May 07, 2012

Languages are hard

Do you ever think about the weird snippets of other languages you know? Do they ever pop into your head at odd times? I was just walking down the hall and I turned on a light and thought, "Kapunka." Which means "Thank you" in Thai.

I also learned the other day that when I say "Seedha" to tell taxi drivers to go straight, it's Urdu, not Arabic. (Because all the taxi drivers are Indian/Pakistani.) I said it as one of the Arabic words I know, to someone who was inquiring, and she was like "Psh, that's Urdu." Which I didn't even know, because I learned it from an Arab, who says it often when we share taxis, so I just assumed it was Arabic. (In my defense, he says "Yameen" and "Ya'sar" for "Right" and "Left," which are Arabic.)

And then there are the few bits of Polish I learned from my grandmother, the most important being "Dupa," which means "Butt."

And I also sometimes try to scrape the lining of my brain for a way to say something in Arabic, but I can only come up with the Spanish. The other day I was trying to think of how to say "I think," but I could only come up with "Pienso." Which is to be expected since my knowledge of Arabic amounts to nothing useful, while my Spanish is pretty extensive. But did I move to a Spanish-speaking country? No, of course not, I picked an Arab one.

C'est la vie.


  1. ...and then you ended your post in French. :P

    Is is possible to get around Abu Dhabi speaking minimal Arabic? Is it true that the rest of the world also speaks some amounts of English?

    As a second generation Chinese-American, I fudge words and speak half in Chinese and half in English all the time, switching grammatical structures here and there. It makes perfect sense to my family and nobody else understands it. I am not surprised that the taxi drivers seem to do the same with Urdu and Arabic.

    1. There's no need for Arabic in Abu Dhabi. Many people are more comfortable in their native Arabic, but almost everybody speaks some amount of English.

  2. I could've told you it was Urdu...
    But there are some overlapping words in high-register Urdu that come from Arabic!! I love those. Here are some basic words that overlap: "leykin" (but), kalam (pen), kitaab (book), kursi (chair). My high-level Urdu is shit so I can't comment on those as much.

  3. I sometimes find myself thinking in Tagalog when I'm angry and I'm cursing in Tagalog in my mind. A funny tidbit: the cuss word "Putanginamo" is translated to "fuck you" but when it is in a phrase "putang ina mo" it means "Your mother is a whore."

  4. I know snippets of many languages, so this happens to me all the time. I think of "dattebayo" and "dattebane" all the time, which is Japanese for something that can't be translated, but if you've ever watched Naruto then I don't think you'd be able to get them out of your head. :P

    I'm fluent in Chinese, have taken both French and Spanish, and hear too much Korean and Cantonese, so those languages plague me as well.

    That's pretty interesting all the taxi drivers would be Indian/Pakistani over there (UAE based on your sidebar). I wonder why so.

  5. Languages are tricky. I am currently trying to learn Russian and it's messing with my head, especially with all the gramatical rules that just dont exist in English. I take my hat of to anyone who has mastered more than I langugae, cause its hard work

  6. I took Spanish in 8th and 9th grade, so it's been a while, but I still remember some words. I think it's really easy to mix them up a lot - especially if you speak English (US), because a lot of our words originate from words in other languages, if that makes sense.

    Sign language is hard, too, because in every country, different hand gestures mean different things.

    I don't dare try to speak other languages half the time, though, because I'll most likely fail. :L Writing it and reading it would be something I could actually get away with.

  7. Language is definitely a funny thing. I grew up with Vietnamese parents who barely spoke any English and yet, I speak TERRIBLE Vietnamese. It's tough because I have two jobs that require speaking in Vietnamese and I struggle constantly (but I do feel that my brain is getting a good workout from figuring out the language!).

    My boyfriend speaks French. His friends speak French and some know very little English, so I feel obligated to study the French language to be able to communicate with his friends and family better.

    Language is interesting, I just wish I more free time to learn them!