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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Thank you, Language

Though I still intend to be a psychologist, there was a while I considered going into linguistics. Language FASCINATES me, and because of that I've studied (at least in brief) quite a number; these include Mandarin, German, Latin, Ancient Greek, and French. Chinese is the latest and I'm very excited about it. Apparently Mandarin is the #1 language spoken in the world--even more common than English, so it's a good one to learn.

One thing about Mandarin I find really cool is that the tone of voice you use with a certain word can change its meaning. Because of this, you can actually have a sentence made up of one syllable over and over again like "Mama ma ma ma" (translated, this means Did your mother scold a horse?); the words are differentiated by their melody. Some of these "tones" are really pretty; it almost sounds like you're singing.

One drawbacks of this way of speaking is that saying a full sentence in Mandarin (for the inexperienced) is kind of like playing a phrase on piano off of sheet music you don't know, in base clef when you're used to treble, with your bad hand, when you aren't familiar with piano. In other words, there are a LOT of things to think about. However, once you find the underlying beat, the rhythm of what you're trying to say, it really flows and you feel--or at least I feel!--very accomplished.

One fear I had about these tones is that it would take away some expression I use in my words. I use melody to show what I'm saying, my mood, how serious I am, how urgent. I think it's like in French, how none the words have built in stress (like how we say AK-sent for accent rather than ak-SENT. In France, they only stress the last syllable of a phrase). Learning English for them must feel limiting, since they cannot stress things as they feel them, if that makes sense. In the end, I think it's all just a matter of getting into the language and understanding its flow. Once you get that then expressing yourself should be easy.

Anyhow, language rocks. One of the ways I appreciate it is by 'collecting' "Thank you" and "Hello" in all the different tongues I can. Here are a few I've managed to gather from friends and classes and other such things throughout these seventeen years that have made up my life.

 Latin: Gratias
Spanish: Gracias (note the "C" in place of the "T" you find in Latin)
German: Danke
French: Merci
Hindi: Meherbani
Russian: (pronounced) spa-SI-bo
Mandarin: (pronounced SHEE-EH shee-eh)

Anyhow, gratias/gracias/danke/merci/meherbani/spa-SI-bo/xiexie for reading!


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