September 13, 2010 | Hindi

Ghosts of Languages Past

Memories of previous languages studied haunt my current language (in a good way).

For a long time I have found the entrance and exit signs at Food Emporium on Broadway and 68th Street bewildering.

I believe that there is an “enter” sign on the front door as you come into the store off the street. Totally reasonable.

But then they also seem to put “enter” on any door that, from the perspective of the viewer, you are allowed to pass through, regardless of its relationship to actually entering or exiting the store’s space. It appears that someone overanalyzed the terminology, a dangerous practice that, in grammar and vocabulary, often leads people away from common sense and into inanity.

Entering the Sidewalk from Food Emporium

Entering the Sidewalk from Food Emporium

I don’t know how else it could have come to be that rather than exiting a store, one finds oneself “entering” the world. It’s kind of moving in a way, but also feels like a lot of pressure when you are doing something as mundane as carrying a bag of groceries.

Enough of English, though. As I move along in this project, I find myself making comparisons to other languages from the past 14 months.

More Hindi words, for instance, keep popping up that remind me of Arabic. “Morning” in Hindi is pronounced subha. In Arabic I recall saBAH. Leykin is “but” in Hindi, which sounds very similar to lakin, “but” in Arabic.

I love being able to make these kinds of connections. It is completely different from reading in a history book, “Arabic had a major influence on Hindi via Persian.” You don’t feel that. And I personally have trouble remembering it.

But when you immerse yourself in actual vocabulary, it becomes a part of you to some degree.

Another comparison I keep making is between Hindi, which is not as difficult as I expected, and Greek, which was more difficult than I expected. As I think I have mentioned before, some words are just plain easier in Hindi than they were in Greek. I had a lot of trouble remembering “inside,” “outside,” “under,” and “over” in Greek, but am having very little trouble recognizing them in Hindi. The translation just seems more natural and logical in Hindi—which I suppose may amount to being more English-like?

I am also noticing that in Rosetta Stone TOTALe, I am experiencing some advantages, probably unfair ones, just from having used TOTALe before with other languages. That’s because concepts—and the photos illustrating them—are reused across languages. In the Greek version there was a guy making a face as he smelled a carton of milk—and he is back doing the same thing again, in Hindi.

Apparently uneducable. It reminds me of an old Saturday Night Live skit where the characters compulsively insist on smelling rotten milk and other spoiled foodstuffs, I think around a dinner table.

Anyway, where I might have struggled to understand a Rosetta Stone sentence in Greek, I can tell what the Hindi means just by remembering the pictures and associated concepts from before. This probably isn’t ideal from a language-learning point of view, but it does make life easier in the short term.

Everything You Need to Know About Bread, in Hindi

Everything You Need to Know About Bread, in Hindi

Tonight on the subway I did a little work in Mohini Rao’s Teach Yourself Hindi book.

This was on my way with Brandt to a farewell party for our friends Marty and Julia, two cool and extremely creative people who are moving from New York to Minneapolis.

I am sad.

To take my mind off their imminent departure, I practiced writing scintillating sentences such as the ones shown here. It helped.

Comments (1)

Natalia Wo • Posted on Wed, August 26, 2015 - 6:14 am EST

Finding comparisons between different languages is one of my favourite moments in language learning! Realising how previously learned languages help you tackle next ones make polyglot adventure seem more sensible and worth all this effort.
By the way, I’m a huge fan of your project and blog. शाबाश!

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