Tuesday, July 22, 2014

You know, when I speak English, my English not so good.

I have a chronic language problem. I'm an over-accommodater, and it's sub-conscious.

Whenever I speak with someone I accommodate my language. This ranges from imitation of vocal range and accent, through to language structures. It's particularly acute when I speak with Mongolians in English. Firstly, whenever I am talking to, or even mentally thinking about talking to, Mongolians, my first instinct is to try to frame things in Mongolian. But sometimes I can't, I don't have either the vocabulary, or my brain is not quick enough to frame some more complex sentences, and then I revert to English. Also I have some Mongolian friends who just prefer to speak English. So when I speak English, I accommodate my English as well.

This drives my wife crazy.

Recently I was giving a talk to Mongolians, speaking English and using a translator. Because of this my level of accommodation was very high. And the result was that my English became very poor and ungrammatical. Especially, I drop almost all my articles. This is because Mongolian has neither definite or indefinite articles, so they're just cluttering up the airwaves!

Consciously, I can observe this phenomenon as it happens, but I find that it takes an extreme amount of control to counter-act it. Even when speaking with some very English-competent Mongolians, I will accommodate not to their level of English, but to my version Mongolian-English. Good thing I am not teaching English here.


cafedave said...

No articles?! That has to make bible translation tricky... they're just built into the form of the words themselves?

Seumas Macdonald said...

As far as I can tell, for Indo-European languages the article is often a development from the demonstratives "this" and "that". Mongolian will sometimes use demonstratives if it needs to make it clear what the referent is.

Latin has no articles either. Translation is not that difficult without articles, you are just quite used to having them is all!

cafedave said...

The demonstrative thing makes sense.

I'm hoping to learn Latin next, so that should help.