William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

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The Office + French (completely unrelated topics, same blog)

I’m getting into The Office, which we are watching on DVD here most nights. I love it. In fact, it is my new favourite show. If I told you everything I loved about it, though, I would spoil it on you. You must see this show. It gets better and better each episode!

[Why I like The Office, The Paragraph: When the show begins, a few of the characters have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and virtually everything they say makes you cringe. As it moves on, though, these same characters show their small redeeming sides, and I’ve never seen a half-hour show so rich in character development. There’s also a reasonably tight (not to mention engaging) plot arc, though each episode is watchable on its own.]

I’m in a funk where I’m being annoyed by a lot of things, and I was just about to make a list, but that’s a really bad idea. So let’s talk about French. French is more analytical than English, which is its most appealing quality for me. It is a language where you can spell things out bit by bit, and it’s considered normal! In English, it’s very easy to be too pedantic. This natural tendency to the literal makes it very easy to describe things with total precision and zero ambiguity – in fact, I’m getting the impression that precision is innate to French. I can speak English with precision too, but it is like trying to use a broad-stroke paintbrush to paint someone’s eyelashes – it’s possible, but it’s unnecessarily hard. If I make one little change to a word, it completely changes the time and/or meaning of my phrase; I realize that the same is all too true in French, but because French phrases are longer for the most part, you have a little more grace.

In a very real sense, English and French are kind of like the Windows and Linux of languages. Here’s why:

With Linux and French:
~ Great inherent capabilities, but few people know how to exercise them fully.
~ But nobody uses them.
~ Everything has a logical explanation. Sometimes things are logical to the point that they confound people accustomed to illogic.
~ When something goes wrong, you can find out what it is and how to fix it.
~ Everybody agrees that it’s a good idea that everybody use them.
~ Yet nobody uses them.

With English and Windows:
~ Great inherent difficulties, while few people know how to ameliorate them fully.
~ But everybody uses them.
~ Everything else is quantified in relation to them (also goes for the U.S. dollar).
~ Nothing has an inherently logical explanation; you may either refer to a [guru / linguist] or simply exclaim, “It’s [Windows / English]!”
~ When something goes wrong, you can either find out what it is and be unable to solve the problem, or you can solve the problem without knowing what caused it.
~ Everybody agrees that it’s a good idea that everybody find something else to use.
~ Yet everybody still uses them.

The operating system metaphor completely breaks down once you get away from European languages (I think Polish is Solaris on SPARC; Latin is probably DOS 3.3), which is why I can’t call (for example) Esperanto Mac OS/X, because Esperanto itself has a severe European bias in drawing primarily from Romantic, Germanic, and Slavic languages (and possibly others that I presently forget). Perhaps there are other constructed languages that address this issue. But the thing of it is, we don’t really need a constructed language if all it takes to foster communication skills is a month of immersion. That was all it took for me to begin to communicate in Polish, and I’m definitely not nearly the quickest learner.

God, I miss Poland. I would give a lot to be back in Chełmno at orientation camp again. I really need to go back there and learn the language; ah, but how? And when? If only I had begun my education when I began university! Still, it’s not too late to make a tear and build myself some real skills!

A thing that bugs me is that the French instruction I had all through grade school was total crap. You can’t possibly convince me that (for example) learning to conjugate avoir, être, and –er verbs, and only in their present tenses, is adequate for fifth grade on PEI. How can you possibly get by on that plus cereal-box and Sesame Street vocabulary?! Knowing what I know now, I could teach elementary school French better than any of my other teachers ever did. My pronunciation is susceptible to improvement, and not long ago I sometimes needed a dictionary to spell maintenant; (can you imagine needing a dictionary to spell “now?”) but even so, I know I could do it, and it would probably be my favourite class to teach.

I’ll leave you with this. Consider these English phrases:

You just weren’t a pretty face.

You weren’t just a pretty face.

Not only is there a drastic change in meaning here, but said distinction also had to be pointed out to the person speaking the original phrase (in its first form, when she meant the second). Yes, said person was an Anglophone.

I’m picking on this person a little, and I’m really just mentioning this to illustrate how important it is that we watch our grammar and listen to the way each of ourselves speak. This is language, which we all too often take for granted, without which we would have no culture or communication. Yes, we should certainly have fun while we learn – it’s the only way to learn anything, really – but language in general needs to be taken much more seriously. Even at the beginner beginner point I am at now, I feel like I am … definitely being way too pedantic. Good night, guys!

Your friend,
~ Will

PS: Next time, I will talk about the Freshmart. I might have time this weekend, which might also be my last hurrah with teh 1nt3rn3t en anglais until I go home, since the campus will be back into French-only mode after Monday night. I won't be on a contract, but I don't want to be all like, "oooh, I can use Facebook and you can't," or even to look that way, so unless Lee and I can get the Internet at our new apartment across the road and up the street (which we move into tomorrow evening), it might be LJ-only for a little while again. Maybe I'll even blog in French again, just for the heck of it!
Tags: sainte-anne 2007

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