Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Seeing the World Through the Eyes of Language

I knew that learning Albanian wouldn't be easy. It's not as though I came over here thinking that learning the language would be a piece of cake, I was totally aware that Albanian is ranked as one of the most difficult languages to learn, especially for native English speakers. But what I am learning now is that learning the language has to do with more than just trying to speak or pronounce words correctly, it also involves learning to see the world as Albanians do. I am now fully convinced that in order to properly speak a foreign language you have to undergo some literal shifts in your thought process. Examples:

1. You do not "bring" an umbrella to class, but rather you "take" an umbrella (or any other object for that matter). I was trying to make a sentence in class one day and this was an issue because in English I can say, "I need to bring my umbrella with me" but in Albanian the correct verb is not "to bring" but rather "to take."

2. People do not "know information", they "have it." Look at this sentence in Albanian: "kam informacion rreth qytetit" which means, "I have information about the city." But in class I tried to say, "E di informacion" which means, "I know information." But my professor made a face and said that people have information but they cannot know it, that does not make sense!

3. EVERYTHING has a gender, EVERY SINGLE THING! So as a result there is a different word for male dog and female dog (and so on). I asked my professor what would happen if we were riding in a car and saw a dog on the street, would I say qeni (male dog) or qenushe (female dog)? She said I would say "qeni." But why, I asked. How would we know the difference? She said that we can distinguish female dogs when they're in the house, maybe if they're wearing a pink collar or bow, or something like that. Or if they're surrounded by their puppies...other than that, we just refer to all dogs as qen until we know otherwise. I wanted to ask why this couldn't be the other way around, but I decided against that.
Don't be fooled, gender is not limited to living things, inanimate objects have genders as well!

4. The day cannot be busy. In a sentence, a person can be busy but not the day. So if I say, "Today was a busy day" that does not work. "Today I was busy"...that's more like it.

5. You don't go "to" work, you go "in" your work

6. There are completely different words for school pants, work pants, jogging pants, sleeping pants, etc. You can't just call all of them "pants."

7. And if you're ever going on a trip, you cannot say, "I have a trip tomorrow so I'm going home now to pack." If you do Albanians will look at you strangely and say, "pack what?" Then once you say "I have a trip tomorrow so I'm going home now to pack my clothes," then and only then will you be speaking clearly.

That's all for now but trust me, there are more to come.

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