Thursday, June 14

auf Deutsch, bitte

we were sitting in the airport last month, waiting. that is the glorious thing about airports and being there early, checking your bags, and having a good hour or so before boarding. you get to sit and wait. or wander and wait. or people-watch and wait. and, if you are lucky enough to be traveling with somebody awesome, talk about a thousand strung-together nothings.
I can't remember how it began, but in this sunny, bustling airport, Kolby started teaching me bits of German. we were about to be on our way to Austria, after all. why not learn a bit of German? we had ridiculously high hopes that I'd learn enough in three weeks to actually be able to use. and I did get fairly excellent at asking random strangers for the time... but not much else. at any rate, it's not over yet. I am still practicing. why? Austria, after all, is in the past.

reason one: it's challenging in a very entertaining way. like a really giant and beautiful puzzle.

reason two: I actually know a good handful of German speakers, with whom it ought to be great fun to practice. (hi mum! and siblings, and friend Shara, and maybe Nicola someday, too.)

reason three: I love words, and stitching a few German ones at a time into the lexicon of my brain is completely fascinating.

one conversation Kolby and I had about the German language involved the word zu. this little word gets used just like the English words to, as in 'to the library' or 'to have read,' and too, as in 'too many pickles.' I naturally asked if it could also mean too as in 'me, too.' it can't. it doesn't, and this fact promptly boggled my mind. it still boggles my mind, in a very slippery, insidious sort of way. this crazy arrangement of meanings and spellings... it got me thinking in circles about why and how and when we attach meanings to words, or words to meanings. it's hard to explain just how crazy I find the idea. does the word zu actually mean two different things? or has its meaning been split up into two different English words? and then our too-- in German its two meanings are split into zu and auch. and then there are the synonyms, latched on like barnacles to the same meanings: also, too, so, similarly, likewise... it's so beautifully complex.

does it make any sense to talk about words like this anyway? mapping out where their definitions begin and end and border one another? would such a task even be possible? if it were, it would be an insane but probably thoroughly enlightening exploit of cartography. hmm. words having meanings vs. meanings having words. to, too, zu, auch. we've got a handful of letters here, fitted into four different words, which between them somehow contain all these separate but overlapping meanings. or do the meanings contain the words? what's the best way to visualize this? I think I will just have to keep pondering this. languages! they are amazing.

in that airport, as I wrapped my head around the German words for shopping and question and one, two, three, and as I wrapped my tongue around the sounds of einkaufen, frage, und eins, zwei, drei... my German tutor Kolby said to me, "as a lover of language, you owe it to yourself to study one other than your own, just for the ways it illuminates the intricacies of it."

so. why not? or perhaps I ought to say, warum nicht? wer wollens mit mich zu üben?

6 comments:

Cassànndrè Sager said...

Ich werde mit dir üben!

also, you may enjoy a book entitled something like "english grammar for students of german"

amelia c said...

ich vergesse du sprichst Deutsch auch. das ist cool. wir mussen üben, vielleicht... :)

Chris said...

Cool picture bro.

amelia c said...

cheers. it's one of the crazy sculpture things at the Dallas airport. DFW is definitely on the good list of airports.
at http://www.dfwairport.com/art/ you can see more of the fancy art installations they've got...

Nicola Swann said...

I want to know where all the words and meanings came from. ALL OF THEM.

I enjoyed this :)

Also, I've just remembered that I was meant to blog about the etymology of the word 'butterfly' about 6 months ago...

amelia c said...

well, what are you waiting for, nic?
"butterfly" seems a good place to begin one's quest for total etymological domination, eh?

and thanks. :) or, i should say, danke.