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Montecristo Captain Quixote


The World Line of the Horizon Star

Some would say I was a lost man in a lost world

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Montecristo Captain Quixote

Things that come to mind when working in second languages...

It's a beautiful morning today.

I'm still working on that French adaptation of our software for our Canadian customer. We expect so much from software today. People don't realize what a matter of engineering it is to make a piece of software able to render itself into different languages at the click of a mouse. This particular software was never designed to be polyglot, but it sort of is now, or at least bilingual, thanks to two or three engineers here, the latest one to have the task of keeping it so enabled being myself. At least nobody expects me to do the actual translations. It's an interesting problem making some of the French phrases fit into the dialog boxes which usually hold just short English phrases. The French never seem to be able to just summarize with a word when they could use a whole phrase. It's never just a hamburger but something like: " sandwich of fried ground beef with condiments." I think it's just cultural snobbery. It's interesting to see how a culture or language treats alien words. You can imagine the French dealing with a new, alien word:

French: What is this? Who are you?
Hamburger: I'm a sandwich, you know, fried ground beef on a bun with...
French: Imposteur! Poseur! You think you can just sneak into our language as you please?
Hamburger: ...well, but you don't really have a single word or term that means...
French: We prefer the descriptive phrase! It contains so much more meaning...
Hamburger: ...but I'm short, I'm sweet, I'm quick, I save space and time, and money!
French: You presumptuous English words, you think that all you have to do is rearrange a couple of your letters and affect an accent acute or change your syllabic stress and we will be fooled and seduced into allowing you into our intercourse! Ah no, your vulgar Germanic gutturals reveal your mongrel barbarian pedigree! You cannot bribe us with your filthy Yanqui dollars! Go away before some cultured French person of belles lettres associates with you in a moment of tragic indiscretion!

English, on the other hand, has the benefit of the worlds largest phoneme set. This it acquired as the result of its home geography having been overrun so many times that its language became the bastard offspring of successive conquered and conquerors. English has a much more "aggressively familiar" style when dealing with foreign words and phrases. It's like the Borg of languages: "You will be assimilated. Your grammatical and semantical distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile..."

Karaoke: Hi there, I'm very pleased to meet you! ^_^
American High School Kids: Oh cool! What a cute little Japanese word! Let's take it home with us!

Pretty soon, Karaoke is running around on the streets of American cities, alone and confused, wearing strange letters... Eventually, it attracts the notice of language academics. They pull up one day in a white, unmarked Ford Econoline van and grab the hapless Japanese word and hustle it off to an undisclosed university location:

English: Welcome to America, Karaoke... We understand that you are somewhat disoriented...
Karaoke: What have you done to me? These letters I am wearing...where is my kanji?
English: What do you mean, kanji? Don't you like your alphabetical wardrobe?
Karaoke: I'm a Japanese word!
English: Now, now, enough of this nonsense. Nobody is really interested in your little fairy tale of being born of a Sony executive and a Japanese schoolgirl in a Tokyo disco. You're an English word. You've always been an English word. You were probably coined by Queen Victoria during the nineteenth century or something...
Karaoke: No! I'm Japanese! I have a culture, a historical heritage!
English: People like you! We'll make you internationally popular! We're going to put you in our dictionary. You'll be happy there. Nobody will remember where you come from, even if your silly story were true. Soon, even the Otaku kids wont remember where you supposedly came from when they roll you off their tongues...
Karaoke: Otaku-san! They got you too?!
Otaku: What do you mean, Karaoke? I'm an English word, just like you. I've always been an English word.
Karaoke: Noooo! Mommy! Help!
English: We are a very welcoming language. Once we love a word it becomes like one of the family... You can age, even die, but you will never escape. When you grow old and almost nobody living recognizes you anymore we will brand you "archaic" and put you in the Oxford English dictionary, where you will be a plaything of seedy old academics with too much time and too many books on their hands.
Karaoke: Aughhh! Eew! Save me!
English: It's too late for that. You're one of ours, now...muahahaha

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Swiving balderdash. Tempus fugit, you know, we don't have time to make all this assimilation of foreign words and phrases de rigueur...

It was a beautiful morning! I eagerly await the arrival of Spring.

You strike me as someone already familiar with this quote, but on the offhand chance you aren't, and because I never pass up the opportunity to share it...
"...ours is a mongrel language which started with a child's vocabulary of three hundred words, and now consists of two hundred and twenty-five thousand; the whole lot, with the exception of the original and legitimate three hundred, borrowed, stolen, smouched from every unwatched language under the sun, the spelling of each individual word of the lot locating the source of the theft and preserving the memory of the revered crime."
- Mark Twain

Edited at 2010-02-04 01:39 am (UTC)

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."
--James D. Nicoll

An excellent and witty post. You should submit this to a linguistics journal. Seriously!

Oh, now what kind of reward would being published be, compared with causing you to smile?

I don't know why, but I'm craving chocolate right now...

As both a Japanophile and a wordophile, this elicited a chuckle from me. ^_^

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