Saturday, March 18, 2006

Ave, Charles!

Check out Charles's latest post on Liminality, in which he chronicles last night's culinary adventure in detail. The post includes plenty of pictures of meal-in-process (Salad as Metaphor for Change and all that).

One photo in particular makes me laugh: the fifth one down. I remember the moment it was taken. I said something like, "Was that gay enough for you?" Look at the photo and you'll see what I mean.

Charles also wrote something I found hilarious:

...we engaged in some very interesting conversation, half in Korean and half in English. The Korean was a concession to Hyunjin, who appreciated the fact that she could speak Korean and be understood by everyone present. Kevin is much more proficient at switching back and forth between English and Korean than I am. I’m used to speaking Korean pretty much all the time, but I can switch gears into English when the occasion requires it. I can also distinguish between Korean-speakers and English-speakers (that is, by speaking the appropriate language to each), but going back and forth between Korean and English in the same sentence confuses me. Kevin, though, has mastered this skill.

This is a polite way of saying I speak a sort of pidgin Korean with Koreans who can speak English. It's very rare for me to run up against Koreans who know no English, so my lazy side kicks in and I sprinkle my Korean with English words and phrases instead of relying on Korean circumlocution to get me around lexical and conceptual obstacles.

Charles's comment also brings up memories of my early experiences speaking French. I went to France for the first time in the summer of 1986 and spent a month with a large French family in Carquefou, a suburb of Nantes. That was where I made the acquaintance of my French "brother," Dominique. In 1988, I went back to France with my family in tow, and we all stayed at Dominique's very spacious house (his parents run their own clothing business).

This was to be the first time I would try switching rapidly back and forth between languages, as I was the only person in both our families competent enough to do this quickly. Domi could speak some English, but he'd had no real chance to practice (while in college, I met people who could do this between three or four languages without thinking) and his vocabulary was limited. This meant that my presence was often required just so the older folks could have a decent conversation.

On one day in particular, my dad and my French "papa" decided to talk about history, politics, and who knows what else. I basically disappeared into the background, my only function being to rattle off translations as Dad and Papa went back and forth in their native tongues. By the end of this conversation, which must have lasted almost two hours, my head was literally aching from the mental effort I'd exerted. Since that time, I've gotten used to the idea of switching back and forth between languages, but in 1988 I was a college sophomore on the edge of becoming truly fluent in French (said fluency has come and gone; the Kevin of 2006 is, sad to say, quite competent but pretty rusty-- rouillé, as they say in French), and had never had the chance to test the limits of my ability before.

So I understand when Charles says that switching languages midstream can be confusing. I'd add that it can be painful, at least to those of us with small brains. Hats off to people who engage in simultaneous interpretation for a living. Hats off twice for people who do simultaneous interpretation between languages with radically different grammatical structures-- like Korean and English. My undergrad alma mater offers a certificate program in simultaneous interpretation; I was never brave enough to try it.

I should note, though, that many Koreans in the States engage in the sort of Konglish I was using Friday night. My mother is a prime example. The difference between me and those Stateside Koreans, however, is that they generally aren't lacking any Korean vocabulary: they remember the Korean words but have found certain English locutions more convenient. I remember something like that happening in Switzerland: as we Yanks got used to spending most of our days speaking French (or, in the case of two girls in our group, French and Swiss German), certain gallicismes began to creep into the English we spoke with each other. Take, for example, the French "gare" and its English equivalent, "train station." It's much easier to say, "I'll meet you guys at the gare" than it is to say, "I'll meet you guys at the train station." Something like that logic may be operating in the heads of Stateside Koreans.

Anyway, to echo Charles: it was a great evening. I'm now looking forward to a barbecue over at his place. I understand that there's a dog on the premises over yonder, and it has somehow remained uneaten. That may change.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid dog is not on the menu. There wouldn't be enough for even an appetizer anyway.