Monday, April 21, 2008

Oddities of Language

Sent in by my brother in Iowa: (He found this on an engineer's forum, I can't imagine how exceedingly dull that must be, but alas as Dilbert proves, there might be some humor in an engineer's brain.) ((P.S. This is even funnier if you've happened to study German.))

English is not my wife's first language, in fact it comes in at a poor fourth or fifth; she is fluent in German having lived for much of her life in Berlin. But, there are some oddities which I cannot eradicate from her English. Yes, apparently it is my job to correct her English, no matter what traumas this produces. I have been quite adept at learning her version of English so I often fail to note and correct the errors. This is also because she lacks consistency; if I interrupt her in full flow to correct some minor aberration I am not Mr. Nice Husband but some pedantic male chauvinist oaf always finding fault. On the other hand, when some one else looks blank and asks her to repeat something it is my fault because I have not been helping her improve her English. This is a gargantuan task because, as a recent study has shown, on average women speak three times as much as men and we are way way beyond average here.

The average is 7000 words a day for men (possibly this many because it includes some time at work talking to other men) and 21000 for women, what my wife gets through just for breakfast.

Like most husband/wife dialogues, all I usually need to do is say "Yes Dear" and "Uh huh" at various intervals to show I am awake and paying attention and thus I guess that enough repetitions soon add up to 7000 words. I have no idea what the 21000 words consist of except I am pretty sure there will be numerous repetitions of "Are you listening to me?" (the automatic "yes dear" always takes care of this one except sometimes she will ask me what I think. This isn't because she cares what I think, it is only her way of testing if I really have been listening. Naturally, when caught out this way, the next 3-4000 words are as familiar to her as to me and I doubt either of us is actually listening. Many a long car journey can be passed in this manner.

One never ending game is helping her spell when she is in mid-email. This is a priority task and the words "Just a minute Dear" are usually guaranteed to provoke some over the top reaction which usually ends up with me agreeing to us going out for dinner or her buying a new pair of shoes. This is probably because we used to have dial-up internet for some time and she would edit on line producing a once a month rant from me (before I learned better) when the phone bill would arrive. The peace that broad band brought I have never satisfactorily explained, especially as she is happy to believe she has so thoroughly trounced me on the phone bill issue that I don't like to disillusion her, especially as the money saved would be then spent on shoes. Besides, I am not sure I have enough remaining life expectancy to devote to the task of explaining something she will never willingly understand.

"i" and "e" are a common problem individually and in combination, both with spelling and pronunciation.

Every time she needs help with spelling I will say "F", "L", "I", "E" and "S" (Big Bill doesn't like "fleis". Please, please, PLEASE: don't ask why I don't explain how spell-checker works. I tried this one time and we nearly got divorced so I paid up and sent her to evening classes. If they didn't explain they must have had good reasons. Besides, she doesn't actually want to spell correctly, just to eliminate all those red squiggly lines and the moment she discovers the "add word" feature her dictionary will flood the hard disc with all possible permutations of every word and I'll have to buy her a computer with more memory than the CIA needs). We will get the "I" fine but at the "E" we always go through a routine of me saying "E" and she asking "Is that eeh-punkt or eeh-Eberhart?" Eeh-punkt is "i" of course.

If I get smart or lippy or impatient because we repeat this several times until Big Bill is happy, I'm in trouble and can and have spent the rest of the day in the dog-house (being let out only to take her to some expensive restaurant).

This is not helped by the fact she has hand corrected her keyboard to overwrite each key with farsi symbols often obscuring the original alphabet and so we have many typos on route to an acceptable spelling. If you have gathered that I have some reservations about Big Bill's spell checker or grammar checker, then hear my wife after she has struggled to respell some German place name some forty times and can never get the UK spell checker to approve the spelling. Remember, the dog house looms and I could spend the rest of my days explaining the limitations of the spell check dictionaries or I could get a life. If Big Bill were to appear in person he would need to do so in full body armour. In our house Big Bill's mansion is where the devil will go when he dies.

The real problem is the pronunciation of some words. This starts with the German pronunciation of the letters "w" and "v". So far as my German language skills allow me to say, there is no "w" sound in German.

Wein is pronounced vine.

Vier (4) is pronounced "fear" .

(Note that the ei and ie sounds are always the wrong way round for English.)

Hence the well known TV/Film comedy phrase "Vee Haf vays to make you talk." in any scene featuring a German soldier. Now the oddity: say the following sentence in Native English:

"Please open the window and close the vent." She will say:

"Please open the vindow and close the went."

Note that I show her saying "the" and not "zee". She has mastered that "th" sound in all its variants, it is just this new "w" sound that irritates the hell out of me. It doesn't exist in German and here she is translating the V into W. But she is not alone, I have noted a similar tendency in other native German speakers.

Anyone else noted this or have any similar "show and tells" for other "native language into English" oddities?



Jackie said...

Father Kyle,

This was quite amusing however I will note that this is safer for you to post as you don't have a wife to question you about it - or to take to dinner and/or buy shoes for!!!

Anonymous said...

Father Kyle--
Bwaaaa Haaaa Haaaa! That's a great story! Thanks for sharing!