Thursday, November 3, 2011

What we have here ...

I don't care much for foreign languages.

I love English so much that I can happily waste hours each day playing scrambled word games on my Kindle, just for the joy of the words themselves—and because I get to pat myself on the back each time I remember I can spell “prise” with an “s.”

Reaching that level of smug self-satisfaction in a foreign language takes decades of intensive study. And my ego just doesn't have that kind of time.

Danae signed up for private Hindi lessons almost as soon as we arrived. She dutifully records her teenage tutor's every word (excepting the ones that deal primarily with her complicated personal life), so as to perfect her pronunciation. 

And she has gamely embraced the infantilization that is an inescapable side effect of attempting to communicate in an unknown tongue: She sounds like a two-year old with a speech impediment, and native speakers treat her like one.

Granted, there are times when relying on a combination of English spoken very loud and extravagant hand gestures fails, but in my experience, you're just as likely to suffer a total communication breakdown with a few half-learned phrases of the local language as you are with none.

At least in English, left and right don't rhyme.

Consider the following exchange with Danae's tutor, concerning the Muslim festival popularly known as Bakra Eid, because it features the sacrifice of a goat:

“Next week am festival—Bakra Eid.”
“Bakra Eid?”
Ha. Bakra is God.”
(Eyes become unfocused, attempting to remember the lesson when the word “bakra” last came up. God?)
Ha. Hindi-'Bakra.' English-'God.'”
(With deepening confusion—)
“'Bakra' is 'God?'”
“Uh, 'Allah?'”
Nehi, nehi! God! God!”
Oh, goat.

You see? Replace all those words with wild hand gestures, and you still have no idea why so many neighborhoods are suddenly full of extra livestock, but at least you could avoid suggesting to a devout Muslim that she worships goats.

. . .

So, undoubtedly you want to know about how the novel's coming. It's, well, today is the first day during the official Month in which my computer has worked, so so far, it's not coming. Tricky, trying to keep up with these deadlines on the old Inspiron 600m. (Why the “m?” That named sounded dated the moment I bought it, and this was a state-of-the-art machine once.)

So, if you figure there are twenty-six days left in the month, divided into 50,000 words, that equals—a whole bunch of words a day. I'll try to put in a fair bit on the train to Calcutta tomorrow.


  1. I find the new background more distracting/disorienting. That is to say, it's harder to read the posts. Less contrast with the text, maybe?

  2. Is it really? I thought it was easier. I'll change it back; I liked the old one better anyway.

  3. Changed my mind when I saw that a picture of the ghats on the river was an option...