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January 28, 2007


Heh. Well, at least he's educated and understands the value of learning another language at all. My mother always asked why I wanted to learn Spanish if I was "never going to use it." My parents felt the same way about a liberal arts education, even though they paid for my Smith education anyway!

A devoted mother in a small town in Kansas once sent her son, then in the early days of grade school, to French lessons with a certain Madeleine Moody. Madeleine was a French immigrant, married to an American (was she a war bride?). The boy did not yet understand the structure of the English language, so French was double-trouble for him. Of course, there were no other French speakers his age in that town to stoke either the conspiratorial or competitive fires, and he exhibited already at that tender age the genetic predisposition of Americans against learning "foreign" languages. Five years ago that boy gained entry to the magic kingdom called "Montreal" by way of a sabbatical leave at one of the local English-speaking universities. Now he is imagining ways to gain permanent entry into that kingdom at age 55, and, still functionally-Frenchless, he has one more in an increasingly long line of proofs for that old American adage - "Listen to your mother!"

Ah, the many times I heard the famous "but it's not real French" line! I even had to argue with some friends of friends when I used to live in the U.S. They were trying to convince ME that the French spoken (and written) in Quebec had nothing to do with French and was rather close to creole.

Then again, so many people from France seem to believe the same thing...

I think you'll find your life in Montreal much more enjoyable if you speak some French. But you already know that! :-)

Yes, well, quite a few people in England think the same thing of American English, that it's not really "English." But where is the language evolving fastest? Los Angeles. For good or ill. My old Harvard boss and I once threw a party lamenting the supposed imminent demise of the circumflex accent in French (the academy apparently withdrew this threat, no doubt to massive public outcry). The theme of the party? The hat. Haha.

When you delight in language (like, say, Language Hat), all these arguments are grist to the mill of a good blog post. The grumpy can grump (and your father-in-law sounds like a champion), but I say it's better to throw a party and grouse about something that's more worthy of the effort... language is alive, it does its own thing. Let's celebrate that!

I agree with the other commenters about language. Another aspect of your story, Beth, that struck me is your honesty in portraying a parent's stubborness and grumpiness. Too often, some of us (me included) don't want to show this very human "imperfect" side that can appear at times in all of us, especially in writing about our loved ones. Doing so makes your writing so very honest and real, thank you.

"A man who knows two cultures lives two lives" - Confuscius?
And the best way to know a culture is to learn its language since it is through language that we express ourselves...
American English/Nigerian English/Indian English are all different to British English because language belongs to the people and is evolving 'as we speak'
That's what makes it so fascinating a study

This happens with Spanish and Portuguese in the New World, too. The Europeans don't think the Latin Americans speak properly, introducing indigenous words into the language. Of course as a Nicaraguan aquaintance of mine said, well nobody asked them to come over and conquer us...

There's something to be said for learning what is considered the standard dialect of a language. J., because he's living in Montreal, is correct in learning Canadian French. But I suspect virtually all French speakers can understand Sorbonne French, just as most English speakers have no problem with BBC English.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.