There's lot in the queue about language, all-in-one devices, slippery slopes, and other lost topics. Deferred while doing "work." To start back, two language items:
On Presidents and verbs:
Last month I mentioned that in Japanese the term "to Obama" -- Obamu, オバむ -- had been accepted as a verb signifying hopefulness despite obstacles, "yes we can," etc. A reader with experience in Japan reminds me that there is a precedent:
"I was living in Japan 97-98 at the height of the Lewinsky brouhaha. At that time, Clinton's name became a joke of sort in the Japanese press. They were referring to him as Bill "Furinton". You see, in Japanese, "furin" [不倫] is the verb "to commit adultery". So they were calling him "Furinton Daitoryo" or essentially "President Adultery."
On la vie Francophone:
Background here, with my assertion that Japan = France when it comes to dealing with outsiders who try to handle their language, whereas China = the United States. A reader writes:
"I just wanted to share my experiences of living, though briefly, in Francophone cultures. A year ago, I spent a couple of months living and working in Belgium. Where I lived, Brussels, is decidely Francophone. With that said, most of my attempts to use French within the city were politely but quickly rebuffed as the person I would be speaking to would switch to mostly flawless English.
"Although I was staying in Brussels, my work was at an office twenty miles north in Mechelen, which is decidely Flemish. Most of my coworkers there were Flemish, spoke three languages (Dutch, French, English) fluently and often a fourth one (German) fluently as well. As I got to know them I would try speaking French with them as well, since I did not know any Dutch. They would compliment me on how well I spoke French; which I interpreted as an exaggerated compliment reflective of the expectation that few Americans can speak anything other than twangy English. They would humor me for a couple of minutes then state "I don't like to speak French" which would usually be followed by an unloading, in perfect English, of their resentment of the Francophone population (Walloons") within Belgium....
"Over the years I have actually spoke more French up in Quebec City and even Montreal than I did in a two-month period in Brussels. The "Quebecois" would still tend to gradually switch to a cutely-accented English, and one told me that is often done after they make sure I am not another Canadian, as the use of French is a matter of nationalist identity there. But I felt the attempt, though seemingly clumsy, to speak French and to try and understand the Quebecois dialect, was much more appreciated among the Quebecois than the Bruxellois."
Might as well extend the broad-brush perspective to more nations and languages. Three updates in a two-update item! A reader writes:
"My wife is Swedish and at various times over the years when visiting her family, I have made some attempts at the language. In some ways this is silly - pretty much every Swede takes English from grade-school on and thus will almost always have a basic level of English - but you like to feel like your making an effort in matters of the heart. But I have found an interesting phemonmenon. I will say a phrase or word in Swedish and NO ONE will be have any idea what I am trying to say. To my ear, it will sound perfect, but they will be clueless until I explain what I am saying. They will then laugh and say "oh you mean..." and then pronounce it EXACTLY the same way I did (at least to my ear).
"For a while, I just assumed that I had a terrible ear for language and that Swedish, as a tonal language is particularly difficult to master. But then someone else who had experienced the same thing told me another theory. Outside of some immigrants, almost no one ever learns Swedish as an adult. As a result, so his theory goes, Swedes pretty much only hear "pure" Swedish, and have no experience at all hearing "broken" Swedish, so the slightest variety on the language just doesn't compute for them."
On the phenomenon of locals having NO IDEA what you are saying because of a difference of tone -- after the recent years in China, don't get me started....
Extra bonus! German and Dutch!
No reason to hold back now. Number four:
"A variation on your and your readers' comments on different countries' attitudes. I studied German in school, and can get around in Germany; I lived in The Netherlands for three years and picked up a fair bit of Dutch. But it was the reaction of shopkeepers in both countries that I found interesting. In The Netherlands, I would go into a shop and ask for something in Dutch, and the shopkeepers would invariably reply in English. In Germany, we would speak German unless I had to say I didn't understand something.
"The difference, I discovered, lay in the fact that the Dutch, like the Scandinavians, took great pride in knowing English. They could tell I was not only a foreigner, but a native English speaker by the way I spoke Dutch. (Once I lost my German accent on my Dutch, which isn't the best thing to have -- long memories, there.) So rather than being considerate, by speaking Dutch I was undercutting something - the ability to speak English - that was ingrained into the Dutch as a national advantage. Conversely, I've found in both business and personal travel that many, many Germans do not know English."
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.