The words we chose can reveal personal things about us.
As a writer, I know the dilemmas of trying to find different words, to expand my vocabulary. To make sure the words I have chosen fit the age range of my target readers and the genre of story.
Yet, it wasn’t until recently, when I began learning another language, that I realised how much of a person’s culture is exposed in their words.
I chose to learn the Malaysian language, which is very similar to Indonesian. There are more courses for Indonesian, but some of the words are different. So I hunted for apps and websites.
What a ‘rollercoaster ride’! (Which tells you immediately that I come from a country that has sideshows with such rides and I find them surprising, perhaps shocking – okay, I’m downright scared, now can we get on with it?)
I first tried downloading an app on my phone that offered a ‘word of the day’, and then put it into a sentence. It took forever to download (the word ‘forever’ tells you that although I exaggerate sometimes, I felt the download would never end.)
The first word of the day was ‘pigeon’. I wasn’t sure that would be a lot of help.
Second day offered ‘sing’ and put it in a sentence for me, ‘Everyone starts to sing at the seventh innings of baseball.’
I couldn’t think of a single opportunity to use that little gem.
The first website I found that offered to teach me my new language looked reasonable.
But as I peered further into the contents I became puzzled. The site offered sentences such as: ‘Bring the fat fellow to where?’
Then there was a section on Haemorrhoids with helpful translated words such as, ‘Help … Ouch … I need a doctor … cut …’
And a section called ‘Phrases of Scolding’. There were two options, ‘Sissy’ and ‘Obnoxious’. I read the first line where viewers were given the Malaysian words for ‘muck of the animal’ and gave the rest of the site a miss.
What about a dictionary? Again, I found one that gave the meaning then a sentence. I checked up the word ‘book’ – ‘Buku’ or the plural ‘buku-buku’. The practice sentence was, ‘The books that the rats nibbled on.’
Mm. Typical tropics.
I checked up ‘wife’ and the sentence was, ‘She was his second wife’ and a few other details that made me realise that it didn’t mean the first one had died or moved out.
There are surprises that awe and impress when you are learning a new language/culture. The word for ‘sun’ is ‘matahari’. I knew ‘hari’ was day, so I checked up on ‘mata’ and found that the word ‘sun’ literally means ‘eye of the day.’
I felt inspired to go on learning.
To progress to the word for ‘freckle’. Translated literally, this means, ‘Excrement of a fly.’
Yeah, I kind of get that. Being a freckle kind of person.
I can’t wait for my next lesson.