Monday, December 3, 2012

Linguistic Murder

Posted in Generalities at 4:47 pm by graceandpoise

So I’ve been in Serbo-Croatian (“Serbian Variant”) language classes since right around Labor Day.  I can construct some complete sentences now.  Sometimes those sentences are grammatically correct.  Sometimes.  A couple of weeks ago, one of the instructors told me, “You really need to murder your Bulgarian – it’s holding you back.”

Sorry, Bulgarian friends.  My Bulgarian language skills currently suffer from life-threatening injuries, even though my Serbian language skills aren’t out of the NICU just yet.

Why must one die for the other to live?  The two are just so closely related, but not quite closely enough.  A few examples (spelled kind-of-phonetically for those who speak American English)…

  • The word for “milk”:  Bulgarian – “mlyako” — Serbian – “mlayko”
  • The word for “where”:  Bulgarian – “kuhday” — Serbian – “gday”
  • The word for “good night”:  Bulgarian – “layka nosht” — Serbian – “lahkoo noch”
  • The word “kakvo” means “what” in Bulgarian; it means “what type of/please describe” in Serbian (“what” in Serbian is “shta”)
  • The word “kogah” means “when” in Bulgarian; it means “whom” in Serbian (“when” in Serbian is “kada”)
  • The term for “we are”:  Bulgarian – “nee smay” — Serbian – “mee smo”
  • The word for “easy”:  Bulgarian – “lehsno” — Serbian – “lahko”
  • Strangest of all (though not central to the problem):  the word for “Bulgaria” is “Buhllgahrya” in Bulgarian; the Serbian word, though, is “Boogahriya”.  Seriously.  One of the instructors actually told me they thought English-speakers took it upon themselves to put the “L” in Bulgaria, that it didn’t actually belong there.  The two countries have a great big border with one another, and have mostly-mutually-intelligible languages with pretty much the same alphabet!  How could the spelling/pronunciation of their neighbor’s name be a surprise?!

Not to mention the grammar complications.  For instance, Bulgarian has no cases but does have endings on nouns to indicate you’re talking about “the” thing rather than “a” thing;  Serbian on the other hand has seven cases that change nouns’ endings, but no definite/indefinite articles.  So you can see where some confusion would kick in.  And to think I anticipated this would be an easier learning curve than previous languages because I already knew a closely-related language.  Sigh.

So, to my Bulgarian friends, I apologize in advance that I will be unable to speak your language with anything resembling intelligence by the time I get to the Balkans and make my first visit to Bulgaria.  I hope you will understand, and I hope you will bear with me.  I really didn’t set out to slaughter my Bulgarian skills, but it’s looking like I don’t have a choice…

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