Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Silence Day Twelve

I am assured this will be my last silent day. At the very least it will save the paper I have been using to scrawl my notes and I will no longer be posting my ramblings here. I can go back to wasting my time in the ways I always have. I am now faced with the question of what might my first word or words be after almost two weeks of silence. It’s a little like the opposite of a dying remark, famous first words. My daughter’s first words were incomprehensible though we did distinguish the word “Daisy” fairly quickly, the name of the dog who still lingers. She also wandered about saying something like “skoowonday” and we finally realized she was reciting a line from “Mary had a little Lamb”. She was saying “school one day” as in , “It followed her to school one day”. It’s only when you have a child that you realize what a monumental achievement the learning of language is and what a strange hybrid creature we have in English. All that mixing of the Angles and the Saxons and the Romans and the French and the Germans. Even some Chinese (Ahoy and Ketchup and, occasionally, Gung Ho). If you are foolish enough to hang around in the places I grew up you’ll hear odd grammatical constructions that are born of Irish usage and torture of the language of the oppressor. Oddly there are very few Irish words in English though I believe “brat” is one instance. One of my favorite linguistic moments was on a bus in my home town, Birmingham, in England and it demonstrated the future better than any gadget or academic study. A young man got up from his seat and was greeted by a fellow passenger who had not seen him earlier. Their conversation was in Urdu since the vast majority of my neighborhood is now Pakistani. The young man who had stood was surprised to see his friend and rattled of a greeting in Urdu in the middle of which were the distinctly spoken English words “fucking wanker”. So, the quickly spoken greeting went something like: “Urdu, Urdu, Urdu, fucking wanker, Urdu, Urdu”. What was so marvelous about this was that Urdu clearly has no equivalent of the delicious and demeaning phrase “fucking wanker”. It also highlighted something about the adaptation to culture. I have no idea if Pakistani personal interactions are similar to those in England, where English people deliberately distance themselves from any sort of intimacy by deliberately insulting those they most love and like. Here was, probably, a young man who had been born in England to Pakistani parents, much as I had been born to my own immigrant parents, and he had adopted the English way of dealing with friends. Insult them. I wonder if there are any good Urdu phrases that could be adopted into English for insulting people.

About ten miles from where I grew up is the Black Country, the original industrial belt in the middle of England where the modern world was created in the Industrial Revolution. It’s where James Watt put the steam engine to practical use and out there they speak a dialect of English which is almost incomprehensible even to those of us who grew up close by. Now, technically, a dialect is a grammatically distinct form of a language and must not be confused with the way dialect is often used, to mean “accent”. For instance, Black Country folk (if you are looking for where this strange people live find Wolverhampton on a map and you are there) asking you if you wish to do something, for instance, go to the pub, will ask: “Yam gooing down pub?”. The word “going” here is pronounced as I have written it, a long “oo” sound. “Yam” means “are you?” This use of the word “yam” for “are you” has resulted in people from the Black Country being called Yam Yams by those nearby. While being derided as bumpkins it should be pointed out that the great James Whale, director of “Bride of Frankenstein” was from the Black Country as is Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. Here’s a link to how to speak Yam Yam. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrIqSlt9PXg

Now that we’ve all learned a little more about the varieties of English I must contemplate my first words from my reconstituted vocal chords. Should they be purely medical? “Did you biopsy the thing you removed?” is one possibility. More likely is: “This is harder than I expected”.

“I can speak again, my family will be disappointed”.

“How soon will I be able to yell at my child?”

“I am really sick and tired of this. Can I go now?”

My mother is dependent on hearing aids and cannot hear me when I call her on the phone because the hearing aids seem to present difficulties that neither of us understands. Though she will not be able to hear me much, if at all, it will be lovely just to have her at the other end of the line.

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