is moving on, and I am, as always, ageing. I have much to do before boarding an aeroplane in a few days.

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