May 23, 2012 | Review Period

Another Multilingual Day

I worked at NYC & Company yesterday and spoke five languages in four hours.

As indicated in the subtitle above, yesterday I spoke five languages in four hours during my volunteer shift at an NYC & Company information center, where tourists from around the world descend to get information about, and tickets for, many New York City attractions. 

The problem is, I spoke none of them well, except for English. Sigh. I am having language confusion. Vendredi (Friday) in one of my ostensibly French sentences mutated into venerdi, which is Italian. They are close, but you know, it just doesn’t sound so hot when you start mucking around with another language’s choice of vowels and consonants.

Marcel Danesi's Complete Italian Grammar

Marcel Danesi’s Complete Italian Grammar

As I go through more and more grammar review, one thing that has struck me (again) as inelegant in Italian is that you must repeat demonstratives before each noun. Is that true in the other languages? It is very exhausting sometimes to run from one language to the next trying to conjure up parallel examples, so I will focus on complaining about Italian for the moment.

My Complete Italian Grammar by Marcel Danesi gives me this example: questo zio e questa zia, translating literally as “this uncle and this aunt.” And another: questi ragazzi e queste ragazze, meaning literally “these boys and these girls.”

By the way, one basically always says “my aunt and uncle” in English, no? Perhaps this is because it sounds more harmonious? I would never say “my uncle and aunt.”

I also generally say “my mother and father” rather than “my father and mother,” but that one seems less set in stone than the leading “aunt.” I think I would be more inclined to say “boys and girls” than “girls and boys,” but I probably use both.

I just polled my husband, and he has identical preferences and tendencies. Which suggests, since sometimes the female leads above and sometimes the male, that there is an aesthetic rather than a gender basis for these word-order conventions in English.

Anyway, back to the Italian demonstrative-repetition requirement: I would guess it creates writing challenges, that you sometimes have to be strategic and come up with a construction that does not require a long list of questo forms for different Italian nouns?

By the way, some of the stuff I am getting confused about is really embarrassing me. I will ‘fess up, even though I have a very strong desire not to: today I had to pause to figure out “not” in Italian. It is in fact non.

The thing is, I have been doing a lot of French and I was thrown by the fact that non is “no” in French, not “not.” I think under the circumstances that it is not ridiculous to be momentarily confused, but it sure feels ridiculous.

Comments (1)

Katherine • Posted on Wed, January 30, 2013 - 10:37 am EST

I definitely think that the most confusing are the simple words we forget to think about. I have had many polyglot moments in which I stuttered “Oui! Si! Da!” before I remembered I was speaking Russian..

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