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Mais oui, nein? Tiens!

The other week, barsine, daegaer and I were lounging about in my sitting room, drinking wine and watching Dorothy L Sayers DVDs, when barsine raised a point that I had never considered before. The Lord Peter/Harriet Vane mystery was centred around a mysterious Russian emigre who was an exhibition dancer at a hotel (my dream occupation, I think. If I could, you know, dance), and he had several exhibition-dancer friends who, like himself, hailed from other lands. And like lots of "foreigners" in English literature and film, the speech of these people was peppered with random words in their native tongues, like "mais oui", or "nein". But barsine (who, like me, studied a furrin language at university - French for her, German for me - meaning that, like dancing Russian emigres, we are both well used to rambling incoherently in non-native lingos) pointed out that when one speaks in another language, one can usually remember the words for yes and no automatically, making this literary practice even more ridiculous. How can Poirot discource at length upon various poisons, and yet be forced to resort to his native French when saying "but yes"? I mean, if I were talking about, I dunno, the effects of strychnine on the nervous system in German, I doubt the words "but yes!" would have me scuttling back to English. I think I'd have been flummoxed by detailed medical terms first. In fact, I think I'd be saying basic German things like "aber ja" or "leider nein" every five seconds in order to give the (false) effect of native fluency. So why do these faux-immigrants keep dropping easy furrin words into their perfect English? Ah, because it's a lazy way for writers to indicate the dodgy presence of Johnny Foreigner! I forgot.

In other non-linguistic news, how the hell did I forget how much I absolutely and utterly love the Jam? Oh yes, because all my Jam albums are on vinyl and have been sitting on my wardrobe in a huge box with my other records for two years, waiting for me to have room for my stereo's turntable in my room. Which I now do! But so that I can listen to them on my iPod, I just downloaded a bunch of my favourite songs, and am now jumping about in my seat remembering the days when I used to trot about in a little Fred Perry shirt and listen to lots of Northern Soul. 'Eton Rifles' still has the best bass line ever.

Comments

wonderlanded
Mar. 21st, 2005 05:32 pm (UTC)
I've just spent a week doing that very thing to try to make my very rusty French sound a lot more fluent than it actually is by peppering every sentence with idioms drummed into our heads in high school and the odd nugget from my French Phrase-a-Day calendar.

Of course, in Austria they hear me talk and just shove an English (or, twice so far, French) menu in front of me, and all I have are a weird accent and the names of rooms and meals. (Thanks, EBD!)

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