IN MY LANGUAGE I AM SMART.

Dragan Todorovic is a Serbian journalist and editor who emigrated in 1995 from Yugoslavia to Canada, where he wrote in English and did multimedia work, winning various awards. His latest piece is “In My Language I am Smart (The Immigrant Song),” which is linked from this page of his website; it’s an audio clip a few minutes long consisting of him talking about having to communicate in a new language, mixed with various sounds. It’s very effective; I particularly liked this bit, addressed to a woman he’s trying to make time with: “If we spoke in my language, you would have fallen in love with me three hours ago. Can you just love me now and understand me later?” Oh, and “HMS Concise Oxford comes to my rescue.”
Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to listen to the clip at the moment, read the Notes a bit further down the page:

…Language is acquired with its sound, and the sounds I had picked from records and movies were harsh, aggressive, and presented me in a very different light from who I was and am. Suddenly I realized that somewhere in the process of acquiring the tone of modern English I had lost my identity. It was painful to realize that in my language I was smart, but I sounded stupid in English. Example: while walking with my Canadian friend one day by a church, he started talking about the architecture of that particular building, and while I wanted to say a few things about how I liked the Gothic details on the arch at the entrance, and how I admired the intelligent choice of stones, all I could squeeze out was, “Yeah, it’s cool”.
Acquired meaning is superficial. Sound puts word into context, but the deeper shades of expression are not learned. I responded the way that Clint Eastwood, or some other action hero, would in one of their roles. Back in Serbian language I was connoisseur of arts; in my newly acquired language I was a cop…

(Via wood s lot.)

Comments

  1. Garrison Keillor wrote about this when he went to live in (Sweden?) with his new wife. (Since divorced.)
    Humor is even harder. I try hard to look for humor in the many Asian residents and visiting doctors in my hosptial. It’s there to be found, often, but it takes a willingness to see, and a bit of love of charades.
    Years ago, I tried to learn Japanese, to no success at all. But I managed to remember how to say “I don’t speak Japanese.” A joke, I’d hoped. I have had occasion to use it twice in the last month. And to my delight, my accent and pronunciation is good, and the excessive obviousness does come across as funny to Japanese speakers.

  2. That reminds me of how stupid I felt when I got to Helsinki and discovered that the carefully memorized Finnish phrase for “I don’t speak Finnish” was totally useless, since hearing me speak Finnish only encouraged a flood of Finnish, whereas saying it in English made the point far more effectively.

  3. I’ve found that memorizing something like “I don’t understand much, but I want to learn” can be productive.

  4. Alan Gunn says:

    I wonder whether this phenomenon ever occurs in reverse. Did Conrad write things in Polish? If so, were they as good as his writings in English? Are there systematic differences between Nabokov’s works in English and those in Russian?
    I’m not good at any language other than English, but I have read quite a few novels in German. It’s a fascinating experience, and, among other things, I remember the details of books I’ve read in German much better than others, perhaps because I read German more slowly than English and have to concentrate more reading German. Also, in my fairly limited experience, people who have learned English well, but for whom it is a second language, seem to speak a more-grammatical and less-jargon-cluttered English than most of us.
    Just speculating.

  5. It’s something that, being an Indian immigrant in the US, I deeply identify with. Thanks for the link.
    The problem, at least in Indians’ case, is not limited to the immigrants though. It is closer to home and deeper. Majority of the English-educated Indians living *in India* cannot express themselves with decent clarity (let alone with finesse) in English. Still the influence of English as the language of opportunity, not to mention it being a symbol of status and eliteness, makes them continue trying to do so. The worst part, however, is that these English speakers quickly lose their facility and fluency with their native tongue as well.

  6. Did Conrad write things in Polish?
    Nabokov said Conrad never wrote in Polish (in the course of objecting to being compared to Conrad), and that’s good enough for me.
    Are there systematic differences between Nabokov’s works in English and those in Russian?
    They’re certainly different, though they come from the same artistic sensibility. I would say that the wordplay is more subdued and natural-sounding in Russian; in English he goes overboard, showing off how well he’s mastered his second language (though it should always be remembered that he learned English in early childhood and claimed that he learned to write in English before Russian).

  7. I wouldn’t actually immediately trust anything Nabokov said about another writer. He had an enormous ego, plenty of malice, and rather narrow tastes.

  8. Sure, but it seems unlikely he’d lie about something so easily checked. Calling Dostoevsky a lousy writer is a snark of a different color.

  9. marie-lucie says:

    As a language teacher I have observed many students, and also colleagues and other people struggling with a second language – both anglophones learning other languages, and “allophones” (a Canadian term for the non-French or -English speakers) struggling with English or French. I have met many people who are like Dragan Todorovic: so at home, so effortlessly fluent, hence so “smart”, in their own language, that they are extremely frustrated to find themselves tongue-tied in another one. (I, on the other hand, am not a very fluent speaker or writer – it takes me a while to write a paragraph in French or English, because I tend to change my mind before I finish a sentence – but I enjoy the challenge of saying anything in a different language – no doubt like many “hatters”). Some of the worst students in French (and German, Spanish, etc) university classes are English majors, and professional writers are often not the best language learners – Nabokov was a product of the multilingual Russian upper class, who in effect learned more than one first language.
    I have met a number of persons (of various origins) who find themselves teaching their own language abroad but are uncomfortable with the language of the country they live in (especially if they ended up there through the vagaries and tribulations of life rather than by personal choice), and who complain about the poor language abilities of their students, not recognizing that some of those students suffer from the same problem that they themselves have: so the students should “work harder” to learn the words and rules of the teachers’ language while those teachers have been reluctant or unable to learn the students’ own language beyond the minimum necessary for daily life, even after years in their new country.

  10. In my experiences with Asian students of English in my home country, I found something quite interesting and yet a little disturbing. After a couple years of interaction with said peoples, I realized that when watching movies or other artistic works, although my conscious thought was very much well and alive, differentiating between fact and fiction, there remained a part of mind where whatever my senses sensed, there it was interpreted as fact, regardless of what my consciousness knew to be the contra. Similarly, I found that in my relations with the students, my consciousness knew very well that they were intelligent educated adults, but because of their clumsiness and limitations in English (my only fluent language), I was unable, or at least not discovering, these troves of personality and experience. Instead of said learnings, that same, as I like to say, innocent child, inside me, perceived my conversational others as being as mature and ‘advanced’ in terms of human development as their abilities of English speech. Now, our roles have been reversed. I have become the foreigner and language student in a country not mine own, and ‘they’ have become the natives, fluent in every aspect of this culture. As such, I’ve noted the same tendency in them toward me that I observed in myself — because I can’t express my ‘smartness’ in this environment, although not springing from their conscious knowledge, e.g. they know I’ve travelled the world and of what I’ve done in the past, they often treat me like the kindergarten student my speech presents me as.

  11. … because I can’t express my ‘smartness’ in this environment, although not springing from their conscious knowledge, e.g. they know I’ve travelled the world and of what I’ve done in the past, they often treat me like the kindergarten student my speech presents me as.

    Something very motivating towards fluency!

  12. Are there systematic differences between Nabokov’s works in English and those in Russian?
    (A long quote in Russian is left for Language Hat to translate, if he will feel like it)
    В хороших русских изданиях (плохие издания обходятся без этих излишеств) романа Набокова издатели помещают два замечательных набоковских же текста: “О книге, озаглавленной “Лолита” (послесловие к американскому изданию 1958-го года)” в переводе самого Набокова и “Постскриптум к русскому изданию”.
    В конце “американского” послесловия Набокова говорится:
    …Американский критик недавно высказал мысль, что “Лолита” представляет собою отчет о моем “романе с романтическим романом”. Замена последних слов словами “с английским языком” уточнила бы эту изящную формулу. … …Всякая оценка, основанная на моей английской беллетристике, не может не быть приблизительной. Личная моя трагедия … это то, что мне пришлось отказаться от природной речи, от моего ничем не стесненного, богатого, бесконечно послушного мне русского слога ради второстепенного сорта английского языка … .
    Однако постскриптум Набокова к переводу романа на русский язык возражает своему американскому собрату:
    Американскому читателю я так страстно твержу о превосходстве моего русского слога над моим слогом английским, что иной славист может и впрямь подумать, что мой перевод “Лолиты” во сто раз лучше оригинала. Меня же только мутит ныне от дребезжания моих ржавых русских струн. …
    … За полгода работы над русской “Лолитой” я … пришел и к некоторым общим заключениям по поводу взаимной переводимости двух изумительных языков.
    Телодвижения, ужимки, ландшафты, томление деревьев, запахи, дожди, тающие и переливчатые оттенки природы, все нежно-человеческое (как ни странно!), а также все мужицкое, грубое, сочно-похабное, выходит по-русски не хуже, если не лучше, чем по-английски; но столь свойственные английскому тонкие недоговоренности, поэзия мысли, мгновенная перекличка между отвлеченнейшими понятиями, роение односложных эпитетов, все это, а также все относящееся к технике, модам, спорту, естественным наукам и противоестественным страстям — становится по-русски топорным, многословным и часто отвратительным в смысле стиля и ритма. Эта невязка отражает основную разницу в историческом плане между зеленым русским литературным языком и зрелым, как лопающаяся по швам смоква, языком английским … .
    http://magazines.russ.ru/nz/2002/3/uspen.html

  13. I’ll just translate the last two paragraphs, which are what bears on the issue (what comes before is basically him saying you might think his translation of Lolita into Russian would be better than the original, but unfortunately his Russian had gotten very rusty by then):

    …After a half year of work on the Russian Lolita I … have come to some general conclusions regarding the mutual translatability of two amazing languages.

    Movements, grimaces, landscapes, the languishing of trees, odors, rains, the melting and iridescent nuances of nature, everything tenderly human (however strange that may seem!), but also everything loutish, coarse, juicily obscene, comes out in Russian no worse, if not better, than in English; but things characteristic of English, such as subtle reticences, the poetry of thought, a momentary interchange between the most abstract concepts, a swarm of monosyllabic epithets, all of that, but also everything relating to technology, fashion, sports, the natural sciences and unnatural passions — becomes in Russian clumsy, multisyllabic, and often repulsive in style and rhythm. This discrepancy reflects the fundamental historical difference between the green Russian literary language and the English language, ripe as a fig bursting at the seams…

  14. marie-lucie says:

    About authors doing their own translations, there is an interesting book by Julian/Julien Green, published in France as Le langage et son double/Language and its double, containing texts originally written in French or English and translated by the author in the other language. Green wrote in the language of the country where he was living at the time and signed his name accordingly. It is interesting to see his translatios, which often are rather an adaptation or a rewriting. To my mind it seems that the English texts are simpler, less literary than the French ones (although born in an American family, Green in his early years lived in Paris and spent much time in the company of French nannies, so that he did not really speak English until he was 5 or 6 years old). Other works of his have been translated by other people.

    At a time when I was applying for jobs (in Canada), one of the letters of application had to be written in French. I thought I could just translate my already written English-language letter, but that did not work at all – I had to compose an entirely new letter in French.

    English is having a huge influence on written French (in France) nowadays – it is not just the influx of English words used in spoken French and in some printed media (eg. popular magazines), but also the syntax of written French, as a result of the number of texts translated from English, many of them too literally translated, either by overworked professionals having to meet deadlines or by persons who can more or less read English but do not know the subtleties of the language. An example of this is the use of C’est to translate not only It is but This is and That’s, for instance in front of what X said. The result is often “repulsive in style and rhythm” indeed, and such errors not only destroy the flow of a sentence or paragraph but also lead to outright distortions of the meaning.

  15. David Marjanović says:

    I thought I could just translate my already written English-language letter, but that did not work at all – I had to compose an entirely new letter in French.

    Why?

  16. michael farris says:

    Similarly in Polish, an avalanche of overly literal translations* is affecting Polish syntax and other questions of style.
    Polish people over 50 or so find the expression ‘miło cię widzieć’ (a calque of ‘nice to see you’) as awful sounding, while it’s completely natural to almost all my students (not anything they’d say, but it sounds fine to them in translated material).
    Also overuse of words like ‘rzecz’ (thing) and ludzie (people) and use of second person as an impersonal form are more and more common.
    *partly due to quality control issues, partly because local taste often runs to literal rather than idiomatic translations

  17. marie-lucie says:

    Because the sentence structure, if translated too closely, was all wrong (and also the general style appropriate to such a letter). The two languages are only superficially similar – they have the same basic SVO (Subject – Verb – Object) structure, and a lot of intellectual vocabulary in common, so that it seems possible to translate word for word in most cases, but the order of presentation of the elements of the sentence can be quite different. This is one more case where literal translations from English lead to a “repulsive rhythm”, etc which is now becoming the norm in some French writing. I don’t mean that English rhythm, etc is repulsive, but each language has not only its own logic but also its own aesthetics, and you can’t just superimpose the one on the other (a poor translation from French into English also has “repulsive” characteristics).

    As an example: in English noun-phrases adjectives are placed before the noun, and you can pile up a large number of adjectives and other modifiers, some of them quite complex, between an article and a noun. In French most of these elements are either placed after the noun, or mentioned separately before or after introducing the noun-phrase. So English is more compact, but French allows more variety in structure as well as more leisurely description. In English media we often find sentences introducing a person in terms such as “The British-born, Oxford-educated, twenty-eight-year-old movie actor …..”, for which the traditional French equivalent would be something like: “Né en Angleterre, âgé de vingt-huit ans, cet acteur de cinéma, après des études à Oxford, …” (and the various modifiers separated by commas could be placed differently depending on the author’s desire to emphasize different descriptors), but now you read things like: “L’acteur de cinéma de 28 ans, né en Angleterre et éduqué à Oxford, …”, with all the modifiers together after the noun, and none of the variety possible when most of the modifying elements are separated. Moreover, the English article the is translated as a French article, whereas traditional French uses the weak demonstrative ce(t) since the name of the person has already been mentioned: using the article in French makes it sound as if this description was intended not just to describe the person but to identify him as opposed to others with similar characteristics (ex l’acteur de 28 ans as opposed to l’acteur de 40 ans). This is one of many, many instances where closely following English results in a flat, colourless style, a sentence that seems to go too fast, and a slight distortion of the meaning.

    People from France used to find official Canadian French (ex. on government documents or public signs) stilted and unnatural, but now they are taking on the same characteristics from English syntax. I find this much more insidious and annoying than simply the use of English words in otherwise French sentences.

  18. I read an interesting post, probably on this very blog, about how dubbing movies and television from English into German was subtly effecting the German language since the translators often rely on calques to get the sound synched up. For example dubbing “Oh my God!” as “Oh mein Gott!” instead of something more traditionally German like “Ach du lieber Gott!”.

  19. How nice would it be if marie-lucie write a whole book to teach the Anglophones (and non-Westerners like me for whom English is the first European language) correct French style! I speak relatively natural French for a furrinner, but I could never bear to look at my own French prose. It seems that behind every sentence, every word, every turn of phrase, I can see the English original.

  20. I read once in a novel set in Germany, but written by an American, a reference to a German-speaking character saying “two words over and over again, ‘Thank God, Thank God'” But in German (as far as I know) you need three words to represent that meaning. It would have been easy enough for the author to omit “two words” from his text.

  21. I read an interesting post, probably on this very blog, about how dubbing movies and television from English into German was subtly effecting the German language since the translators often rely on calques to get the sound synched up. For example dubbing “Oh my God!” as “Oh mein Gott!” instead of something more traditionally German like “Ach du lieber Gott!”.

    Living in a country where TV and movies are subtitled, I’d say not dubbing has a much more profound and rapidly advancing effect. WIth dubbing, you hear these calques on TV from time to time. With subtitles, you hear the original English expressions every time, all the time. For generations that largely aren’t fluent in the language the English they’ve heard on TV every day all their lives is largely incomprehensibe and has had little influence on how they speak their mother tongue. But with increasing English fluency, things have changed a lot.

    People under 35 or so use calques all the time. Often it’s just wrong and sounds clumsy, but a lot of these calques wouldn’t even be understood by a person with little English. Sometimes the speaker uses them on purpose, but a lot of the time they have no idea. I use a lot myself, despite recognizing many for what they are (I’m sure a lot just fly under my radar). With all the English we’re immersed in, I know I should accept it as a natural process, but I’m finding it hard to stop myself from deeply disliking it and feeling a bit uneasy when I repeatedly hear stuff like sretan sam za tebe.

  22. marie-lucie says:

    minus: Thanks but no thanks! I would just be accused of being a “fuddy duddy” type of person, and it isn’t as if I was a prose stylist in either language. There are probably many other books dedicated to just this goal, found in university bookstores (and secondhand ones) under “Advanced French composition”.

    Some years ago two francophone professors in Canada, at least one of whom was from France, wrote a book (not a textbook) called Stylistique comparée du français et de l’anglais (Vinay et Darbelnet) comparing English-influenced Canadian French (especially in public signs and documents) to the more natural French of France. This was years before so many poor translations from English appeared in French publications. Again, this book should be findable, even in well-worn copies.

  23. marie-lucie says:

    Television influence: I remember my father telling me (not recently) that with so many American series dubbed on French TV, many French people having to appear in court were addressing the judge as “Votre Honneur”, instead of “Monsieur le juge” which would be proper French court etiquette. (I was told that in Québec courts the proper term is – or was – “Seigneurie”).

  24. In the early 70s, “hungrig” was not used as a predicate in German. The standard expression for “I’m hungry” was “Ich habe Hunger”, not “ich bin hungrig”. But in the last 10-20 years, I’ve noticed that “ich bin hungrig” has become acceptable – an obvious calque on the English.

  25. Thanks! I’ll see if the insights in these books could match the nuggets of gold which appear each time when marie-lucie goes fuddy-duddy on this subject.

  26. marie-lucie says:

    Fuddy-duddy me, ha!

  27. Votre Honneur

    Similarly, in England and Wales the justices of the peace, who are not paid and deal with minor crimes, used to be addressed as “Your Worship” (< worthship) and are now called “Sir/Ma’am”, but Americans, Australians, and even some Britons call them “Your Honour”.

  28. marie-lucie says:

    In Canada, “Your Worship” is for mayors and reeves (yes, they still exist). I don’t know about addressing justices of the peace. “Your/Her/His Honour” is not only for judges but also for the Governor-General of Canada and the Lieutenant-Governors in the provinces (representatives of the Queen).

  29. David Marjanović says:

    But in German (as far as I know) you need three words to represent that meaning.

    Yes, unless you spell gottseidank as one word.

    sretan sam za tebe

    Oh wow.

    But in the last 10-20 years, I’ve noticed that “ich bin hungrig” has become acceptable –

    Austria is spared from this because hungrig doesn’t exist in the dialects in the first place. 🙂 O mein Gott, however, is pretty common among heavily TV-watching people of the female persuasion my age and lower.

  30. Some gem from the Vinay/Darbelnet book (a very nice one, in fact):
    The Time Machine (H.G. Wells) : La machine à mesurer le temps.

  31. marie-lucie says:

    Nobody’s perfect!

  32. I find it hard to take Croatian seriously ever since I learned that they translated football as nogomet…

  33. Danish subtitlers have an easier time of it, it’s just {Å Gud!} eller {Kære Gud!} — though rarely heard from the natives any more. Of course there’s åvæmdji for the under-16’s.

  34. David Marjanović says:

    Of course there’s åvæmdji for the under-16′s.

    Thread won.

  35. ə de vivre says:

    I’ve always thought that the oh my gods of Quebec French add a certain je ne sais quoi to the spoken language. It seems like it’s even eeked out a pragmatic territory distinct from that of seigneur or bon yieu.

  36. marie-lucie says:

    I don’t know the pragmatic territory of such words in Québec, but in “hexagonal” French Bon Dieu! is (or perhaps used to be) considered very bad, not at all an equivalent of “Good God!”. Even worse was Bon Dieu de Bon Dieu!. One of my grandfathers used those words liberally when he was mad about anything (which was quite frequent), and that seemed to me to be typical of older uneducated men.

    I think I have only encountered Seigneur! in older novels, uttered by older uneducated ladies faced with something they considered appalling.

  37. David Marjanović says:

    or perhaps used to be

    Laïcisme – it’s all merde and putain now.

    Eh merde has the advantage that you can turn it into a crescendo of three syllables as you gradually realize how infuriating the situation really is.

    (German cursing once had a lot of hell & devil. Gone, all gone, together with the whole array of euphemisms.)

  38. marie-lucie says:

    Merde has been around for centuries but seems to have become “cleaner”. Putain (shortened from putain de sort, perhaps a variation on earlier coquin de sort which was “cleaner”) I heard as a curse word in the South, so it seems to have increased its territory in the past few decades. In-migration of Southerners towards the North and their increased presence in the media might be responsible.

  39. I have great reverence for the German language. I did the best I could with it. I stood by it many years. I worked it hard and it worked me hard. There were many pleasant incidents connected with the struggle. We had a very dear old lady, a sweet old soul, who took a great fancy to a young lady who was traveling with us. She took so strong a fancy to that young American woman, that she poured out her practical German affection upon her, and she couldn’t say too much, or find too much praise in that young person and everything connected with her. And this dear old lady was always trying to find similarities between the Germans and the Americans, and was always delighted when she could show a sort of relationship in methods of expression and feelings. And she said one day, “Why, you talk the same as we talk. We say, ‘Ach Gott,’ and you say, ‘God damn.'”

    —Mark Twain

  40. Bring back Pottstausenddonnerwetter, I say.

  41. marie-lucie says:

    shortened from putain de sort, perhaps a variation on earlier coquin de sort which was “cleaner”

    Actually it is more likely to come from putain de vie: see for instance chienne de vie with which you can complain of how miserable your life is. In coquin de sort the two words are both of masculine gender, and similarly the components of putain de vie are both of feminine gender. These phrases cannot be translated literally in English. The best I could do would be to use a sentence, such as “Life’s a bitch” (chienne ‘female dog’ as well as ‘nasty, lying woman’), now replaced by the equivalent of “Life’s a whore”. Un coquin used to mean something like ‘rogue, petty criminal’ (now archaic in that meaning) and le sort is ‘fate’.

    A few years ago I heard a interview on Canadian radio with a French woman journalist who had written a book about (I think) the Iraq war, with the title Chienne de guerre. The interviewer, knowing *some* French, interjected with the translation “Dog of war”. This was a complete misunderstanding: it should have been “War’s a bitch”. (I may have mentioned this here, or just thought of doing it).

  42. this does translate literally into English – “that bitch of a war”…

  43. marie-lucie says:

    Yes, I thought of that too, but it seems to me that as a standalone interjection (rather than a phrase in a sentence) “War’s a bitch” is better. But others could disagree.

  44. “War’s a bitch,” is way better.

  45. “Life’s a bitch”

    Or, as we used to say in the advertising world, life’s a pitch.

  46. gwenllian says:

    I find it hard to take Croatian seriously ever since I learned that they translated football as nogomet…

    Not sure what’s noteworthy about this, the word seems pretty unremarkable to me. What is somewhat interesting is that, while fudbal stuck in the rest of the Slouth Slavic area (with nogomet only used in Croatian and Slovenian), the word rukomet (handball), which also dates from the end of the 19th century, successfully spread to all South Slavs except the Bulgarians. I’ve often wondered why it happened that way.

  47. The prescriptive bits of language, of which technical vocabulary is the most prominent (someone decided to use the word gas to refer to gases once they were distinguished from air), often differ in funky ways in related languages. See our discussion of Slavic month names for an example.

  48. Like Czechs, the Croats are infamous for insistence on inventing purely Slavic technical and modern terms which no one else understands, even speakers of neighbouring Slavic languages.

    I bet even Serbs would have trouble understanding what “ukrcavanje u zrakoplov” means

  49. Arrgh. I meant, of course, “related languages”.

    I’m back in the hospital briefly with an unrelated problem, but only my foot and not my head is affected.

  50. I fixed the “related” and wish your foot the best.

  51. gwenllian says:

    Like Czechs, the Croats are infamous for insistence on inventing purely Slavic technical and modern terms which no one else understands, even speakers of neighbouring Slavic languages.

    This sort of translation, or at least its popular acceptance, is a thing of the past these days. English is too powerful and the world moves too fast for that to still be possible. A tiny number of exceptions have spread successfully, but overwhelmingly, even if a translation does exist buried somewhere in a dictionary, it’s just English everywhere. Even long-established words that aren’t used regularly are getting squeezed out by it.

    I bet even Serbs would have trouble understanding what “ukrcavanje u zrakoplov” means.

    I know it’s a joke, but I’m curious about the inclusion of that first part. Ukrcavanje is common in all the Shtokavian standards and, as far as I’ve noticed, seems common in all Shtokavian dialects in general.

    As for nogomet vs. rukomet, maybe it was the greater popularity of football that made it more difficult for the translation to gain popularity among South Slavic fans outside of the more purist Slovenia and Croatia. Of course, there doesn’t actually have to be a specific reason at all.

    Basketball and volleyball also go by a local name in all of former Yugoslavia (košarka and odbojka). The other big team sport around here, water polo, has never been translated (as far as I know), and is simply known as vaterpolo everywhere.

    The prescriptive bits of language, of which technical vocabulary is the most prominent (someone decided to use the word gas to refer to gases once they were distinguished from air), often differ in funky ways in related languages. See our discussion of Slavic month names for an example.

    Yep, even the Shtokavian standards are very different from each other when it comes to technical vocabulary.
    Best wishes, John!

  52. Hope your nòga gets better soon, John.

  53. So while my symptom of pain is much better, the objective signs of redness, swelling, and heat are no better at all, despite days of vancomycin (a rock-crusher antibiotic). I will have surgery at 4 PM (New York time) tomorrow to drain a suspected abscess that MRI shows underneath the worst part of the inflamed area. After that I’ll be laid up (or nearly) for at least two weeks here in the hospital, and heaven knows what then. So tomorrow is my last day of even slight freedom.

  54. I note that this technical distinction of sign and symptom, which corresponds (I think unconsciously) to a less formal distinction in ordinary language, has been deployed here but never discussed.

  55. Good luck, John!

  56. marie-lucie says:

    Bon rétablissement!

    sign and symptom

    I think that sign is more general than symptom, which is more precise as well as usable in more restricted contexts. You could say redness is a sign of inflammation but inflammation can be one symptom in a number of medical conditions. Big grey clouds are a sign of impending rain, but not a symptom of it since rain is a normal event in most of the globe. But I think one could say nowadays that rapidly melting glaciers are both a sign and a symptom of global warning, since global warning is now widely considered a critical condition affecting the earth.

  57. Non-technically, yes. But in diagnosis, a symptom is what the patient tells you, a sign is what you can see for yourself. Wikipedia.

  58. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks JC, it did not occur to me to consult Wikipedia on this topic.

  59. @John

    Hoping you’re up and about again soon!

  60. John Cowan-

    *SALUTE TIVI REVENJAT SI TU NOVIS REVENJAS IN PAWKU TEMPUS!

    Estefanu.

  61. @JC: Gut Besserung!

  62. Thank you all.

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