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Rant on partial understandings (was: Spoken French, coins)

From:John Cowan <jcowan@...>
Date:Friday, December 21, 2001, 19:57
Christophe Grandsire wrote:

> The story I know is that a woman escaped guillotine by saying she was not > talking about a "roi", but a "rouet"
Yes, of course, a typo on my part. If I can't get the gender of "age" right, you expect me to get final silent letters right? ObSemiRelevant: I was eating dinner in a French restaurant yesterday, (Pergola Des Artistes at 252 W. 46th St. in Manhattan; excellent food) and in the men's room was a poster of an ocean liner with a French inscription more or less as follows (I didn't have pen and paper, and may have misremembered something): NORMANDIE Cie. Gle. Transatlantique 60 Voyages 400.000 Milles Marins 115.000 Passagers Au 1er Janvier 1939 Now, I already knew that "Cie." means "Company", and a bit of thought told me that "Gle" must be "Generale". "NORMANDIE" is the name of the vessel, as I already knew, and the numbers and date are obvious: sixty voyages, 400,000 nautical miles, 115,000 passengers, and the first of January, 1939. ("English as misspelled French.") In short, without knowing any French at all, I understand all the 10-euro words on this poster, and only one tiny, tiny detail escapes me: Does it mean "since 1 January 1939" or "before 1 January 1939"? Which of course is a point that is obvious to any French three-year-old, who does not know the big words at all! I have similar problems with IALs, where again the roots are plain but the grammatical endings are often not. Don Harlow (I think) says that if you learn that "droni" means "to drown", you haven't learned it (because "drown" in English can take either an agent or a patient subject); whereas if you know that it means "sufokigi [or is it sufokighi?] in akvo", you understand it. But this helps me not at all, because "suffocate" also can take agent or patient subject, and I know that -ig- and -igh- convert between transitive and intransitive forms, but I can't remember which is which! Now I know perfectly well that I can look both these points up. But being vague about them interferes with on-the-fly comprehension, which is what one needs most of the time. Another fine example, from the days of King Canute, but devised by Tom Shippey (the Tolkien and Old English scholar) Consider what happens when somebody who speaks. . . Old English. . . runs into somebody. . . who speaks good Old Norse. They can no doubt communicate with each other, but complications in both languages are going to get lost. So if the Anglo-Saxon from the South wants to say (in good Old English) "I'll sell you the horse that pulls my cart," he says: "Ic selle the that hors the drageth minne waegn." Now the old Norseman -- if he had to say this -- would say: "Ek mun selja ther hrossit er dregr vagn mine." So, roughly speaking, they understand each other. One says "waegn" and the other says "vagn". One says "hors" and "draegeth"; the other says "hros" and "dregr", but broadly they are communicating. They understand the main words. What they don't understand are the grammatical parts of the sentence. For instance, the man speaking good Old English says for one horse "that hors" but for two horses he says "tha hors". Now the Old Norse speaker understands the word horse all right, but he's not sure if it means one or two because in Old English you say "one horse", "two horse". There is no difference between the two words for horse. The difference is conveyed in the word "the" and the old Norseman might not understand this because his word for "the" doesn't behave like that. So: are you trying to sell me one horse or are you trying to sell me two horses? If you get enough situations like that there is a strong drive towards simplifying the language. ============== And so it goes. ("I know one of these is my right and one is my left. Left? Right? Right? Left?") -- Not to perambulate || John Cowan <jcowan@...> the corridors || during the hours of repose || in the boots of ascension. \\ Sign in Austrian ski-resort hotel


Christophe Grandsire <christophe.grandsire@...>
Anton Sherwood <bronto@...>
Matthew Kehrt <matrix14@...>