It’s been forever, I know, and I’m not going to spend too much time at the moment rehashing the time gone by. Suffice to say that I took three translation-related MA courses last semester and worked harder than I maybe have in university ever (and I’ve been in university for a long time now), and whoa was there just a lot to do. So any blog posts that I might have managed during those lost months would have been less cheery/informative/interesting and more along the lines of this.
That bit’s over and done now, though, so I’m going to see about getting back to posting here at least every so often. And what better way to start than with fun vocab!
I was reading through my email this morning and opened one from a local home-delivery website that has daily deals—basically, discounted vacuums and home goods. And one of today’s deals—a product that claims to help one reduce cellulite—yielded up an amazing new Icelandic word. Observe:
The caption reads: 20 day treatment that reduces cellulite. The Icelandic word for ‘cellulite’? Delightfully, it’s appelsínuhúð, which literally means ‘orange-skin.’ Which is a perfectly apt and yet totally imaginative way of describing cellulite, isn’t it? Skin that is covered in little pocks or dimples, like the peel of an orange.
I don’t think I’ll look at cellulite (or oranges) the same after this, but I will probably remember this word, so that’s something.
And with that, happy 2016, everyone! It’s not a particularly seasonal start to the year, but it’s good to be back, all the same.
A friend of mine recently shared this short article, “Why I taught myself 20 languages — and what I learned about myself in the process“, which was written by a teen polyglot who apparently had a quick run of fame in 2012.
Normally, I avoid articles that seem to be ‘selling’ (for lack of a better word) a method of language learning, particularly language learning on a fast track, or language training in bulk. For one, because the inevitable comparisons (‘he did it, why can’t I?’ or, ‘he did so much faster!’) are maddening. But also because in the end, I think that language learning is a really personal process that an individual needs to tailor for herself based on her own personal goals, needs, and learning style. So what works for That Guy may work extremely well for him, but it may not work for me at all. It’s not that I’m not open to suggestions or tips ‘n tricks or guidance, because I am—that’s why I’m not studying Icelandic in a cave in the middle of nowhere. But people’s brains work differently, people’s circumstances are different, and there really isn’t one go-to, foolproof way to learn a language, let alone become fluent in it.
Back in February—a lot happening that month—I was contacted by Patrick Cox, a journalist who, among other things, runs “The World in Words” podcast for Public Radio International. For those of you with nerdy linguistic leanings (or totally hip linguistic leanings, as the case may be), I encourage you to check it out. It’s a fascinating podcast that looks at language from a socio-cultural-historical perspective and since subscribing myself, I’ve learned about the popularity of hesitation words ‘um’ and ‘uh’ around the world (as well as which genders tend to prefer which word), the origin of the game Mafia, C.K. Moncrieff, the fascinating man who translated Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (and gave it its famous English title), and more.
All of this would be interesting enough to merit a shout-out, but the reason I bring this podcast to your attention now is that based on his visit in February, Patrick has now put together two podcasts about the Icelandic language. And—whoot, whoot—I am (briefly) quoted in one of these. Full disclosure: mine are not the most brilliant contributions on the state of the Icelandic language. But nevertheless, Patrick and I had a lovely chat about Icelandic—a rather invigorating one, I might add, at a point when I was feeling a bit down about the language and my handle on it in general— and I’m delighted to have been a part of his investigations.
I really encourage you to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (or whatever the kids are using these days), but you can also listen to each episode (17 and 15 minutes respectively) on the World in Words website. There are also written transcripts of both (although they’re abridged, actually—more of me in the podcast version!), but as Patrick says, its preferable to listen to these, as they were all conducted as spoken interviews.
Here’s part one (which I’m included in):
Will Icelanders one day ditch their language for English? (17 min)
Here’s part two:
The future of the Icelandic language may lie in its past (15 min)
Around the start of the month, I noticed little transparencies with musings about waiting affixed to bus shelters around the university and downtown. I’m not sure if these are at all connected to the ongoing Reykjavík Art Festival, or if someone is just art-ing it up on their own, but I actually quite like them.
Some of these are written in English and some are written in Icelandic. I’m not a master grammarian, but my assumption after reading the one above more closely is that these bus-musings weren’t written by a native Icelandic speaker, which I (perhaps not unexpectedly) find even more interesting. In the case of the musing above, someone (not the artist) tetchily wrote over the original date order (it was written month-day instead of day-month, as is done in Iceland and much of the world). And the same exacting observer also seems to have taken issue with the use of the English phrase “quality time” at the end and replaced it with the Icelandic word “goðastund.” I know a lot of Icelanders who pepper their (Icelandic) speech with English phrases here and there, but apparently, this viewer wasn’t having it.
Here’s a quick translation of the Icelandic entry. Note that some of the words were partially scratched out and I also didn’t quite know what to make of some of the phrasing, so I was extrapolating a little bit.
I don’t usually mind waiting. I often use the downtime to just think, ponder, be with myself, enjoy the moment, etc. Generally speaking, I don’t wait like this much and I think it’s good to be able to use this wait time just to catch up with myself. Maybe that’s why in reality I welcome the wait and look on it as ‘Quality Time.’
If I happen to have my camera on me and see any others of these around town, I’ll take pictures of them, too. In the meantime, I’m off to the bus stop now to enjoy my own Quality Time.
So, here we are, almost February. The year is well underway and I am happy to say that at least from our vantage point here, it seems to be getting off to a good start. Classes are several weeks in and I’m splitting my time between one rather challenging Translation Studies course (MA level, in Icelandic), an ÍSL (Íslenska sem annað mál, or Icelandic as a Second Language) course which focuses on learning how to write like an adult (thank the lord), and a couple literature classes (including one MA class on Scottish Women’s lit—great so far) which are really just for my own edification and allow me to enjoy the opportunity of like, being in college again and just studying for fun (whoo!). And full disclosure to this academic adventuring: the side benefit of the literature classes is that they are taught in English, thereby removing some of the second-language pressure and allowing me to focus the majority of my attention on the translation class.
Exams are over and it’s almost time for us to fly back to the US for what promises to be an absurdly (but not at all unexpectedly) warm Christmas. Like, 70F and sunny, guys. It’s going to be great. In the meantime, here is your weekly moment of Icelandic Christmas zen.
“Svona eru jólin”
Björgvin Halldórsson, Eyjólfur Kristjánsson, and the Öldutún School Choir
To set the scene as you’re listening, I refer to the description posted by YouTuber Strange-o-Rama on the video above:
I remember hearing this song as a little kid, sitting down on the Living room sofa and staring at the tree with all the presents under it and looking into the kitchen, where my dad was hard at work, preparing the Christmas Turkey. I looked out the window and all I saw was black. It was pitch black outside even though It was only about 17:20 in the evening. As I looked out the window…It suddenly began to snow. Little puffs of white slowly drifted down to the ground behind the window. What I felt at that moment, I can only describe as the spirit of Christmas itself. The complete and utter happiness, calmness and all around love I felt was overwhelming. I felt incredible. I hope you will find this feeling this year too. Have a merry christmas everyone.
Don’t worry too much about making mistakes when you’re writing or speaking.
It’s your second language—grammar mistakes are your right.
-Gauti Kristmannsson, professor of Translation Studies-
So, we’ve started doing presentations in my Phonetics and Phonology course (barrel of laughs that, I assure you), all of which are meant to demonstrate something about pronunciation for the rest of the class. Two of the first three groups actually ended up using the same clip for their presentations, a skit from the fabulous (and not yet available in English translation, I think?) sketch comedy show, Fóstbræður (Foster Brothers), which starred Jón Gnarr and (film director) Benedikt Erlingsson among others.
I’m familiar with some of the more classic sketches from this show, although I hadn’t seen this one, in which an acountant-type (Jón Gnarr) is called into his boss’ office for some serious news. (Sorry, couldn’t embed the video, so just click the picture for the link.)
The gist of the video is that Jón Gnarr comes into the office and is told by his boss (Benedikt Erlingsson) ‘Þú ert rekinn,’ which means, you’re fired. But what he hears is “Þú ert drekinn,” or you’re a dragon. Hilarity ensues, particularly for all us útlendingar who are pleased that Icelandic pronunciation isn’t always clear to Icelanders either.
That’s me. Sorta.
So: on Friday I had my last day as an official member of the Grapevine staff (although I will continue in a freelance capacity), and on Monday—following a great trip North, which I will tell you all about later—I set about updating my CV for the zillionth time and putting out some feelers for my next expedition into gainful employment abroad. The ink was hardly dry on the CVs when I got an unexpected phone call from the first after school program that I applied to work at, a job basically herding, feeding, entertaining, and preserving children ages 6-9 for a few hours in the afternoon between the end of school and when they are picked up by their parents.
I had thought this job was a no-go, even though I had a very successful interview (I thought, at least), as I hadn’t heard back from anyone since I had gone in for my interview in early/mid-June. But then here was the call I’d been hoping for: ‘You still want a job? Yes? Great—can you start tomorrow?’
Well, yes, actually.
I recently re-listened to a great episode of This American Life, a program called “Americans in Paris,” which begins with Ira Glass following David Sedaris on an extremely esoteric tour of Paris not so long after David had relocated there. (He seems to have moved on to West Sussex, England since, as revealed by this humorous bit of recent news.)
Much like the France-related essays in his book Me Talk Pretty One Day, this radio segment deals a lot with David’s struggles to learn and speak French. I think about these pieces a lot, actually, because they are tragic and embarrassing and funny and triumphant in a way that one only recognizes if one has spent a lot of time really fighting with a language in a foreign country. And they probably resonate with me all the more because although he is clearly adventurous enough to have picked up and moved to another country where he knew no one (except his boyfriend) at a high point in his own career, he doesn’t have the kind of personality which necessarily facilitates such adventure. For instance, Ira Glass asks him, “Is your experience here more of a feeling of adventure or more a feeling of humiliation?” And David’s reply is:
It’s more a feeling of humiliation. It would be a feeling of adventure if I were a different type of person, if I were a more adventurous person. But for me to get on a train and go to Switzerland, I don’t think, oh good, I get to have an adventure. I think, oh great, I get to make an ass out of myself in two different languages.