Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Two forms of language.
Language has fascinated me since junior high school (what they call "middle school" in this day and age), though I have had my ups and downs with that fascination. One of the languages of my ancestors immediately springs to mind, French.

That was the first language which I studied in school, starting in the 7th grade up through my freshman year in college. I struggled mightily with le français, it seems that the words in my head would not come out properly through my mouth. Seems that my lips were always getting tangled up as I tried to say things en français.

I received mostly Cs, no doubt Madame gave me the benefit of the doubt on many an exam. I knew the words, just didn't always get them in the right order, with the right tense, or (when speaking) with the correct pronunciation.

Zut! (En anglais, Damn!)

Yes, I seem to have a great facility for learning how to swear in foreign languages. Might be a G.I. kind of thing, we go to foreign countries, try to impress the local ladies, and learn how to say bad things in the local tongue. Not necessarily in that order. (I find that learning how to order a beer is an important first step. After a couple of those, the other things seem easier.)

Language comes in all forms, that paper towel dispenser above (said subject may form the basis of a future TIFPA post) has two forms of language on it. The message in "sergeant-speak" boils down to this -

"You knuckleheads will grab the corners of the paper towel, then you will pull straight down, with the necessary force to cause each towel to tear at the perforations and...
Damn it Schmuckatelli! Nobody said to do that yet.

And I said TWO HANDS!!!"
Uh, where was I?

Yes, two forms of language, one using pictures to convey the proper way to get a paper towel. (With the added bonus of illustrating what to do in the event of no paper towels dangling from the dispenser because the last guy screwed it up.)

The other form of language on the dispenser uses the written word. In three different human languages, English, French, and Spanish. (Which I guess are the most prevalent in these parts. I don't recall seeing anything like this in Germany. I guess the Germans just know how these things work and don't need instructions written on the outside.)

Literally translated the French reads, "Pull with the two hands." The Spanish comes out just like the English, "Pull with both hands." French is more poetic I guess, more expressive. (I can see myself saying that in French with an expressive Gallic shrug, no doubt with a Gauloises dangling from the corner of my mouth, while wearing a beret. No doubt mispronouncing the whole thing. C'est dommage... No, I didn't start smoking again, the French cigarette reference was artistic, or something.)

I did do a little more research on this topic, for instance in Italian the instructions would be, "Tirare con entrambe le mani." Literally, "Pull with both the hands." In German it would be, "Ziehen Sie mit beiden Händen oder ich werde dich geschossen!" Literally, "Pull with both hands or I will have you shot."

Um, no, that's not it at all. I've been watching too many old war movies. The correct wording would be, "Ziehen Sie mit beiden Händen oder ich werde Sie an die Ostfront geschickt! Literally, "Pull with both hands or I will have you sent to the Eastern Front."

No. No. No. No.

Again, too many episodes of Hogan's Heroes in my past. Which reminds me of this, seen over at Tam's place the other day -

Ah, politics...

One more thing, when I started studying German I discovered an affinity for that language. It just seemed to flow, I picked it up pretty quickly, even down to the der, die, das, dem, den (which are some of the many ways to say "the") and such. I had no trouble pronouncing the words and they came out in the right order. Though I still have this damnable inability to roll my Rs, that really bugs me. Though I did have a nice German lady tell me that I spoke German with no accent. The Missus Herself thought that meant I wasn't speaking it right.

Ingrid, the nice German lady, told her, "Oh no, he has no American accent. He sounds like a German when he speaks in German."

Not to brag or anything.

Did you know that all large dogs seem to instinctively understand German? No? Well, it's true. Well, maybe it's just that German lends itself to giving commands, okay, to a dog it sounds like a command. Or barking. German sounds very military when it's barked, like a sergeant barks and...

Verdammt, Schmuckatelli was Sie lachen über?*
Um, yeah. Like that.

FWIW, I now speak French with a German accent. According to the Belgians.

*Damn it Schmuckatelli, what are you laughing about?


  1. The last five weeks at FLETC for Immigration Inspectors was Spanish for Gringos. A huge incentive to pass was that failing meant being fired. And over the next fifteen years of talking to visitors across the counter I learned enough of the other major European languages to do my job. For an Immigration Inspector, speaking a little of many languages was very helpful.

    And I agree, German is the best language for asking demanding questions.

    The more surprising part was that when I was changing languages, I would change to using the physical gestures of the language. Including the semaphore hands of Italian, and the slight shoulder shrug of the French.

    And the English speak English, not American. It was easier to speak English to the English than have them translate from American. Thus the use of the queue instead of line, and the American pronunciation of the word process, (prah-cess) changed into pro-cess.

    I also suspect that anyone that has a gift for mimicry, can speak other languages well.

    And if you were an American with language skill, you destroyed the stereotypical view of Americans.

    I have been able to roll my Rs ever since I first heard it on the Ruffles commercial, and that was a very, very long time ago.

    1. You need to get a feel for the other languages, part of that is the body language. You have to feel it to speak it, at least that's how I figure it.

      Another thing about German, I find myself speaking in a lower register when speaking Deutsch, just seems (and sounds) "more" German.

      The R rolling thing...

      One of my failings. But some day, some day...

  2. I always found that telling someone " SIE! KOMMEN SIE HIER! SCHNELL! " always got a faster response than, " Would you step over here, please "? There is something about German that encourages cooperation.

  3. I took German.
    Got an A for pronunciation, C- for the rest.
    About the same when I took Spanish.
    My French is limited to what I learned from a coworker, "Zut alors!!!"

    1. And that's really all the French you'll ever need.

      (Unless you move to Quebec. Or France.)

  4. My Latin teacher in high school and I had an understanding. I would attend class every morning, build her a float for the local Christmas parade, and she would give me a passing grade. Never could learn music or languages, lol or grammar...Semper Fi

  5. Getting slightly off topic, some of those dispensers are automatic, some not and they do not always tell you. I feel like such an idiot waving my wet hands under the non-automatic ones expecting the paper to come out...actually, maybe I am an idiot.

    I'll bet you could call me that in several languages.

    1. Hhmm, you have reminded me of yet another subtopic to address in my next TIFPA post. Which will probably be tomorrow. Yes, I will give you due credit for bringing up that auto-towel-dispenser-hand-jive thing, and I promise not to call you an idiot. In any language.

  6. Of course all dogs understand German! First, tell your German Sheppard to sit, auf Deutsche, and it will sit.
    Tell your French poodle to sit, in German, and it will pee itself!

  7. That one kinda wandered all over everywhere Sarge... :-)

    1. Yes, it did. My brain sometimes does that. And, it's been a long week.

      No excuse, Sir. ;-)

  8. My late father had a gift for languages and math. Damn genes, I barely passed English and was a rock solid C- in math. His favorite for cussing was Hindustani.

    1. That's pretty cool. Cursing in Hindustani? I must do some research!

  9. I had a hard time understanding Albert from Amazon customer service yesterday. To my ear, his accent had a decided Indian flavor. A big part of the problem was mine as I have considerable hearing loss. I'm sure we could have more or less flawlessly communicated if we'd been face to face; communication is more than language and language is more than words.

    As to the English, I fully subscribe to the notion that we are two peoples separated by a common language. I've friends in Herefordshire, and I'm not sure we could communicate at all did we not share a common third language -- agriculture.

    1. Ah yes, Albert from customer service in Mumbai, I think I know him.

      Much to my chagrin, the only accent I have trouble understanding is one my ancestors would have no trouble with at all. Scottish. I once attempted to chat with an old Scotsman (father of a friend) and couldn't make hide nor hair of what he was on about. All at sea I was. I could hear a loud spinning noise as this occurred, 'twas my Scots forebears spinning in their graves, I had all the understanding of a Sassenach, mortified I was...

      What's worse is that he was speaking (allegedly) in English, not Gaelic.

      You're right though, there is more to communication that mere words. Body language, hand waving, and exasperated looks convey much more information than words.

      And no, talking louder doesn't convey a knowledge of the English language on the other fellow.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)