Friday, December 01, 2006

Slaughtering Sheep and Conjugating Elephants

As any one who has ever studied a new language can tell you, you WILL make a lot of mistakes. The Uyghur culture is largely built on shame and losing face, so they joke: ‘when learning a new language you have to put your face in your pocket’. I just reread that in English and realised that it really doesn’t translate well. Hopefully you understand the meaning; a person can not be scared trying.

For the last several months whenever I am speaking I tend to forget the Uyghur word for “so” or “therefore”, instead I use the national language word. Not on purpose, it was just kind of what came out (it has gotten so bad that I have my classmate kick my under the table whenever she hears me use the wrong one). I recently learned, however, that in Uyghur it sounds very close to the word slaughter, like how they slaughter sheep on the holiday.

Today in class my teacher pointed out another mistake I had been making for months. Every time someone asks me how my Uyghur studies are going, or what I think of the language, I always comment on the verbs. There are over 1200 different ways to conjugate a Uyghur verb. I normally tell my friends that verbs are hard and I am never sure what to do with the back end of them. The only problem is I have not been using the word for verb, instead I have been telling them that the back end of elephants are very messy and I don’t know what to do with them.

Since my face is already in my pocket, here are some other funny things I have unknowingly said over the past two years in either Uyghur or the national language.
-“I rode a carrot” = “I rode a camel”
-“did you fire your seeds?” = “did you shave?”
-“I’ll need to ask the banana” = “I need to talk to the principal”
-“Is someone at the donkey?” = “Is someone at the door?

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