Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Parley Usted Englais?

I've noticed a disturbing trend in the last half-dozen or so books I've read. No, it's not anything Flowers In The Attic-y or anything. I've been bumping up against a bunch of Spanish in these books (Blood Meridian and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, specifically), and have left these tomes epically confused.

I speak passable French. By "passable" I mean I can order hot dogs by asking for "les chiens chauds" instead of "les hot dogs," but philosophical discussions or punning is beyond my grasp. But Spanish is totally Fifth-Dimension to my white-girl ears. It has been helpful to me in the recent past, as my apartment is infested with raccoons who are (allegedly) afraid of foreign languages, so I've been yelling Bolivian place names at the skittery walls, but conversationally, I am 100% Spanish busted.

So finding important dialogue being conducted in, you know, a foreign language, was a little disconcerting. It wasn't a sprinkling of words here and there, either; it was the more difficult-to-Google words like "bitchslap" and entire chunks of dialogue that exposited the action for the next ten pages. No footnotes. No glossary. No nothin'. Totally left in the cold.

The whole thing made me wonder about how I would fare in a foreign land (ooh...Puerto Rico!), and by extension, how the recently arrived cope here. For all our "multiculturalism," the official language of Toronto seems to be English, with a large Mandarin epicenter. We don't get exposed to tons of Hindi, or Arabic, or Spanish, or even French, that "official" Canadian language of ours. We have pockets of people who can talk gorgeously to each other and brokenly to bank tellers, and not a lot of overlap.

Reading these books gave me a tiny, safe taste of what that would be like: scared that I'm missing something important, but also thrilled at the snippets that I do comprehend. It also made me wonder about how fast I could grab at a new language; how fast any of us could, really. Scarily, it's probably not as fast we would like, chiens-chauds notwithstanding.

I have to give a shoutout to Junot Diaz, however, who is a) a fantastic scribe and b) taught me me, through his book, how to tell people they're goddammed drunks ("Usted es una maldita borracha!" or something like that), which is sure to come in handy in Cancun. Thanks, Junot; we should run away to deepest Quebec together, practicing our French as we go. The same can be said for Cormac McCarthy, although his book is much heavier on the "terrifying violence" and I feel that he would be more useful doing a play-by-play of Ășltimo combatiente tournaments. To each his own, I guess. Or, "los perros ladran, la caravana pasa, conjeturo."

No comments:

Post a Comment