Wednesday, February 13, 2008

mind yer langwich!

A conversation I had yesterday with one of the docs I work with regarding the disappearance of language dovetails neatly into thoughts I have been having regarding the pf issue (see previous post!).

There is always a sense of nostalgia and loss when a culture, a way of life, and a unique world view, disintegrates, dies out or is massacred in the name of progress. Who can possibly imagine what wealth of knowledge we no longer have access to when a culture, tribe or nation is lost. It may be that only a few thousand ever spoke that language or lived that culture, but still, the loss resonates.

I may have told these stories here before, and if I have, I apologize for being repetitive. But it reminds me of a couple personal incidents that made me laugh.

Years ago, as a kidlet living in Finland with my parents, we were occasionally privileged to host some visiting church officials, who were, as often as not, English-speaking. In those days, my mother could normally safely scold us in English without the general population around us understanding what we were being dressed down for. So, it was to English that my mother turned one day at the dinner table, when we were again hosting a guest from America.

"Elbows off the table." she said quietly to one of us, only to realize a second later that our guest was not in the slightest bit in the dark as to what she had said!

Later, when we were living in Canada, Mom often found herself, when caught up in the rush of some important communication, speaking to our Canadian friends in Finnish -- causing some confusion! -- and to us, ie family, in Finnish. Poor Mom, especially as over the years, my younger brothers had forgotten Finnish almost completely.

In more recent years, it has been obvious to my parents that the Finnish they speak as ex-pat Finns in Canada, is no longer the Finnish that is spoken currently in Finland. The language is evolving and many old words have been replaced by a new vocabulary. And, as in many parts of the world, the second language one learns in school is English, replacing perhaps Swedish or German.

So imagine my mother's chagrin a few years ago, when on a visit to Finland, she was quietly having a panic attack on my father when their rental car would not start. She was overheard by a Finnish gentleman passing by who offered to help -- in very excellent English! That left my mother wondering exactly what the gentleman might have heard her say to my Dad in English -- that she might not have said if she thought she would be understood by passersby! (don't worry: my mom is the master of self-deprecating humour! she tells this story on herself, ie, my Dad didn't rat her out on this one).

Any one of us of a certain age can easily come up with a list of words which are no longer in use or no longer politically correct. And those changes seem to be happening faster and faster. It is no longer over a span of one generation that changes occur, but several times in our own lifetime!

Without any opinion as to whether or not this is a good thing or bad, let's just say it exists. But, I have to admit, I'm not at all sure I can keep up. In fact, I know I'm falling behind. Take the "thong" thing, for example. (here's the pf connection.) I was blissfully telling what I thought was a some sensible story about thongs to a peer at work some time ago, when she sweetly asked me if I meant the undergarment -- which of course made no sense in that particular story. She of course understood perfectly that I was referring to footwear of a certain era; she was just checking. Humph! How embarrassing! Now, I don't even know what to call the type of footwear that I was referring to in my story. I don't even remember what the story was about because I'm so worried over not being able to come up with the appropriate and current word for the footwear I meant to describe!

Can anybody help me?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Flipflops, no?


10:52 p.m.  

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