Thursday, 28 February 2013

Barking up the wrong tree

'No, I do not want to practise my Greek verbs'
Lately, I've been teaching my dog to speak Greek. Ambitious, I know, and not entirely true - I doubt that she'd ever get the hang of verb endings and the way they change with tense. No my language lesson is more simple. As a dog raised in England, Bonnie says 'woof' and now she lives in Greece she needs to learn that dogs say 'ghav' (γαβ).

Try it and you'll see, or rather hear, that actually when said with a bit of throatiness 'ghav' does indeed sound quite like a dog barking. Silly, you say, well yes, but for me it encapsulates some of the key difficulties I'm having in getting to grips with the language of the country where I now live. I'm no linguist and never have been, but it strikes me that native speakers of every language grow up developing a particular way of making the sounds that combine to form the words of that language.

As far as Greek people are concerned their dogs say 'ghav' and not 'woof'. As an aside, a former colleague of mine who now lives in Catalonia told me that there dogs say 'bup'. I know, hilarious isn't it? But try it with a bit of oomph and suddenly you find yourself coming out with quite a convincing little dog yappy sound.

It's not only Greek dogs that speak Greek. Cats do, too. Here they don't say 'miaow', they say 'niaou' (νιαου). Not totally at odds, but still different. Roosters say 'kikiriku' (κικιρίκου), while birds in general are reckoned to say 'tsiu-tsiu' (τσίου-τσίου). With all these differences it comes as a relief to find that the good old reliable cow largely transcends linguistic barriers and utters an entirely understandable 'moo' (μου).

Obviously, I could have called this posting 'It's All Greek To Me', and in many ways it is, but I remain committed to the idea of being able to hold some sort of stumbling conversation in Greek that goes beyond a request for food or drink. I want to be able to use the Greek language to help me live my life here, this despite one of the very nice ladies who works in my local supermarket, and who speaks near faultless English, telling me: 'You know, Greek is the hardest language to learn, we have so many words for the same thing'. I was only slightly mollified by another Greek person who declared their language to be the 'second hardest' language to learn. Oh well, back to the language tapes.