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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

It Could be Worse

Learning Spanish—and now working diligently to improve my French—I often think about what a daunting task it can be. After all, I’m still learning English. I think about how much easier Spanish must be for French people and even easier for Italians. My own French has improved immeasurably simply because my Spanish is at a pretty high level. Just when I am starting to feel sorry for myself I think about what a bitch French and Spanish can be for the Chinese, or Japanese, or Arabs. Romance languages present a bigger problem for Germans, or Swedes, or Fins than for Americans. Something like 33% of English is derived from French—thank goodness for William the Conqueror.  

I recently read the Old English, or Anglo-Saxon poem called The Wanderer whose text dates from the 10th century but the actual poem may be from as early as around 597 a.d.  Had English not been heavily influenced by the French we might have been speaking a language that looked more like Danish. Here is the first line of the poem:

Oft him anhaga are gebideð metudes miltse. (Often the solitary one finds grace for himself)

As you can see, it doesn’t look anything like modern English and even less like Spanish or French.  We modern students of Romance Languages truly lucked out with that Norman invasion thing.  So I will keep plugging away at French and Spanish and try to keep the moaning down to a minimum. I realize that I have it easy every time I speak with a Chinese person here in Valencia who is trying to learn Spanish. Imagine learning a language with no cognates? With a different writing system? With a completely different grammar structure? I sort of did that when I studied Arabic and it was a huge pain in the ass or however  you say "ass" in Arabic.

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