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Category: Mysteria Linguarum

German Time Measurements

As if the German language weren’t twisted enough with its random gendered articles and convoluted syntax, even simple time structures can mess up your whole schedule. Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, German time, die Uhrzeit auf Deutsch, Deutsche Sprache schwere SpracheIn the spoken language, 3:00, 3:05, 3:10 and so on are easy: drei Uhr (three hour), fünf nach drei (five after three), zehn nach drei (ten after three). But when the minute hand reaches “half past”, Germans take the next full hour as a reference. In German – unlike most languages – “halb drei” wouldn’t be “half past three” but “half past two”, in the sense of “we are half way to three”.

This incident made me realize two things. First, the reason why Germans think of foreigners as “tardy people whose idea of being on time is showing up an hour late”. If you don’t know how time works and get all your appointments at “half”, you are bound to perpetuate the stereotype of the lazy, unpunctual foreigner.

The other thing I realized is that Germans live in the future. Instead of taking the current hour as a reference, they jump on to the next, as if they were anxious to get past the present. For 3:25 they’ll say “fünf vor halb vier”, literally “five before half way to four”. With such a rush to beat time, no one can really enjoy the present. No wonder everyone is so stressed out.

Expat Gone Foreign, linguist, travel and language comics, life abroad

Latin Lessons & the Roman Empire

Did I ever tell you that Latin is one of my top 5 favorite languages? That’s right. I took Latin back in high-school. We studied the language, learnt about their culture and read Caesar’s Gallic Wars. Sometimes my mind would wander off to things that may or may not have happened during the Roman Empire…

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Latin lessons & the Roman Empire, Before Christ

Abecedarium

Ruminating, I stumbled upon the fact that using the word “alphabet” to refer to the sequence “a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z” is lexically inaccurate. Etymologically, “alphabet” goes back to the Ancient Greek “alphábetos”, with “álpha” and “beta” being the first two letters of the Greek alphabet.
Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, abecedary, alphabet, abecedarium, Greek
Since English uses Latin letters, the right term to refer to “a b c d” – and so on – should be abecedary, or abecedarium if you’d like to be morphologically pedantic.

These are the things that keep me awake at night.

Poronkusema & the Finnish Linguistic Landscape

It’s been said that the best way to get to know a society is through language, for it reflects  the idiosyncrasy, values and worldview of its speakers. Take Finland, the land of a thousand lakes and the midnight sun. Its dense forests, fertile mires and pristine lakes, as well as its harsh weather conditions and traditional lifestyles, have shaped the linguistic landscape of the Finnish language throughout the years, from surname conventions to everyday expressions.

One instance of this ever-present connection with nature is the obsolete unit of measurement poronkusema, used by the Sami people to describe the distance a reindeer can travel without having to stop to urinate – roughly 7 to 7.5 km. The compound is made of the elements poron (reindeer’s) and kusema (from the verb kusta, to pee; and the suffix -ma: the amount peed in one visit to the bathroom).

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Poronkusema and the Finnish Linguistic Landscape

 

Another example of nature’s presence in the Finnish language is the expression peninkulma, which refers to the distance a barking dog can be heard in still air (approximately 10 km after the 17th century conversion of Swedish versts to kilometers). Another interesting etymological fact: the compound is made of the words peni (archaic for dog, again penin being the genitive case; dog’s) and kuuluma (to be heard).

Moving on from travel distances to farming soil, back in the day the Finns used the units tynnyrinala, panninala and kapanala to refer to the area that could be sown, respectively, with one barrel, half a barrel and one thirtieth of a barrel of grain. But Finns weren’t the only ones having their linguistic baggage shaped by agricultural practices: “a barrel of land” was a widespread unit throughout Scandinavia (Danish tønde land; Swedish tunnland); Norwegian tønneland).

And since we are putting all the units on the table, here’s another voluminous fact: foods such as strawberries, cherries, mushrooms, peas and even potatoes are sold by liters in Finland. Why is that, you ask? Imagine the old John Doe farmer – or in this case, the old Matti Meikäläinen, since we are in Finland – collecting strawberries from the field and throwing them in a basket as he harvests. Back in the day, scales were not as reliable or affordable as they are now, so our Meikäläinen guy would go to the marketplace and use his strawberry basket as measurement of his goods, selling his produce by volume instead of weight. What started as a thrifty method of commerce stretched out to the current times. So, whenever you happen to be in Finland and the vendor asks how many liters of cherries you’d like, panic not, he’s not offering you smushed-cherry goop. But whether you end up with a carton of cherries or a glass of cherry milkshake, hyvää ruokahalua!

Ps. This article was written under the musical influence of Sibelius’s Finlandia, Op. 26.

: )

Alcohol & Foreign Language Skills

Recent pop-science articles have been claiming that alcohol does improve your foreign language skills. Well, I have news for you. Alcohol does not improve your foreign language skills, it merely increases GABA production in your brain, which lowers your inhibitions and makes you more obnoxious confident but less coherent.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Alcohol, Foreign language skills, perception, drunk

The Origins – Funny Spanish

Lately I’ve taken a few trips down memory lane trying to figure out where my passion for languages originated. How did it all start? Born in Andalusia, my first interactions with non-Spaniards took place whenever my family would go camping along the Portuguese coast during the summer holidays.
Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Portuguese, foreign languages, learning, exploring

[Translation]
Boy: What’s your name?
Me: Mom, he speaks funny Spanish.