Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Got a Feeling

On paper, I was a math major at Princeton, though if you look closely at that paper you'll see that I spent very little time actually taking math classes, and instead spent most of my time taking introductory language classes for languages which I will probably never become actually proficient in. (Is two semesters of German enough to read Goethe? Probably no.)

But what I really learned (buckle up for the segue!) is that cultures basically let it all hang out when they write example sentences for language learners.

Want to know about the French? Pick up any introductory textbook (likely entitled "Bienvenue!", "Allons-y!", or "C'est ça le fromage!") and I promise it contains the sentence "Qu'est-ce qu'on peut acheter à la charcuterie?" ("What sort of things can you buy at a deli?"). Only when learning French is the word for "readymade pie crust" presented so early, and with such scorn.

Want to know about German? There's a famous college textbook called "A Practical Review of German Grammar," in which you will find, from the section on prepositions, "Die ganze Welt ist gegen mich." ("The whole world is against me.") From the section on the passive voice: "Leider wurde nicht applaudiert." ("Unfortunately, there was no applause.") And from the section on modal particles: "Ich bin nun einmal sehr unbeliebt." ("I am very unpopular (and there is nothing to be done about it).")

If you want to konw about Chinese, you can probably start with a textbook which is part of the mandatory elementary school curriculum in China called 《难忘的一课》(A Memorable Lesson). It is structured around the phrase “我是中国人,我爱中国” ("I am Chinese. I love China.")

Or, you could look up the word 花费 ("spend; expenditure") in an online Chinese dictionary, as I just did, and find the following example sentence:
It costs 20 RMB to have a photo with a ladyboy.
Which is a stumper. I mean, what does this say about China, really, that this the example they have for "expenditure"?

And what does it really say about my apartment that the entryway smells like Mountain Dew?, because that is a question that I am also considering at this time.