Random Sandwich of Ordinary Heroes and Language.

I’m the queen of random. I know.

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I’m not a big fan of self declared motivational speeches. Because I find that the speakers make everything look so simple and things are usually very far from simple. Like Prairie from The OA said to her therapist, “where do you find the confidence to tell people how to live their lives?” But also I’m the type of person that might find life motivation in a most generic soap commercial so perhaps something is off there.

Nonetheless I paid too much to attend one of these things the other day and one speaker noted something that isn’t really new information and should be obvious but I guess sometimes me going to these things isn’t a total waste because we-me-I need to be told the obvious again and again for immediate response. I think it’s totally unfair to be charged that much money for it but yeah. So what this guy said was how some of the people making extraordinary things happen every day, are people very much ordinary such as those sitting in the room with us and I looked around the room where this speech was being held and I saw people I’ve come to know (either through my mad stalking skills or through other circumstances) and I felt very much better about myself and I felt….I think the word is able.

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The idea of language and culture was a trendy controversial issue a while back….or maybe I was just one of the few on the alleged “wrong side” and down below is a link of the article I wrote for my old blog. Right now I’m here to add to that because I have learned of a few new things.

I’m the type of person who gets annoyed when people say “egg-zender” to say Xender or “peace-phone” to say psiphon. These apps do not want to be pronounced correctly here in Ethiopia. In the same manner, Amharic speaking people who say እስራስ to say እርሳስ are some times the people to go around being annoyed by people mispronouncing English words.

I won’t lie. I get a certain high over pronouncing words correctly, be it Amharic or English. My love for words and order is no lie. But I heard somewhere, I think it might be a vlogbrothers video but I can’t be sure and I don’t wanna check, that language has no obligation to be beautiful. It just is what it is. It’s a way to communicate and even though the mispronunciation or misuse might be very, VERY, annoying to the likes of me, unless it has created certain fracture in the communication, it shouldn’t be.

When my toddler cousin uses body language and certain gurgles to ask for what he wants, I understand him and I don’t go around complaining about how he should be wording in sonnets when asking for his water bottle. I had a friend back in Mekelle who spoke English, Amharic and Tigrigna very fluently and yet when she talked to me she did this thing where she mixed and modified all three. I understood her perfectly all the time and I didn’t find it annoying. But when she mispronounces እክርቢቶ as እስክሪቢቶ,even though I knew what she meant I tended to get violent.

I’m still struggling to understand why this is because I have reached a personal understanding that when communicating, you could straight up be doing a rain dance type thing and if I understand what you mean, we good. Maybe it’s the illusion of an interrelation of proper grammar with elitism and good manners. I don’t know.

Certain rules for language are there to help the communication. When writers break them just to be special and not to make a point, this writer immediately becomes someone I dislike. Certain rules for language are not ribbons to make it pretty. They’re a part of the communication to avoid misinterpretation. Like that story about how the difference between “Kill him not. Let him live.” and “Kill him. Not let him live.” got a man killed. If you break these rules, you risk ambiguity and being misunderstood.

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I remember learning in my Amharic class back in high school that language by it’s nature is born, it grows and evolves and it dies; also it transfers. Many get frustrated by the replacement of certain phrases for words that don’t sound or appear Amharic because there is a certain feel of entitlement. These people think they own the language.

Hmm.

I think this is wrong on more levels than one. Because some words that we use with entitlement thinking they are ours, aren’t ours at all. And because here in Ethiopia, Amharic might be the state language but we have more 82 local languages that have been enter-woven and transferred throughout the years. When you speak Amharic, how much confidence do you have to say, “I am speaking pure Amharic.”?

I learned from a Hank Green video the other day about loan words that are words one culture takes from another and modifies because the speakers of the borrowing culture can’t pronounce it right and there is a lot of that in our languages and perhaps in languages everywhere because like I said above, language by its nature is transferable and fluid.

Words like ዶሴ (French word Dossier meaning record), ካልሲ (Italian source word calzini meaning socks) or አስኳላ (also Italian word Scuola for school) and many more that I can’t think of right now have their sources somewhere outside of what is considered the mother of Amharic, Ge’ez. I also remember learning of words that we use as Amharic but actually came from other Ethiopian languages like Sega which came from somewhere south and I’m embarrassed to say I can’t recall exactly where and sadly that’s the only one I can remember but I know for a fact that if I think harder I could come up with more.

So I guess the sense of entitlement that most of us feel over our language is heavily misplace and a little unnecessary.

I work with language right now and I have found myself improving greatly with using English and Amharic separately yet interchangeably and I have learned to appreciate the fluidity and all of the above. It’s also made me a little crazy because I sometimes find myself contemplating it’s nature.

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They say don’t meet your heroes. They were onto something.

I used to have this tendency to stick myself onto people who do things, people who create and people I like and admire. That was not only because I get to show off about how I “know” them but because I always think that I can learn from them. Sadly, there hasn’t been a person I admired that hasn’t disappointed me.

This is because people who do something only appear to the public with whatever they have done in a clean and marketable manner. When they appear to the public, their hair is done, their collars are straight, their pictures cleaned and filtered and their pleasantries practiced. During the creating process of their great works however, these heroes are a mess. They’re insecure and they can be mean. For the most part they’re very ordinary.

I had to think about whether I should decide to know the ordinary mess of a person in his/her everyday chaos close up so I could learn or if I should keep my distance to keep worshiping the filtered image of my hero. *shrug* I don’t know.

P.S Thanks for reading. Here’s the promised link for my old blog.
Let’s Play the Blame Game

P.P.S  I like legitimate feedback.

2 Comments

  1. temelkach says:

    Well, technically neither እክርቢቶ nor እስክሪቢቶ is a word. The word for ‘pen’ in Amharic probably originates from ‘escripto’ in Portuguese. Not Italian, as one could think, or it would have been ‘escritto’. Both European words mean ‘writing’, not ‘pen’, but such mistranslations aren’t uncommon as words hop between cultures. Most Ethiopian pronunciations are insistent on the presence of some ‘b’ sound in the word, so it’s quite likely it got picked up a few hundred years ago from the Portuguese version. Ethiopian languages do not generally have a ‘p’ sound in them, So ‘ፐ’, along with ‘ቨ’, were added to the Geez alphabet to accommodate foreign words, like pasta, posta, television … . So the word for pen should actually be እስክሪፕቶ, but is often written as እስክሪብቶ, even in dictionaries https://dictionary.abyssinica.com/pen . We should also probably be more forgiving to people who default to ባስታ, ቦስታ and ቴሌቢዥኝ

    1. qalat says:

      I didn’t know that. I like this. Thank you.

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