On Language

Posted: September 4, 2007 in Blog

Since arriving here I have been working on languages–mainly, Luganda which is the dominant tribal language in this part of Uganda.

It took a while for the new words, phrases and sentence structures to sink in, but I’m finally beginning to say “wabale” instead of “thank you”, among other everyday phrases. I’ve been especially motivated of late, witnessing a fellow Canadian friend, Roxanne, pick up Luganda at a ferocious pace. Despite being here less than three weeks, she’s conversing in basic Luganda while I wrestle with basic greetings and responses.

In trying to explain why Luganda has been slow to take, I’ll chalk it up to the mixed bag of languages that surround me every day. At the house, it was mostly Brits, Americans and Australians when I first arrived. But recently two Germans moved in, which spiced up the household banter.

They proved to be the calm before the storm, because the Dutch have now moved in. Boy, have they ever moved in.

I now have eight Dutch roommates. So in a period of little more than a week, English in the house has become banished to a seldom-visited corner of the house.

(Aside: It was amusing last week when we were all out at a bar playing pool and realized that amongst some of the Dutch, the Brits and me, we also shared a knowledge of French. So the rest of the rounds of billiards were played speaking our newly-discovered shared language– and also coming up with themes to describe the teams we assembled to play pool. At first it was the Commonwealth vs. the Rest of the World (or ROW), then Britain vs. the ROW, and finally the Pacifists vs. the Imperialists (Holland and Canada vs. Britain and Germany)).

One of the advantages of all these languages is that I figure to learn some Dutch, and probably some German, while we’re all living together. I haven’t managed to pick up any Dutch yet– when we’re all sitting together in the house, Dutch words fly around the room at a ferocious pace, while I and the British roommate, Steve, share baffled expressions.

But I have made some progress on German. I now know that “Dosenöffner” is German for “can opener”. I’m hoping to soon move on from kitchen implements to basic greetings and, if possible, complex philosophical theories.

  1. Joe says:

    When I was in Germany I was very excited to try out some of the basic German I remembered from my ill-fated forray into the language via a first-year German class.

    I was tossing around Guten Tags and Aufweidersehens everywhichway until one of the nice young ladies we befriended in Jena laughed pointedly at me.

    “Nobody under 40 says aufweidersehen,” she said between gales of laughter.

    “Well, how do you say goodbye?” I asked defensively.

    “We just say ciao!”

    Ah globalization.

  2. Jen Kraemer says:

    Hey Chris,

    If you need some German lessons – let me know! I can toss you some sentences that will amaze your roomies 🙂


  3. cmason2 says:

    I’ll have to ask my German roomies about that, Joe, because that’s hilarious of ‘ciao’ is now the general way of saying goodbye. Who’da thunk….

    Jen, that would be fantastic if you could teach me some German phrases! My ability to identify a can opener will only get me so far…

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