Saturday, March 09, 2019

in which I ponder the passage of time

Y'all, I am getting old. If the high blood pressure, the creaking knee and other assorted ailments weren't a strong enough sign, earlier this week, I had and took the opportunity to call a 20-something person a sopliak (a Slovak derrogatory term for a young person, literally "runny-nose-haver") to their face and ... well, I actually felt a perverse sense of pleasure doing so. I swear to God, I am one condescending fiam (Hungarian for "my son") away from becoming my grandfather, Lord rest his soul. And the more I realize this, the more it weighs on my mind that perhaps I will not be able to learn all languages that there are (or at least the real interesting ones, because fuck Japanese). This morning's Youtube feed was a stark reminder of that fact: in addition to the usual assortment of media criticism (these days mostly of the "Star Trek: Discovery sucks" variety because hell yeah it does), US late night comedy, cooking shows and - for some damn reason - relationship advice, the almighty algorithms served me up this:
Now unlike those relationship advice videos where I am baffled - BAFFLED I say! - as to why anyone would think I would be in need of or even interested in such a thing hastilyclickssubscribe, I know where this comes from: earlier this month, I had been made aware of the existence of a (predominantly) Afrikaans-language South African soap opera (or soapie, as they are apparently referred to in South African English) called 7de Laan and having found a channel with the latest episodes, I binged the hell out of them. So it did not surprise that the allpowerful and wise Google thought I would be interested in its sister show, Muvhango. What surprised me, however, is that - heavy code-switching with English notwithstanding - this show is not primarily shot in Xhosa or Zulu, the major Bantu languages of South Africa, but rather in Venda, a Bantu language with some 3 million speakers total. Now this is my first exposure to Venda (save perhaps for a mention in Routledge's Bantu Languages, but I honestly don't recall) and in situations like this, my first instinct is to find a grammar or a textbook of said language and try to at least get a handle on the basics. Not this time, though: first, it would appear there are very few resources for Venda available (this is essentially the only usable grammar guide I was able to find) which makes me wonder about the whole social and economic context of the language (e.g. interesting how a nation of less than 2 million L1 speakers has this many pretty decent actors and more than decent creative people). Secondly and most importantly, while I could spend a few days trying to attain at least some level familiarity with the language, I can't afford to spend any more time than that and ultimately, it would just end up on the metaphorical pile of all the other languages I will probably never learn to any usable level (hello Tagalog, Korean, Tamil and Lithuanian) and that just wouldn't be fair. So it's for the best to just walk away without wondering what might have been and just accept that I will never learn to speak Venda or maybe even any Bantu language at all. Sucks, but c'est la vie.
Then again, I do want to find out how Marang's engagement turns out...




P.S.: Check out timestamp ~8:27-8:30 and the glorious ejective [kʼ] in the second [k] in the English word "conclude".

8 comments:

Languagehat said...

Welcome back to the blogosphere! I watched part of the clip and was intrigued and frustrated in much the same way. At least I didn't have to go to the trouble of looking for Venda resources, because you'd been there and done that. Now don't be a stranger!

David Marjanović said...

So much awesomeness!

Right at the beginning, the sound effect for sudden impact is exactly the one I'm used to from home.

David Marjanović said...

The cultural & linguistic situation reminds me of francophone West Africa, as far as I know the latter from TV.

David Marjanović said...

...by which I mean TV productions made in West Africa. Sorry for the disjointed comments, I'm not quite legally sane today.

Etienne said...

Tempora mutantur, et nos in illis.

You know you've grown older when you realize that many a quote you remember from Latin class in High School (but which didn't seem to make much sense to you at the time) suddenly makes complete sense today. You FEEL you've grown older when you see that your students find such quotations as opaque as you did when you were their age. That point, too, is when you realize that the human condition has not fundamentally changed. For instance, reading about some of the more...err...colorful politicians and celebrities on the global stage today, I am at a loss to think of anything said today on the topic which could top Juvenal's "Difficile est satyram non scribere".

The Venda-English code-switching in the clip is as interesting as the influence of Venda upon local English phonology ("con!lude" indeed...). I wonder what the linguistic endgame will be, a few generations or centuries hence: a heavily anglicized Venda? A new, Venda-flavored dialect of English? A Mitchif-type intertwiner? Or perhaps all three, according to region and/or social class?

bulbul said...

Thank you all :)
David,

got any tips for West African TV shows? I may give South African Bantu up for gone, but West Africa is another story altogether (on which later).

Etienne,
quiquid agis, prudenter agas et respice finem. I read this in a book somewhere when I was like 9 or 10 and here it is, appearing out of nowhere years later :)
As for the code-switching, I have no idea and I imagine this needs serious looking into all over the world and we're not even talking a few generations. Funny thing: there is some serious code switching with English going on even among 20-ish year olds here in Slovakia.

Steven Lubman said...

Lithuanian is beautiful and easy to learn for a Slavic speaker.

Anonymous said...

Yay for blogging! I hope you felt as 2006 writing the above as I do typing this comment <3

I had a vaguely similar YouTube experience the other when I was searching for back and shoulder gym workouts (lol... i know, i know... tragic) and the best one I saw was just 8 minutes of completely unfazed, unselfconscious codeswitching between English, Hindi and Punjabi (at least I think that's what was going on... I'm nowhere near the polyglot place you are in life - see https://youtu.be/TjbSqtdjUgM )

That sort of code-switching is probably not that remarkable to most of the world but to Anglocentric Australians it is - even when we are language-aware