Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My dependence on language ('75)

Transcribed from my trip diary of my summer in Western Europe in 1975:

[Paris was the first time I had been alone in a place where I didn't speak the language.] Not knowing the language is going to be most educational. For a perpetual reader and listener like me, this throws me way off balance. My entire usual mode of observation, conversation, sign/ad/map/label/instruction reading, etc. is inoperative. I haven't fully recovered from the shock.

And I notice again how when confronted with a foreign language (any), I instinctively respond in any language. That is, I'm muttering bits of English, French, German, Spanish, even Hebrew.... It's as though my mind only has two channels: English and (all/any/every) Other.... I can't get past "Parlez vous Anglais?" if the answer is "Non." ... [or] understand an oral price or date or day .... The data that would most interest me in a foreign culture are mainly communicative – newspapers, TV, ads, speech idioms, casual conversation...."

[In Berlin,] There are very few English newspapers, magazines, and books anywhere. The stores that say "International Press" may have a few, but seem to specialize in pornography.

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