The joys of learning languages

Somewhere I recently saw a shared post on FB talking about moments of understanding what others are saying in other languages when they clearly think you don’t understand them — I even saw something talking about how it is rude to be that person without letting people know.

For those who don’t know, I’ve some background in Spanish, French, Greek, and Latin.  I’m not actually fluent in any of them, although I can keep up best in Spanish.  My first Greek class was taught at Whatcom Community College to help students and the faculty member who were going to be going on a trip to Greece (I wasn’t going to go on the trip, but couldn’t turn away a chance to learn Greek).  The dialect of Greek being taught was demotic, meaning the kind of Greek spoken in Greece by native speakers today, as opposed to older dialects like Koine (virtually identical to New Testament Greek), Attic or Homeric.  Or the phony constructed Erasmian, put together by a German theologian who never ever heard Greek spoken by someone fluent.  There are major wars fought among Helenophiles as to which dialect Greek should be taught in, particularly which pronunciation should be used for the letters in the alphabet.  Just so you know.

During the class, I memorized a handful of phrases that I thought could be useful going forward.  A major one transliterates to “Den katalabayno,” which means “I don’t underestand.”  The utility of that should be obvious.  Some years later, while I was still cashiering at Target, the customer I was ringing up was a mother, who was chewing out her son in Greek.   I couldn’t begin to follow what she was saying, but her last sentence ended with “Katalabayne?”  Which I repeated, because I recognized it.  And then I remembered and said “Den katalabayno,” as I tried to figure out what it meant.  It took me about two more sentences to get to the point where I understood that she had finished her scolding of her son with “Do you understand?!”  At which point she realized I knew what she had said and stopped talking to him in Greek, and I talked about how I understood that which got us to the end of the transaction, and she left.

Lately, my Greek exposure is pretty much limited to postings from my FB friend Konstantia Makre.  She posts pretty pictures most days with a caption of “????????”  which transcribes to something similar to “Kally-merra” if you don’t try to roll the “r,” and which means “Good day,” or “Good Morning.”  She’ll post other things in Greek, and I feel pretty good if I can sound it out and recognize a word or two, which I often can’t.

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