vendredi, octobre 08, 2010

The art of Culture

When you grow up as bilingual, people tend to think that this means that you speak two languages just as your mother tongue, meaning equally good. The truth is often less brilliant, for it may  only mean that you speak none of them really accurately. 
Both is true for me. When I was between 15 and 35 I wrote and spoke German and French fluently and was also able to write stories in both languages. 
Since then, my German is declining. Especially since I stopped being active in the German Comic Community.

Not only do I have more and more to dig out  "the right" word, but I am also loosing the sense for the appropriate use of words. Just translating 1:1 definitely doesn't do the job.
Recently, there was an apparently big misunderstanding when I used the word "culture" (in German). To me, there was nothing to be misunderstood, but apparently, the other took it in a completely different way than I intended and therefore obviously didn't understand my whole statement. It was not the first time that this happened to me, especially with the word "culture" . In German,  it's as dangerous to use it as the word "art". Here too, the word is of common use in French and makes no statement whether or not it's "good" art. In German, the using of the word seems to be reserved for what is widely accepted as "good" art. Therefore, I prefer to speak of "work" when I talk about my art, in order to prevent people seeing me as an  Impostor. 

Even if one keeps up with reading and writing in a language, as long as you do not live in the area and interact with people on a daily base, you slowly disconnect with the evolving of the laws of metacommunication within the specific language. Sort of Chinese Room syndrome on a low level. Scary!
Just happy, it's not the other way: French language is literary overloaded with expressions and words that have a double-meaning and subtexts. This may explain why they are a lot more tolerant when you use a word  in a context that doesn't match their understanding of it... It may be a metaphorical use they didn't knew yet and don't want to out themselves as ignorants ;-)
Said tolerance of course only applies if you can speak French at all. If not, then you are screwed. Remember what French comedian Coluche said. "What I hate the most about foreign countries, they just don't speak french. And depending on the countries, they don't even speak the same foreigner!"

6 commentaires:

distelfliege a dit…

Well, "culture" is a somewhat dangerous word in german indeed. Within the political discourse, it has replaced "Rasse", a word that is completely deprecated, so "culture" is instead used, but in a weird, static way. That's just one example.

But I just came to read your post here, and I can reassure you, your use of the word is no more or less inappropriate like that of said CDU-Politician, who speaks german every day. I thought, you were a german resident speaking german all her life or at least I had no reason to think otherwise - a lot of germans use the word "culture" in a strange kind of way, see above.

you were right when you said in your last comment at caroonas blog, it's not about culture anyway, but about values. And I agree that as long as some basic values are agreed upon by all, the rest can be "multi-kulti".
now what I observed is that christians claim that those values were formed by christians and sprang off their christian values, some pagans believe that democracy was invented by pagans (greece, or norse thing-democracy or whatever) and therefore those values were originally pagan, atheists claim they invented them and so on.

thinking about it, when pagans or atheits say so.. it's not dangerous, really. These are minorities after all, and they can use a good dose of legitimation here and there. When christians, members of the government, members of the majority, who is legitimate enough, do so, it's a different thing. They marginalize minorities this way and I don't think that's right and in tune with the constitution. So, I do finally agree with you ;-)

2woelfe a dit…

An diesen Gedanken der Distelfliege hatte ich noch gar nicht gedacht, da für mich Kultur in erster Linie Kunst und nicht Politik bedeutet. Immerhin gibt es innerhalb derselben Rasse, desselben Landes, desselben Sprachraumes eine Vielzahl unterschiedlicher Kulturen oder Lebens-Arten. Man sehe sich nur Nord- und Südfrankreich oder -deutschland an.
Aber dasselbe sprachliche Problem gibt es auch zwischen jeder anderen beliebigen Sprache und Deutsch (oder einer weiteren beliebigen Sprache). 1-zu-1-Übersetzungen sorgen immer bestenfalls für Komik, schlimmstenfalls für herbe Mißverständnisse.

mausergirl a dit…

For what it's worth, I am bilingual - English and German.

And while I have no trouble translating from German to English, even difficult words (especially those gnarly historic terms for which there are no true equivalents in English), I am having more and more of a hard time translating from English to German, even SIMPLE things ... like email. YIKES.

Thank goodness for http://dict.leo.org. It's a lifesaver.

Diana Kennedy a dit…

@Distelfliege. The difficulties with this word in German are probably rooted in the past (national-socialism)
I ölived a long time in Germany, this is why I am still interested in all what happens there.
I never had a doubt that we are pretty close in our opinionsm it was obvious to me that you didn't understand me in the right way. This was due to my lazy way of writing and detail-explaining.

In my opinion, no group can claim the exclusive copyright on humanism and democracy. There were a lot of Christians among great humanists too, for example. And of course, jews, pagans, muslims and others. Religions may have contestable content, but there were - and are - always people who outgrew them and gave us great examples.

@2Woelfe. Für mich und im generellen, franzöosischen Sprachverständnis ist "Kultur" ziemlich umfassend, von der Kunst natürlich, bis hin zur Art wie man den Tisch deckt.

Diana Kennedy a dit…

@Mauser*Girl: My thoughts were indeed on you too, when I wrote this, since you are in a similar situation. I asked myself: Does she encounter the same decline of her German? Now you gave me the answer. Looks like no one can avoid the phenomenon. :-(
I'm using LEO very often, too!

mausergirl a dit…

If I used German as frequently as I use English, I am sure it would not be loosing it the way I am.

But as it is, I spoke about as much English when I actually lived in Germany, so I'm surprised it didn't start declining then! :D (My sister and I, for example, communicated primarily in English. We're weird that way.)

I yell at my dogs in German. Does that count? :D