from Punch (Project Gutenberg eText 16727, Wikimedia Commons) supposedly using Scots but may be supposed to satirize Scottish Highland English,
quite likely “Scotch” made up by an English person
Learning another language is a challenge that some people love and other people
dread. To some people it is an exciting adventure, to other people a journey
into foreign territory where they feel much more insecure, inadequate and vulnerable
than at home. Most of them realize that another language comes with another
set of culture, history,
and ways of seeing, thinking and doing. This may be the most exciting part
for some and the most daunting part for others.
by Heinrich Zille (1858–1929) who often used working-class Berlin German to demonstrate social divides
In any case, foreign language
to venturing into foreign countries. Some people love it and some hate it.
I happen to belong to the former type. I remember my first border crossing
into a neighboring country when I was a child. I felt disappointed that things
were not radically different the moment the border was behind me. But little
by little I realized that most things actually were at least a bit different
from the way they were at home. Similarly, the language, although closely related
to mine, held many surprises. Words that were clearly related in both languages
were used differently, had different meanings, and the
equivalents of some words that were “bad” at home were perfectly fine here, or it was the other way around.
So I discovered what most other members of Lowlands-L have discovered: learning a language that is closely related to your own or
to another language you know well has its own special challenges. Yes, understanding a closely related language comes pretty easily, at least when you read it and
understand strange expressions within the context of what you do understand.
Speaking and writing it is another matter.
Because the new language seems fairly
familiar, we are more tempted to “wing” it, to translate literally from one of the languages to another, oftentimes
with incomprehensible, strange, funny or embarrassing results. Why, something
you think you said correctly may even violate social etiquette, may
be a case “beyond the pale”! This has happened to most of us. If it happens to you, don’t feel discouraged
by it! Yes, you have “gone out on a limb” by making up a foreign expression. But if you end up “beyond the pale” you are not likely to end up “in the doghouse.” Most listeners
will make allowances for you as a learner of their language, just as they are
likely to forgive you for committing a social faux pas in their culture. Nevertheless, it is no fun, and you may say to yourself, “I wish someone had told me.” Well, we have decided to try and tell you within the context of Lowlands languages and their close associates.
This week our long-standing member Jonny Meibohm came up with the bright idea
that we share relevant experiences and discoveries
with you. And this is why we have started this presentation, in time for our
thirteenth anniversary. We hope you will find it both useful and entertaining.
Some related expressions “act” differently in different languages, and the variety among them may seem baffling
You are welcome to send us comments and/or to contribute to this collection (with
a focus on the Lowlands languages). If you do, please drop us a line under the subject line “Beyond the Pale” at lowlands.list(a)gmail.com (replacing (a) with @). And please provide your name (or write “Anonymous”) and also your town and country.
Thanks, and have fun learning and sharing!
Reinhard “Ron” F. Hahn
Co-Founder & Chief Editor, Lowlands-L,
March 23, 2008