FITTING INTO A FOREIGN LANGUAGE.

There’s a post at Néojaponisme about “outlander Japanese”: the ways in which non-native speakers try to fit into a Japanese-speaking environment. Do you consciously strive to speak “just like a Japanese,” or do you preserve some foreignisms to show you’re aware you’ll never actually be Japanese or (if you’re female, as some commenters point out) to give yourself more room for maneuver and be taken more seriously? Do you pronounce borrowed words as the Japanese do? (Universal answer: yes!) What first-person pronoun do you use? The post consists of an exchange between David, who thinks foreigners should aim for bog-standard Japanese and not try to “show off,” and Matt (of No-sword), who talks about “fitting in as opposed to blending in” and doesn’t want “to play the role of an interchangeable, personality-free cog.” He emphasizes the need for “performance and display”: “If you were always perfectly clear and unambiguous, you would by definition be incapable of telling a joke. You would also probably find it hard to get much of an emotional reaction from people in general.” I’m on Matt’s side here, but it’s an important subject that doesn’t get talked about enough, and the many comments on the thread are almost uniformly thoughtful and interesting, with a minimum of one-upmanship (something that is all too common among foreigners discussing the language they’ve all learned, as I know from my time in Taiwan). I urge anyone interested in the topic to pop over there and (if they’re so inclined) join the discussion. (I might add, with gratitude, that almost all the Japanese is transliterated, so the rest of us can follow along.)

Comments

  1. That thread is very interesting and thoughtful. I was planning to blog about it, too. For me, Japanese has been a language of childhood and then late middle age, a bit like that of an emigrant who finally comes back to his homeland. I’ve had little occasion to use it in a work environment (thank goodness!), so it’s a language of travel and exploration, of asking questions, not answering them. I often feel the need to apologize for speaking in a manner that is perhaps somewhat boyarashii (‘little boyish’) as I now approach the age when I should consider using washi, the old man’s pronoun ‘I’! I find the prospect of making that pronominal transition rather traumatic.

  2. A.J.P. Crown says:

    So the older you are when you learn Japanese the fewer the number of personal pronouns you’ll need to use. Seems fair.
    I well remember unintentionally insulting a quite chauvinistic German when I lived there by pronouncing computer ‘kawmPOOTER’. That was how I heard Germans say it, but he thought I was taking the piss.

  3. In Japanese, I always just tried to communicate without much reference to tactics.
    A.J.P. Crown’s comment, brought to mind something I’ve often thought about–”linguistic forgiveness” as I call it–being the relative degree of willingness for a native to process a non-native’s communicative effort and how far off from the mainstream it can be. For example, I found Europeans, in general (Francophones excepted), and Germans, in particular, readily process my very bad German (four years in Germany). In Japan (where I’ve spent six years), I found quite the opposite to be true, but that is slowly changing since 1962 when I first lived there. Chinese Mandarin speakers, on yet another hand, always followed my Chinese with little difficulty despite my total disregard for tones.

  4. I’ve also found Chinese putonghua speakers to be *the* most tolerant of divergent accents, probably out of necessity when speaking to their far-flung compatriots. But I suspect that speakers of Bahasa Melayu/Indonesia must be equally tolerant not just of divergent accents, but of divergent grammar (pronouns, prepositions, verb morphology), for similar reasons.

  5. Hmmm – this is going to be a difficult one to prove, but I’d have thought that of all languages, English would be right up there near the top of any league table of “tolerance required by native speakers when being spoken to by other native speakers from different parts.” I’ve found myself totally unable to understand something said to me by someone born and living only 150 miles from where I grew up …

  6. Well, I thought, “if languagehat recommends it…. ” and so I went over to read the post (I like Matt’s work too so thought, why not?) To be honest, I could barely get through it– stuff like that is the kind of content that makes translators gringe.
    Why?
    Well, I guess it’s a couple things. First, it strikes you as the stuff expats sit around and talk about– which of course, is not necessarily a bad thing– but in my opinion rarely turns up much that is truly usful (as was the case here, I would say). These strategies, I would argue, while none are wrong per se (not at all) rather are just not all that helpful. Yeah, maybe it’s a good idea not to use dialect when you are still a student, but there are plenty of very proficient (some famous!) foreign Japanese-speakers who very successfully speak in dialect– it all depends on context. The same goes for pronouns– there are just no hard and fast rules of thumb as it all depends so completely on the person doing the speaking and the person doing the listening
    Yes, of course generalizations can be made. yes, in general your average American may be more tolerant of non-native English than their counter-part in Japanese– but in reality– it all depends on the context. As Zythophile just pointed out!
    I guess what I am saying is that such stretgies for speaking japanese are really for students not for necessarily applicable for true fluency.
    The approach itself, I would argue, is grounded in a Western focus on oral performance– which is another problem I would have in taking it seriously. For example, no matter how fluently a speaker may speak, if their written hand is too childlike or unreadable, then that will make a much bigger difference in “blending in” then the writers suggest as do the non-verbal embodied practices- ot just body language but actual cultural accomplishments (so that a foreign person who is adept at a Japanees art and can read and write with a fine hand, may actually have a real “leg up” on the fluent speaker) I have heard the same said about Farsi and so I guess I think it is a problem to approach language aquisition in this abstract (but clearly Western focused) way…
    I like Matt– please don’t get me wrong, but honestly, I don’t think I nodded my head to even one of their strategies… except– like I said– they would be good for Western students.
    Matt and his friend are so cleaver, I wish they had written instead about the manner in which a person really is transformed depending on the language they speak (and what this says about Self) — for this is the interesting issue, I think. There was an interesting (controversial) book that came out here a few years ago, Kokumin no dotoku (Virtue for the People) in which the author had one claim that speaking two languages as different as Jpse and English could result in an almost szchizophrenia– so that personalities undergo such change as they move between languages and cultures that they in fact become double personalities. The author of the book claimed that for this reason it was better not to strss bilingual education in young kids… His project– obviously– was to stress the need to get back to a purely Japanese foundation.
    I couldn’t disagree more with the above– but at the same time, it brings up interesting issues.
    Anyway, like Doc Roc says– if I could give any advice it would be just that: context-dependent communicating.
    Just my two yen!

  7. First, it strikes you as the stuff expats sit around and talk about
    . . .
    except– like I said– they would be good for Western students.

    Well, yeah, these are expats talking, and they’re talking about Western students. I’m sorry if my presentation led you to expect something else.

  8. Thanks for the link!
    Peony, you are quite right about the self-indulgent navel-gazing expat aspect, and there not being much in the way of useful strategies there for those who are already comfortably fluent. I can’t deny either charge.
    But it is kind of by design. We are expats, and although David does throw out a few specific rules at the beginning to get the ball rolling, the rest of the piece (and comment thread) is less about specific recommendations than about why we as individuals feel good/bad about language form X in situation Y. Of course you are 100% correct in saying that adapting to your situation and audience is always the answer, but did interest me to hear from other folks with perspectives other than mine.
    For example, the number of fluent male foreigners in my age group who are uncomfortable with /ore/, in my opinion the least marked male 1st-person pronoun in casual speech with equals, never ceases to amaze me. Apparently the previous generation’s /boku/ thing still lingers in pedagogical materials and/or pedagogues… I’m also only half-kidding when I say that I think Murakami’s influence can be felt here.
    Also, although I was aware that the treatment of women in Japan, in aggregate, leaves a lot to be desired, I didn’t realize the extent to which it affects how foreign women approach the language itself.

  9. Again, I will just emphasize, that I think when speaking a language (including one’s own) there are so many context-dependent factors involved in the unconscious decisions that are made in choosing words that “guidelines” are less helpful than hurtful. Generalizations including “outlanders” and “Japanese” too are pretty misleading I think…
    And yes, I did expect something quite different from your Post– but thats OK too. It was nice posting here (first time– tho we’ve spoken at Conrad’s you will recall). Looking forward to reading more too.
    Cheers

  10. Hi Matt! Nice to see you again!
    This is my honest opninion: I don’t think you heard from enough “expat” Japanese-speaking women to make a judgement that “I didn’t realize how hard” etc etc.) You would have to have a helluva lot bigger control group than that to draw any “conclusions” (another reason I wasn’t crazy about the piece).
    Matt, I really appreciate your calm and generous reading of my comment as I really wrote it in all respect to you (we do have our shared history in Heidegger, right? Conrad are you listening?)
    Do you participate at honyaku anymore?

  11. Perhaps I should have said “SOME foreign women” in my last paragraph, but I hope it was obvious that that is what I meant. I don’t doubt that there are plenty of Japanese-speaking but elsewhere-born women who don’t feel that way about the language at all, but it was thought-provoking to hear from some who do. As I said, it’s less about drawing conclusions than drawing out anecdotes.
    (Honyaku-L? Not really…)

  12. I did know what you meant Matt– but just to make sure someone made the point (which I think is important)– which is talking to a handful of women about their exprience does not prove or disprove your tenuous statement about the “agregate treatment of women in Japan” (which is what I was responding to of course).
    A slippery slope of doom, I know,
    Talk to you soon,
    L.

  13. John Emerson says:

    While excessive generalization can be a bad thing, generalization is one of the tools that people use to get around in the world, and blogs are blogs, not monographs.
    I knew a woman who turned down a job opportunity in science because she didn’t want to live in Japan. She would have been very happy to have learned Japanese, but her generalization about Japan for foreign women, based on what she’d heard from foreign women who’d lived in Japan, was negative enough that she decided against it.
    One of those little culture shock pop guides claimed that Indonesians are the only foreigners who master Japanese etiquette and presentation of self. This is a kind of thing beyond language learning, but pronoun usage and choice of register is a big part of it.
    I have a friend who actually “went native” in Japan; he’s a translator and all his friends and family are Japanese. From what he says, you will always be accepted (or not) as the particular person you are, and who he was was a.) an inlaw of the X family b.) a holder of the Y degree and c.) a worker in the Z concern. In other words, he fitted in perfectly, but only insofar as he accepted his specific roles. In other words, you’ll never blend in as “just another guy”. But I got the feeling that that’s pretty much true for Japanese, too — they define each other by their relationships and affiliations.
    I too found the Taiwan Chinese to be extremely accepting. Part of it was mere politeness, but it went beyond that, and if you have an active interest in classical Chinese (and some accomplishment) a LOT of doors will be opened to you — not so much from classical Chinese scholars, but from everyone else.

  14. John Emerson says:

    While excessive generalization can be a bad thing, generalization is one of the tools that people use to get around in the world, and blogs are blogs, not monographs.
    I knew a woman who turned down a job opportunity in science because she didn’t want to live in Japan. She would have been very happy to have learned Japanese, but her generalization about Japan for foreign women, based on what she’d heard from foreign women who’d lived in Japan, was negative enough that she decided against it.
    One of those little culture shock pop guides claimed that Indonesians are the only foreigners who master Japanese etiquette and presentation of self. This is a kind of thing beyond language learning, but pronoun usage and choice of register is a big part of it.
    I have a friend who actually “went native” in Japan; he’s a translator and all his friends and family are Japanese. From what he says, you will always be accepted (or not) as the particular person you are, and who he was was a.) an inlaw of the X family b.) a holder of the Y degree and c.) a worker in the Z concern. In other words, he fitted in perfectly, but only insofar as he accepted his specific roles. In other words, you’ll never blend in as “just another guy”. But I got the feeling that that’s pretty much true for Japanese, too — they define each other by their relationships and affiliations.
    I too found the Taiwan Chinese to be extremely accepting. Part of it was mere politeness, but it went beyond that, and if you have an active interest in classical Chinese (and some accomplishment) a LOT of doors will be opened to you — not so much from classical Chinese scholars, but from everyone else.

  15. A few years back there were stories circulating about women recruited to work in Japan–some of them with professional degrees–who found themselves at brothels instead. A mainstre@m network did a special on it about that time too. I went so far as to interview for a position but the stories really creeped me out, especially since it looked like the Japanese government wasn’t willing to do anything about the fraud or help the women become repatriated, and there wasn’t any way to tell in advance which groups recruiting in the states were bona fide.

  16. “Your comment could not be submitted due to questionable content: stre@m net”
    Not pharmaceuticals, and I don’t think it’s porn…fishing? [phishing?]

  17. Agree with you John, but it’s a tool that can be particularly damaging. Why? Because it is a generalization. And by only talking to a dozen people and then inducing a generalization on only basis would be what I call a tenuous generalization– whether on a blog or in a monograph. Regarding your friend who “went native” I wonder if his experience is not really much the same as anywhere else. I don’t know. I’ve lived here in Japan 2 decades and I don’t feel that any of the above really holds true. To what degree Japanese define each other in the way you suggest or Indoesians ae more or less adept or this or that cultural grace is beyond me… really.
    If I sat down and talked to 25 Londoners about their experiences in x– could I really induce much from it? Maybe…? Maybe not? I leave it to you. Cheers

  18. I suspect that speakers of Bahasa Melayu/Indonesia must be equally tolerant not just of divergent accents, but of divergent grammar (pronouns, prepositions, verb morphology), for similar reasons.
    Here in Malaysia there is definitely plenty of tolerance when it comes to pronouns. In fact, an expat could get away with using English 1st and 2nd person pronouns most of the time without anyone blinking an eye (I’ve written about this before, notably here).
    When it comes to using Malay pronouns, it seems the first-person pronoun aku is a kind of ‘don’t go there’ thing for foreigners. Not that we can’t use it, but locals find it funny when we do. It’s hard to pull off, which I think has more to do with the assumption of a long, close relationship implied by the pronoun than with anything else. I seem to be able to get away with using the 2nd-person pronoun kau now, but if I try to use aku with friends my wife still snickers. I’m quite fluent in Malay, but I guess I’ll only have ‘arrived’ when I can use aku without anyone thinking it somehow inappropriate.

  19. John Emerson says:

    Peony, with all due respect I find it impossible to share your principled animus against generalizations. Based on what I know, I think that my friend was right to choose as she did based on what she knew. At some point you have to come to conclusions of some sort about the things that you have experiences and the things that you have learned about.

  20. John Emerson says:

    Peony, with all due respect I find it impossible to share your principled animus against generalizations. Based on what I know, I think that my friend was right to choose as she did based on what she knew. At some point you have to come to conclusions of some sort about the things that you have experiences and the things that you have learned about.

  21. My dear John,
    In no place did I disagree with what you say. I did not in fact say that I was against generalizations. I am no more against generalizations than I am against reason or guessing or any other mental means at our disposal for getting around in the world.
    Are all generalizations valid?– of course not. No more are all reasons solid or all guesses good. Therein was my only point.
    Regarding your friend, whether her decisision based on generalizations was good or not depends on
    1) her personal situation
    2) the basis of those particular generalizations that informed her decision.
    I’m quite sure she made the correct decision. Of course, all I can go on is your word– but that is good enough for this woman.
    Returning back to my only point which you kindly commented on, indeed, I think my friend Matt’s conclusion based on generalizations was tenuous. I was speaking specifically about his proposition– which I was questioning based on the following two reasons
    1) My own experience (20 years “en situ” where I have worked in both a large corporation and also as a translator (government/academic/businss)/ graduate school academic background in same language in question. I only tell you this to inform you about the underlying foundation of my experience)
    2) Logical reasons. I do not think talking to a dozen people or listening to 1 news show can lead to anything but a dubious generalization– hell, it could turn out to be as accurate as anything in the world– but as a basis for forming a conclusion, personally, I think even blogs can do better.
    This is just my opinion.
    And may I ask, what is an animus?
    2)

  22. A.J.P. Crown says:

    For someone who says they read philosophy you seem awfully narrow minded, Peony. What you are calling generalizations is what the scientists over at Language Log call anecdotal evidence, with the implication that anything that’s not from a scientifically-derived sample is bullshit, idle speculation.
    I personally think that only works as an argument if you are placing more faith in statistical evidence than is warranted, using it as a crutch to make a decision by saying ‘hey, you can’t argue with this, it’s scientific, end of discussion’. It’s a way to stop having to think.
    I am much more interested in what Matt and the others wrote than I am in a bunch of boring old interpolations that are really no more objective than Matt is. If I had to choose who to believe about London: twenty Londoners, or a statistical survey ordered by Boris Johnson, I don’t think I’d be alone in telling Boris he was wasting his money.

  23. I’m not sure I grok the difference between fitting in and blending in here. I change pronunciation of some Hindi sonuds depending on the people I’m speaking with. So for example, with Punajbi people, I pronounce “ज़”(z) as ज (j), because most Punjabis seem to have real trouble with the z sound – I have friends who go to the joo whenever they can for the reajon that it’s a fun day out. With my Nepali friends, I pronounce श(sh) as स(s) because that’s how they do. Does this make me a fitter or a blender?

  24. I’m sorry AJP Crowne–I don’t recall saying I read a lot of philosophy nor do I recall saying anything about requiring everything be backed up by scientific data (perhaps you’re confusing me with someone else at the language log??)… And that you would prefer reading what 20 Londoners have to say over a a statistical data ordered by some group which I have never heard of– that too is your preference. Enjoy. No one was talking about objectivity.
    I know a guy who fell off a bridge in London. Guys– in aggregate– in London have it pretty bad. Objectivity? Subjectivity? A slippery bridge? An architect who confuses?
    When speaking a foreign language, as Doc Roc said, aiming to just communicate in a given situation seems to be a better approach than forming a set of tactics (especially if the tactics are really framed based on the culture of your language not the target language).
    If you find my problems with Matt’s article narrow-minded, that’s fine. But what on earth does that have to do with philosophy?
    Matt on the other hand said they were common-sensical. Matt, of course, is a great guy and really read what I wrote.

  25. John Emerson says:

    Fitting in is just getting to the place where you’re generally accepted. “Blending in” is a more mystical thing where you become one with the Other, so that at some point people forget you’re a foreigner. I’m not sure that it’s impossible, but for most people and in many context it’s not a realistic goal.
    To use a historical example which I hope doesn’t offend anyone, my guess is that American Jews couldn’t blend in a century ago, but can now. You can know someone for awhile now without knowing that they’re Jewish, whereas a century ago I doubt that happened much.

  26. John Emerson says:

    Fitting in is just getting to the place where you’re generally accepted. “Blending in” is a more mystical thing where you become one with the Other, so that at some point people forget you’re a foreigner. I’m not sure that it’s impossible, but for most people and in many context it’s not a realistic goal.
    To use a historical example which I hope doesn’t offend anyone, my guess is that American Jews couldn’t blend in a century ago, but can now. You can know someone for awhile now without knowing that they’re Jewish, whereas a century ago I doubt that happened much.

  27. A.P. J. Rowcn says:

    Peonye: (we do have our shared history in Heidegger, right?
    Sorry, Peony, my mistake. There I was thinking you were talking Martin Heidegger the German philosopher who wrote Sein und Seit, whereas you were of course talking about Heidegger the resort and relaxation center in Oregon.
    Peony: I know a guy who fell off a bridge in London.
    That’s really, really amazing. So do I. A slippery bridge? Probably. An architect who confuses? Totally.
    I didn’t know Boris Johnson played in a group. I guess if I’d googled him I would have found that out.
    I don’t find your problems narrow.minded or common sensicle, it’s more a yin and yan thing. It’s not either you communicate or you form a set of tactics, but that’s getting philosophical.
    Matt is one great guy who also read what I wrote too. We’ll just see who he really respects. Or not. But who knows?

  28. John Emerson says:

    Linguistically it’s probably easiest to blend in in polyglot areas where the standard dialect is not the native language of very many people, and harder in areas where the standard language is overwhelmingly dominant.

  29. John Emerson says:

    Linguistically it’s probably easiest to blend in in polyglot areas where the standard dialect is not the native language of very many people, and harder in areas where the standard language is overwhelmingly dominant.

  30. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Yes, not just linguistically, of course. But anyone could blend in linguistically in New York without any problem, I don’t think the ‘Yo what’s happening, dog’, or whatever it was thing would be especially remarkable, whereas no foreigner would even attempt the equivalent here (whatever that is).

  31. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Doc Rock: “linguistic forgiveness” as I call it
    I’m very aware of this where I live in Norway. Of my neighbors, an oldish couple with a broad dialect, the husband understands me perfectly whereas his wife frowns when I start talking and looks at her husband for a translation at the end of what I’ve been saying. When I see that frown of concentration on people (usually people who aren’t used to meeting foreigners) I feel like telling them to try and use a bit of imagination in their listening. It’s very off-putting to encounter it.

  32. Johann Jakob Emerson says:

    I think that discomfort with foreign languages and foreign accents is a strong indicator of fearfulness and conventionality. Not necessarily even bigotry; it’s only bigotry if the discomfort becomes anger. I’ve seen people infuriated by the very fact that someone spoke with a strong accent, or that two people were speaking a foreign language in a public place.

  33. A.J.P. Crown says:

    She’s not that conventional in other ways, though. Eighty-two years old and on the fat side, but she wears a yellow bikini and wellingtons in the garden.

  34. John Emerson says:

    You’re terribly small-minded about ancient women in bikinis, Kron.

  35. John Emerson says:

    You’re terribly small-minded about ancient women in bikinis, Kron.

  36. AJP Crown says:

    It’s not the bikini, it’s the boots.

  37. marie-lucie says:

    After decades of living in an English-speaking environment I think I “fit in” pretty well, but as soon as I open my mouth it is obvious I don’t exactly “blend in”. But it is true that this is easier to do in areas of high immigration where most people are used to encountering different accents if not languages.
    The title of the post had led me to expect something else than the comments in this thread and the one referred to, which are about fitting linguistically into a culture: I thought it was a metaphor about language learning.
    To me, learning a language is not so much trying to absorb it into myself (and thus be changed by it, which I think is a fear of some learners), although that is part of the process, but more a matter of putting myself into it, fitting it closer and closer around me, like a second skin (or, perhaps more realistically, a diving suit, which can be put on and off). Another comparison that comes to my mind is to learning a dance: first I watch how people are dancing, I start to attune myself to their movements and feel the dance in my body, then I am ready to start dancing too. Similarly I try to attune myself to a language, to feel I am inside it even if I know only a little bit.
    I wonder how other people feel about their language learning experiences.

  38. I’m very glad we cleared that up, Mr. Crowne– for of course I am the Peonye of the Oregon relaxation center (Heidegger was just a fling) And regarding the archetects of bridges– is he confused? Or just plain slippery?
    You do realize, don’t you? That I as a certified practioner of Oregon-style relaxation, I believe full heartedly in yin and yang. And again, I was never advising for intuition over strategy; nor data or anacdote.
    But no, we wouldn’t want to get philosophical.
    Mr. Emersen, I ask that you keep watch on your friend to make sure he is not being too hard on any ladies– boots or not.
    Cheers.

  39. I’m very glad we cleared that up, Mr. Crowne– for of course I am the Peonye of the Oregon relaxation center (Heidegger was just a fling) And regarding the archetects of bridges– is he confused? Or just plain slippery?
    You do realize, don’t you? That I as a certified practioner of Oregon-style relaxation, I believe full heartedly in yin and yang. And again, I was never advising for intuition over strategy; nor data or anacdote.
    But no, we wouldn’t want to get philosophical.
    Mr. Emersen, I ask that you keep watch on your friend to make sure he is not being too hard on any ladies– boots or not.
    Cheers.

  40. Hi Marie-Lucie,
    Since I’m here, I’ll just tell my own experience (for that’s all it is really). I came to Japanese by way of bahasa Indonesian. Indonesian really was helpful to the early stages of japanese for me as there are some important similarities that normally are challenging issues for an English-speaker to get used to in Jpse, but because I’d encountered them already in Java, my next language (Jpse) was easier at the get-go.
    For me, Indonesian was very much like learning a dance– especially the way Indonesians learn to dance. (That’s what I was doing there, by the way, studying dance). It is totally different learning srimpi to ballet– and it was in this Javanese-style of dance learning (little verbal instruction or strategies but high mimicing the teacher) that my language learning was very much like– in exactly the way you described.
    Japanese has been different. But only after the learning phase was finished (when I was into at least a decade). Then it became absorption– dreaming and thinking in Japanese and really more like a total change in world-views really. That is to say, that not only do I think in a diferent manner but the content of that thinking is also unquestionably different (this is very common too I think)
    And yet, interestingly, while I do feel I am a different person in japanese (and husband and close friends mention a dislike of the change that comes over me when they see me speak English and I too like myself better in Japanese), at the same time I do feel that my Self is unchanged.

  41. “the husband understands me perfectly whereas his wife frowns when I start talking and looks at her husband for a translation at the end of what I’ve been saying.”
    She is not upset about someone speaking another language or being different, she is upset about being left out, invisible. Never mind that you are invisible to her as well if you don’t speak her language. Any Norwegian who would wear yellow, –and trust me, Norwegian-Americans would not–much less a bikini, does not mind being in the limelight, and probably minds very much being excluded.

  42. Nathaniel says:

    She is not upset about someone speaking another language or being different, she is upset about being left out, invisible. Never mind that you are invisible to her as well if you don’t speak her language.
    I’m not sure, but I took AJP Crown’s point to be that he is speaking Norwegian with a foreign accent and one half of this elderly neighbour couple is indicating that the accent is too much of a problem for comprehension.

  43. marie-lucie says:

    Yes, that is what AJP is saying. He lives in Norway and speaks Norwegian to his Norwegian neighbours, not English.

  44. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Thanks Nathaniel and Marie-Lucie, that’s right. She only wears the bikini and wellingtons in the summer months, by the way.

  45. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Peony, to avoid confusion and slippery slopes, I liked your comments. They opened up a tired discussion like a jolt from a car battery.

  46. A.J.P. Crown says:

    trying to absorb it into myself (and thus be changed by it, which I think is a fear of some learners
    Marie-Lucie, this has been a fear for me, or a reluctance, with both German and Norwegian; it hindered my progress. But not with French. With French, when i was much younger, I loved trying to pass myself off as a Frenchman (in a diving suit), even if the only person I fooled was myself. And of course that helped with the learning of it.
    There’s another thing that’s similar to dancing (and different from speaking one’s mother tongue): having enough fluency that you have complete control over of how you appear to others. I think unless you are bilingual that’s very hard to achieve with languages.

  47. Michael Farris says:

    Now I would have thought that Norwegians would be at the higher tolerance end of the scale for several reasons.
    1. There is no official standard for spoken Norwegian and official policy is in fact to encourage use of local varieties.
    2. Norwegians are supposed to be the best at inter-Scandinavian communication (ie with Danes and Swedes).
    3. There’s been enough immigrants that there there’s an immigrant jargon known as kebabnorsk:
    no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kebabnorsk (no English wiki entry, maybe AJP is up to the task?)
    I saw a few web episodes of a reality soap from Norwegian TV (Norwegian for Beginners) which detailed the language (and other) adaptation problems of a half dozen attractive immigrants from non-stigmatized countries.
    On the other hand, a big part of this depends on goodwill (described to me as always necessary for inter-Scandinavian communication) and maybe AJP’s neighbor is running short on that commodity.

  48. Michael wrote
    2. Norwegians are supposed to be the best at inter-Scandinavian communication (ie with Danes and Swedes).
    Not only among neighbours. One of the most amazing TV programs I’ve ever watched (I’m a 65 yo Swede) was Norwegian teams competing to identify dialects. They watched video clips (which also featured local dress), and identified most entries to the nearest village.
    I was sad to read that Mandarin speakers tend to be forgiving. My efforts must have been really lousy. Perhaps I should try Taiwan next time?

  49. At first I thought Kron was a Norwegian that had spent enough time in England to pick up some Britishisms. But then he let slip that he lived in NY too, so who knows what he is now. Any one who reads this blog has probably become a citizen of the world in some way.
    I still don’t think Kron’s neighbor cares where he is from. That yellow bikini is a dead giveaway.
    Any guy who appreciates ancient women in bikinis has my vote.
    No bikinis for me. It was only this summer after seven years of being back in the U.S. that I have dared to show my ankles, replacing my conservative bedouin cover-the-legs-at-all-costs philosophy with what they used to call pedal pushers. I’m still reeling from the indecency of it all, but it IS more comfortable.
    “fear of being absorbed by the Borg”
    In living abroad, there is a point where you are trying mimic everything you can from the language and culture around you to learn enough to survive and also just from pure fascination. But there is another point where you must examine the culture from the standpoint of your own values and understand the differences. For me, covering legs was no big deal, or throwing on a loose long-sleeve shirt over my t-shirt to cover my arms (to the wrist in the country, past the elbow in Amman) when I went out in public. But covering hair was for me a line not to be crossed, as I thought it had religious symbolism. I learned I was treated more seriously when I tied it up on the back of my head as a gesture to the value system of the ones around me.
    Cultural borrowing goes both ways. Of course you are going to borrow when you live in another culture, but why not be selective. You are going to influence them too, and it took me a while to figure that out.
    The Japanese language seems to have some linguistic forms that enforce gender and class distinctions that are anathema to Americans. How do you reconcile that with expressing courtesy?
    When some Americans visited me in Amman, they expressed dismay that I wanted to serve them tea. But our mutual friend explained that we had all become bedouin housewives–it went with the territory. Not quite that simple though, as the tea or coffee ritual is central to welcoming a guest and I have also learned to sit back and let male Arabs serve me tea when they want to welcome me.
    Some of those bloggers in Japan seem to be at a level of language fluency it’s not easy to reach, especially as you get older. I don’t see any problem for just striving for comprehension, or with showing off some language skill you’ve just picked up. It’s all part of the fun and often leads to a better understanding to see the reaction of a different cultural informant.

  50. michael farris says:

    “One of the most amazing TV programs I’ve ever watched (I’m a 65 yo Swede) was Norwegian teams competing to identify dialects. They watched video clips (which also featured local dress), and identified most entries to the nearest village.”
    A couple of years I ago I met one of the linguists who was behind that show. When he described it, it sounded like science fiction. I’m not sure what it was called.
    The idea was that hearing a clip, an educated Norwegian could reason something as follows: “Okay, feature X is in the west, but Y is a northern feature while feature Z is archaic and only survives in three areas B and A are in the south and C is in the northwest so it must be C.”
    The reasoning was pretty familiar to anyone in linguistics but the idea of non-linguists applying it in such a conscious and value-free manner (no talk of correctness or anything like that) in the mass media was pretty amazing.

  51. A.J.P. Crown says:

    maybe AJP’s neighbor is running short on goodwill.
    No, Michael, they’re terribly friendly although she’s a bit on the shy side with ex-city slickers like me. I really don’t think she’s met many foreigners. She just expresses complete bafflement at my utterances in so-called Norwegian. My Norwegian really isn’t that good. I mean it’s not bad, but considering I’ve been here for thirteen years it isn’t as good as many Norwegians’ oral English, at least accent-wise (I’m a bit deaf, is my excuse). The other thing about Norway is that there are cultures that think it’s helpful to correct foreigners (eg English-speaking and French) and cultures where they think that’s obnoxious behavior. Norway is the latter, unfortunately for me.
    I think your list of points is quite right.

  52. One of the most amazing TV programs I’ve ever watched (I’m a 65 yo Swede) was Norwegian teams competing to identify dialects. They watched video clips (which also featured local dress), and identified most entries to the nearest village.
    Suddenly I’m even prouder of my Norwegian heritage.

  53. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Of course the bunad, the local costume, narrows down the possible area a lot too. But they are damned clever, although it’s just a myth that the paperclip was invented by a Norwegian.

  54. “The idea was that hearing a clip, an educated Norwegian could reason something as follows: “Okay, feature X is in the west, but Y is a northern feature while feature Z is archaic and only survives in three areas B and A are in the south and C is in the northwest so it must be C.”
    Most of my Hindi-speaking friends, whether Hindi or Punjabi native speakers, can do this with Hindi. I don’t know how many of them could go down to village level, but certainly down to regions within states. The village level identification would be achievable in Punjabi for native Punjabi speakers, I’m sure. Whether they would feel confident enough to do it on TV would be a different matter.

  55. Christophe Strobbe says:

    Michael Farris wrote: “There’s been enough immigrants that there there’s an immigrant jargon known as kebabnorsk: no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kebabnorsk (no English wiki entry, maybe AJP is up to the task?)”
    There is a German version of that entry, but it’s rather short. If someone writes a decent English version, I’m willing to translate it into Dutch.

  56. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I think, having read it, it would be hard to write a decent English version; it’s mostly swear words.
    Apparently there’s one in Sweden, too, called Shobresvensk; the name coming from the inwanderer greeting ‘Sho bre’.
    It says that maybe the baddest word in kebab-norwegian is Kose bibitt, or ‘Your grandmother’s cunt’.
    ‘Panties’ is far worse than that. What about ‘Yo grandmother’s PANTIES, you son of a horsepenis. (h.p.=haurd – pron. hæ’udd). Interesting that they’ve translated hestkukk from Norwegian into –what?–some other language.
    I suppose I ought to do this translation.

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