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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Foreign Language (12/09/10)

TITLE: Logophilia
By Gregory Kane


I don't particularly enjoy learning languages. The proverbial Brit contends that the rest of the world ought to have the decency to speak the Queen's English. After all, if it was good enough for the apostle Paul, then it should jolly well be good enough for everyone else!

For some bizarre reason I do seem to have picked up a fair number of languages over the past forty years. French was compulsory in our school and doubtless I butchered it mercilessly. Later on, I spent a month working on a farm in France, but these days I'm lucky if I can come out with je ne comprends rien.

My schoolboy German proved to be of no earthly use whatsoever, save on one occasion when it enabled to ask for a second slice of gateau at a Frankfurt wedding: mehr kuchen bitte. Danke.

And the best thing about studying Latin at school is that (unless you have the misfortune to be the Pope) it's a dead, and thus unspoken, language. To this day Timeo danaos e dona ferentis still rolls off my tongue every time I see Brad Pitt strutting his stuff on the shores of Troy.

The transition from school days to university exposed me to a whole host of new languages, ones more readily associated with silicon- rather than carbon-based lifeforms. LET A=15; PRINT A+7 is kindergarten BASIC, the computer language adored by geeks of a certain age who remember life before Windows. I even dabbled in a cryptic conundrum known as 6502 Assembly Code which boasted such bizarre imperatives as:

EOR #$7F
CPY #200

I eventually mastered and indeed earned a living through an ability to read and write in C. For those of you unfamiliar with this particular modern language, here's a short example of its beautifully concise phraseology:

if (sym == s) {
return 1;
return 0;

Up to this point in my linguistic development, I had stayed within the confines of the standard Latin script, that is to say the letters A to Z. As my theological studies took off, I found myself having to contend with such tongue-twisters as εν αρχη ην ο λογος which as everyone knows is Jn 1:1 in Greek. Eventually my brain tuned into this odd-looking alphabet and I reached the stage where I could relatively easily read John's gospel in the original. I subsequently discovered that Paul's epistles are just as hard to get your head around in Greek as they are in English!

Here's a confession: I gave up on Hebrew. At a pinch I could cope with the curvy letters. I even mastered the knack of reading from right to left. But the inherent vagueness of the language drove me to distraction. How can anyone translate the Old Testament when ancient Hebrew doesn't possess any tenses? What this means is that a verb like I write can equally be rendered in the past, the present or the future, depending on the context. So did he write, or is he still writing or is he about to pick up his pen?

Moving to Africa exposed me to yet another system of linguistics. French has two noun classes: masculine and feminine. Shona, belonging to the Bantu family, boasts an impressive 23. Moreover, its structure is such that it produces very long single words such as mungandinyatsoverengereiwo which means, "please would you read ever-so-nicely for me." Very few non-Africans ever take the time to learn Shona but I gained a half-decent grasp of the language. The sight of a white man preaching in the market square in the local dialect invariably drew a good crowd to our open-air meetings.

Five years ago we relocated to a country where hardly anyone could speak English. Once more back to the study books as I grappled this time with Portuguese. I was accompanied in this mad venture by my wife who all too quickly left me feeling like a dunce. In my defence, I had so many languages buzzing round my head that it was rather remarkable when the right word actually popped out! I recall standing by a market stall dumbstruck while my wife rabbited on in Portuguese about the price of tomatoes, the state of the weather, and where to buy sandals. Aí de mim, não fiquei contente!

These days I'm back in the UK and I don't need to use any of those wonderful languages. For some funny reason everyone who meets me comments that I speak English with something of an odd accent. Oy vey!

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This article has been read 523 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Amy Michelle Wiley 12/16/10
Fun article! I love languagest. So far I'm only fluent in two, but hopefully someday I'll add a couple more.
Noel Mitaxa 12/18/10
Very informative and illuminating entry, GK. I don't know if everyone really knows John 1:1 in the original koine Greek, but that would be a very minor criticism.
Verna Cole Mitchell 12/18/10
I really enjoy your writing; your irony is quite subtle. I'm impressed by the many languages for which you've achieved some mastery--but, most particularly, your creative renderings in English.
Virgil Youngblood 12/18/10
Insightful and delightful.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 12/18/10
I so enjoy your sense of humor. It's seldom thatI come across someone as wonky as some say I am. Your story is quite impressive. I can pick up reading in different languages but have great difficulty understanding the spoken word as well as speaking it. Your story as always is a delight:)
Sarah Elisabeth 12/18/10
Halito, Gregory. Impressive bit of babel.

Enjoyed the geeky and Greeky
parts ;-)

Yvonne Blake 12/21/10
Cool!! I loved see the smatterings of all your languages.
Edmond Ng 12/21/10
Very interesting read covering so many languages. I was pleasantly surprise when you include the C language. LOL. I agree that too much of foreign language can sometimes turn us to become accented in our own native language. You certainly have adapted well in learning the languages wherever you are, and that's a perfect making of a missionary.
Cheryl Harrison12/21/10
I love your take on the topic! Very creative. I haven't ventured into Greek yet, but Hebrew was my favorite class! :o)
Henry Clemmons12/21/10
This was a little different from you. I enjoyed it however, learned a few things, and thought the title should receive an A. It was well written too; smooth conversational, easy to read.
Catrina Bradley 12/21/10
I really enjoyed reading about your journey through languages. Your essay came to a good, and amusing, conclusion.
diana kay12/22/10
i really enjoyed reading this. the humorous conversational style kept my interest throughout :-)
Lollie Hofer12/22/10
Absolutely delightful and fun to read. I chuckled several times. Good use of this week's topic.
Lisa Johnson12/31/10
I must have temporarily fallen off the face of the earth... because I never even saw this topic go by... but you did a wondeful job with it. I enjoyed reading this very much!