Day 19: Thursday
Good morning Zak,
As you know, I have a bird back home named Jerry. Jerry is able to speak basic American English, but he has a heavy conure accent. So far he has learned how to say “hi Jerry” and “hi there,” and he spends a lot of time repeating these phrases. It seems like, for Jerry, these two greetings contain most of what he wants to express in life.
But let me ask you a question, Zak: what if this weren’t the case? What if Jerry suddenly decided he wanted to learn more phrases? For example, what if he learned how to say “I love you” or “I am a self-aware moral agent capable human-like empathy.” This second phrase might be very cute to show people at parties, but should we believe what he’s saying? Does the fact that English is Jerry’s second language effect the credibility of the things he asserts in it?
By the way, Zak, I just found this hilarious cat picture online:
Speaking of second languages, when I learned ancient Greek, I spent a lot more time than I normally would writing about “the boy leading the oxen through the field.” This is a fairly interesting topic. I could maybe justify writing a page or two about it; as I remember it, though, my Greek writing for the first couple months expressed an almost obsessive fixation with boys, fields, and oxen. It was all I ever talked about. “The boy leads the oxen through the field.” “The boy plows the field leading the oxen.” “The field would about to have been plowed if the boy were to lead the oxen through the field in order to plow it.”
Zak, while these sentences were all great works of literature, do you really think readers should have believed that they expressed my genuine sentiments about boys plowing fields with oxen? Of course, in normal life, language is clearly not about parroting back phrases you’ve heard somewhere else. If that were the case, every online blog would be fixated on the same things—like cats or inspirational catch-phrases or Fw: Fw: Fw: How I Made a Fortune Blogging and Hilarious Prank Gone Wrong!!!!
For some people love and dating is a fixation like this. I am given to understand that boys, when they’re not plowing fields, sometimes speak a second language to pick up girls. (On which, see bizarrelovetriangleblog)
When I first came to Italy I sometimes would accidentally use words or phrases that were either archaic or very formal. This was because most of my Italian up to that point had come from books and literature I had read, some of which was very old.
This made for some awkward conversations…
I’d meet people and they’d ask, “so what’s your story?” but then they wouldn’t believe me when I started to answer, “midway through the journey of our life, I found myself in a dark wood…” I didn’t understand the problem; it seemed to me like a perfectly reasonable answer. If an inspirational blogger ever tells you to be true to thine own self… I won’t say they’re being inauthentic, but it is possible they’ve learned English from reading Shakespeare.
For some English speakers, when they think of Italy the first thing that comes to mind is Dante, for others it’s more or less spaghetti… ? I think that’s what that is.
Maybe Jerry should start a blog.