9/23/08

In which the author waxes lyrical about etymology

Today was a fairly uneventful day of classes. My hand nearly fell off from taking notes in interpretation, since the entire class consists of writing madly in an attempt to glean every detail from a two-minute discourse in French or English, and then resting your hand while some brave soul has a go at rendering it in the other language. The limit seems to be about six per class, after lots of "um" and "euh" and (finally) explanations by the professors, and since I gave it a shot last week, I won't get to go again for a while. So basically it's a class in note-taking skills. Still, I enjoy it.

My other class today was translation: version (i.e. English to French). Turns out I was the only one to send my translation to the professor ahead of time like he said we could - hurrah for currying favor with vaguely evil professors. There was plenty of red on the paper, but at the bottom it said très bien pour un premier devoir (very good for a first assignment), so I am not without hope of doing well in the class, despite his severity. He knows a lot about etymology* and is extremely good at his subject - several of the translations he proposed made me quite green with envy that I hadn't thought of them. My little red book of conjugations has already come in extremely handy, and today I bought another book called Vocabulaire de l'anglais contemporain, which is actually meant for French people but should also prove very useful. It's comprised entirely of thematic vocabulary lists, with English on the left and French on the right. They're excessively thorough, and two of my translation professors handily reference appropriate sections at the top of the page of text for translation. So hopefully I will soon be up on idiomatic usage and all that jazz.

Tomorrow I have more classes, including the one for which I have to read the amazingly long 16th century travelogue, then Bible study, then my first intentional experience with French nightlife. Several of us are getting together with Jeanne to go to Les Bacchantes (of host-family-dancing fame) to dance to French folk music. Hardcore partying, as you can see. I'm spending the night with Elizabeth, due to my far-away habitation. Thursday morning is the TCF, a national French exam Midd is obliging us to take. We'll take it again at the end of our stay here, so they can reassure themselves that this program actually worth their effort, I suppose. I'm sure staying out late and dancing is an excellent way to prepare for said exam.

Today I talked to a girl who is (I think) a student of my host mother - she's looking for someone to help her with her English, which I think will be fun and indirectly good for my French. She tried to vouvoyer me on the phone though, which was just weird (you use vous ("you") to be polite to people who are older than you or whom you don't know well, but generally young people don't use it with one another). Kind of like the shopkeepers who call me Madame, or back home "ma'am." I'm not old. Stop it.

Apparently it doesn't matter how many days I write about at a time; if you give me space, I will ramble on. I would apologize, but as nobody is obliging you to read this, I suppose it's unnecessary. And now, off to dinner.


*Including English etymology. Today we got the etymology of negation in both French and English. In French, it was originally just ne ("not"), plus whatever appropriate noun you wanted to employ. So il ne marche pas means literally/originally, "he doesn't walk a step." For other situations, you would use other nouns. Only a few got retained and normalized as part of generic negation, so you have ne...point, ne...pas, etc. In English, the word "not" comes from three Old English words (he was explaining this in French and not writing anything down, so I don't know exactly what they are), the first of which sounds like "na" and the last very much like "whit," meaning "not," "least," and "twig." When slurred together, they ended up as "naught" and "not" in modern English. So actually, the phrase "not a bit" or "not a whit" is a holdover from the older expression and is etymologically sort of redundant. Oh, how I love words.