June 15, 2010 | Greek
Pimsleur Productivity, and Some Thoughts on Respect
There are too many ways to say "you" in this world.
I am doing at least a couple of hours of stretching daily, accompanied by Pimsleur to make it more palatable. All the stretching is helping my Greek skills, but I am not sure I am getting any more flexible, which is unfortunate, since I have been told that flexibility is the key to recovering from my plantar fasciitis (which I find to be a very creepy term) and getting back to running.
Stretching Devices: I Am Really Sick of These Things
Nonetheless, I will keep trying.
In the meantime, I haven’t done Rosetta Stone since Saturday because my second headset in two weeks broke, and I am awaiting a replacement. I am apparently too violent for their hardware.
I got to have fragments of my first Greek conversation today, with a Greek singer who lives in the building! It was so exciting. She is the perfect person to practice Greek with. What makes her the perfect person is that she has a sense of humor, is patient, is not in the slightest bit self-conscious (and therefore makes me not in the slightest bit self-conscious), and is perfectly happy to tell me what I am doing wrong.
It was great. I ran some of the phrases I had learned by her, and she either responded in Greek or corrected me if I made a mistake.
To my surprise, one of the doormen I am friendly with, who was standing there for this exchange, also happens to know some Greek. He told me he used to work in a Greek office. My Greek neighbor is funny. She said in Greek that he (the doorman) was a bad boy and then added to that the Greek equivalent of, “He needs to be spanked.” She cracks me up.
I have been going slightly crazy from not being able to run. Biking and swimming and yoga can only take you so far. At around 5:30 p.m., I considered my feet. I considered my options. I considered that I should maybe go for a walk, even though said feet were hurting. I instantly cheered up.
I packed my iPod Shuffle, filled with dozens of Pimsleur lessons, and headed out for Central Park. It was a beautiful night, and I confess, all those runners out there made me jealous, but I repressed my envy and focused on Greek. I stopped by a set of metal bars at a playground and hung upside down for a while. I contemplated doing a cherry drop (swing from knees, release, land on feet), but decided that would be a terrible idea under the circumstances.
Near Delacorte Theater
Lots of Traffic Around the Reservoir!
After congratulating myself on my sound judgment, I kept walking. I had a couple of different types of foot wraps/braces that I had to keep adjusting depending on how my right foot was feeling. This plantar fasciitis stuff is weird, because it can seem to be fading and then slam you unexpectedly.
I kept doing Pimsleur through everything except the upside-down part. I had started the day in the middle of lesson 14, but by the time I left the park and went home I was partway through lesson 20. The miracle of multitasking!
Central Park West
Now, I am pretty sure the people at Pimsleur would not approve of my methodology—they say do just one half-hour lesson a day—but I would like to point out that I have been doing a lot of language cross-training, so I have already learned through other sources quite a bit of what comes up as I go through these lessons. The fact that Pimsleur is not the only thing I am doing to learn Greek makes a big difference, I feel.
Off the subject of Pimsleur now: I have been meaning to comment on the issue of formal versus informal versions of the word “you.” As is explained in the Teach Yourself Greek book I am reading, by Aristarhos Matsukas:
You use είσαι when talking to one person that you know well, or when he or she is younger than you; this is the “informal form”…However, when you use είσαστε or είστε to one person, it is probably out of respect (with an older person, higher social status and so on)…
This kind of thing drives me nuts. I hate making pronoun choices based on my perception of age and social status. I feel as though no matter what I do, I will commit a social blunder.
On the Way Home, Sunset Approaching
For one thing, I can only make an educated guess about how old someone is. Today’s bizarre and disturbing plastic-surgery addiction makes it that much more difficult to know how old people really are. What if a woman is 55 but looks 35, perhaps because of surgery, or Botox, or both, or perhaps simply because she has habits and genes that tend to prolong her physical youth? What if a man is 30 but because of 10 years of video games and Pringles looks 50?
If I use the formal form with that guy, would it imply that I think he is older than I am when he is not? And if so, wouldn’t that be offensive? How am I, the poor overwhelmed language learner, supposed to assess age, plus social status, plus whatever else I’m supposed to consider, in fractions of a second and then capture all that information with lightning speed in a humble little second-person pronoun?
I’m not blaming Greek here. It is certainly not the only language like this. There is du versus Sie in German, tu versus vous in French, tú versus usted in Spanish. And so on. In fact, the overwhelming majority of languages I have studied (or maybe all, but I would have to stop and think this through) have the same thing going on. I choose wrong all the time, with the usual result being that I sound stupidly formal. I am terrified of being disrespectful. The whole process is very anxiety-ridden and distracts me from more exciting things—say, verbs.
Also, don’t native speakers ever have trouble with stuff like this? Are articles constantly being written in other languages about “you” and perceived breaches of etiquette, sensitive workplace situations, generation gaps in usage, etc.?
My impression, which may or may not be accurate, is that the trend in at least some languages is towards more frequent informality. I like that trend. In fact, I would like to vote right now for a single form for “you.” Actually, wait. I am fine with plural versus singular forms; it’s just the more respect versus less respect thing that gets me.
In the end, a single “you” is very democratic. And while you’re busy being democratic, you also get to be grammatically simpler, which has much to recommend it.