Trans-lingual experiences

TalkRomance Languages

Join LibraryThing to post.

Trans-lingual experiences

This topic is currently marked as "dormant"—the last message is more than 90 days old. You can revive it by posting a reply.

Feb 10, 2007, 5:49pm

Has anyone else experienced anything like this with other dialects or languages?

I have volunteered for a couple of summers at an evening clinic that serves Haitian migrant workers. Although there have always been plenty of Spanish translators, the one (native) Haitian speaker was always out in the camps, drumming up patients who were unaware of the free medical services. The administrator asked me to try to help with my standard French to back up the one person who really knew the language.

Except for when I helped the few, more educated patients, French per se was not of much use. I had to start learning Creole as fast as possible, mostly with Kate Howe's "Haitian Newspaper Reader," with its supplementary cassette and concise grammar.

The easy part: my French vocabulary stood me in good stead. The "u" and "oeu" became "i" and "e" in Creole, and Rs dropped out at the end of words, for example. Some words had grafted articles onto themselves: "dlo" (water) comes from French "de l'eau" (some water) and "lanme" (sea) derives from "la mer" (sea). Certain French words made entirely no sense to the Haitians: French "enfant" (child) was far removed from Haitian "ti moun."

The non-European grammar was always a mental roller coaster: for one thing, the definite article follows the noun, as in Romanian: "ti moun yo" (the children) was nothing like French "les enfants". Verbs in all persons and numbers are essentially the infinitive form: "mwen genyen," "yo genyen" (I have, they have) for French "j'ai", "ils ont." Creole indicates tense through particles: "li tap manje" (he/she was eating) vs. French "il/elle mangeait."

Anyway, despite the obstacles, I felt that learning Haitian Creole was something like a "two for one sale": I had a good part of the vocabulary already in place, ready for the convulutions of an radically different language.

Feb 11, 2007, 1:46am

There's not as big of a difference, but I spent a summer transcribing Cajun French phonetically. The accent was certainly different, and their vocabulary was interesting in that not only have they joined some words "tibrin" from "petit brin", which itself is seemingly redundant (and used in place of the simpler "petit"), but they also borrowed words from spanish and, more commonly, english, resulting in a french-accented "j'ai find out" that rolled of the speaker's tongue very naturally.

I wish I'd gotten to spend more time on it, and that I remembered more of my phonetics and phonology to speak about this with more authority, but I thought I'd share my two cents.

Edited: Feb 11, 2007, 12:53pm

Intéressant quoi! Some words pop up in several areas where non-standard French or creoles are spoken. "Joual" formed from French "cheval" (horse) in both Haitian Creole and Montrealer French (where it is also the term for the local slang -- well-treated in "Je parle plus mieux française que vous et j\'te merde! : les joies de la francacophonie" by Alain Stanké).

As for translingual transactions in Montreal, it's not too uncommon to hear one speaker converse in French with a person answering in English.

Also "translingual" and Cajun: I had an older cousin who lived on the Bayou, whose mother was Cajun. Cousin Junior had a thick Cajun accent but didn't "speak a lick of French."

P. S. I've found this LSU Cajun glossary informative:$Content/Cajun+French+Glossary?OpenD...

(It's terribly long, but copies-and-pastes effectively into the browser's address window)

Edited: Feb 26, 2007, 8:39am

I see this kind of two-for-one stuff every day; my job utilizes knowledge of written varieties of several languages, without calling for much speaking, so I found, for instance, that my longstanding knowledge of Spanish let me learn to write formal letters in Portuguese pretty quickly. Isn't it great? :-) Audioforum even gives a great (astonishingly low) price on a course with a name like "Portuguese for Spanish Speakers," and an Italian friend of mine professes amazement that I can understand his spoken dialect even though I can't produce much.

Feb 27, 2007, 10:56pm

And then, I found to my amazement that a native Spanish speaker from Colombia almost went crazy during an accelerated Italian class (graduate level). He spoke English well, but admitted that he "just couldn't catch on to" the Italian. The poor fellow finally dropped out of the class, while the rest of us native English speakers with knowledge of other Romance languages breezed along.

Edited: Mar 17, 2007, 3:56am

Yiddish dialects:
my grandparents each spoke a slightly different version of yiddish-I think it was said that one was a "galitzianer" which I think means from Galicia, and the other was "litvisher" or a "litvak" which I think means from Lithuania.
This is not scholarship, but only a wild guess).The "litvisher" one had been originally sephardic many generations earlier, and there were some spanish (ladino) words in her vocabulary.

The general yiddish for onion is "tsibbele" which seems to come from "cibolla" or onion in spanish. This must mean that there are spanish words in regular yiddish.

Yiddish is an amalgam of german, hebrew, and the language of the yiddish speaker's residence, so I think growing up with those yiddish speakers (who also spoke russian and polish), was a trans-lingual life experience.

In Puerto Rico, my first husband and I spoke both yiddish and spanish in the same sentences. My children later nicknamed that dialect "yidspanol". (no disrespect intended).

Mar 17, 2007, 10:01am

This is a little off-topic, but I wanted to share my amazement at the wonderful ways our minds work for us.

I don't speak any Spanish at all, and when I was in Mexico last month, I felt very embarrassed that I expected the people who lived there to converse with me in English. My mind kept searching for the right words to say to them, and all I could come up with were the appropriate phrases in French, and I knew that wasn't right!

When I told my son about my experience, he said exactly the same thing happened to him when he was in Japan last fall - when his very limited Japanese failed him, French phrases would then come to mind.

Edited: Mar 17, 2007, 3:40pm

#7: This is even more off-topic but I thought you would get a kick out of it. When I went to live in Puerto Rico in 1950 as the bride of an instructor at the university, our social contacts were with other professors and their wives who all spoke French or English. For exiles from Franco's Spain, Puerto Rico was a part of the USA where professors who knew no English could teach in Spanish. My French worked like a charm until my Spanish kicked in.Then I could talk to everyone else, and do the marketing in the open market where you had to bargain in Spanish. My maid taught me the Spanish of the country people so my Spanish has a lot of dialect, mispronunciations and grammatical mistakes in it. I had to stick to French with the professors because my Spanish was embarrasing to my husband who spoke and taught in a cultivated Spanish. But from her (thank you Rosita), I learned to clean, cook, and take care of a baby. We made it, and the "baby" is 55 now and very well fed.

Apr 18, 2007, 10:23am

1> I was always under the impression that "ti moun" came from "petit monde," as in il y a du monde "there are a lot of people." Not sure if this is accurate at all.

My favorite almost-cognate was "mwen grangou," "I'm hungry." I believe it comes from "grand goût" ("big taste"?).

I work with a lot of Haitian teenagers and they're always surprised how much I understand based on my French. Of course, a lot of them have interrupted education in Haiti and aren't sure where Kreyol ends and French starts.

Oct 17, 2007, 8:36am

In reply to amacine, precisely the same thing happens to me in Arabic: when my vocabulary falters, Spanish happily kicks right in!

Jul 27, 2008, 12:30am

amancine, kcasada: I think the any-old-second-language-will-do reflex must be universal. When my Italian or French is shaky I automatically come up with what I want to say in Mandarin Chinese, which in most situations in Italy or Quebec or Acadia is NO help at all.


I found Mandarin quite helpful in learning Cantonese, because there are a lot of words that undergo similar phonetic shifts: /au/ to /ou/ and so on, and somewhat unhelpful because the vocabulary, the idiom and the grammar of the language should be quite different, yet I really wanted to just plug the re-pronounced words into the framework I already had -- and that worked just often enough to encourage the bad habit. Since the "written" Chinese that Cantonese-speakers learn in school is basically Mandarin, the nicest thing anyone has ever found to say about my execrable Cantonese was "actually, you talk like a book." Still, there are very few blue-eyed people who speak any Cantonese whatsoever so people are fairly patient. When I was acting as an informal interpreter, frequently conversations went most fluently if I spoke Mandarin and the other person Cantonese. Translingual again. In fact, at a restaurant my husband and I frequent, we often end up in conversations with the waitresses where the language switches with every sentence or oftener and it's just not possible to decide what language we (or any one of us) is speaking. One of the waitresses throws in the occasional contribution in Toisan just to keep me guessing.

I'm told that that method of communication (translingual: own languages) works fairly well in groups of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese people too.

Mar 25, 2009, 5:33am

Well, I can speak with Catalans with my Languedocian Occitan, so we're not far off in terms of neighbouring countries...

Edited: Mar 3, 2010, 1:44pm

Italian was hard for me at first, too. So many things to remember! I finally got the hang of it the summer of 2009. Now it's that much easier for me if I decide to speak Spanish!:)

l'italiano era duro me inizialmente, anche. Cosi molto cose ricordare! Io finalmente ho ottonuto il caduta da essa la estate da 2009. Adesso e che molto piu facile per me se decido parlare spagnolo!:)

Mar 27, 2010, 2:21pm

This message has been deleted by its author.

Edited: Mar 27, 2010, 2:25pm

Does anyone know the English version of the title La Casa Buia by Dennis Lehane? I am pretty sure it's Italian, but I can't figure out what "Buia" means. Also, does anyone know which way to write/read Italian?(Is it left-to-right or right-to-left) I only speak some Swahili and Italian, and I help my sister study Latin sometimes, yet if I can help anyone with a language, please feel free to ask and I'll do my very best to help you!;)

Mar 27, 2010, 2:42pm

I just fell across your posting on Yiddish dialects, and I thought I'd add some information. My mother's family was Litvak. It does indeed mean Lithuanian. They did not, however, have any Sephardic terms in their Yiddish - none at all. They barely thought of Sephardics as Jewish!

"Tsibbele" is an interesting word, but I doubt that it is directly related to Spanish. It is probably related to the Ukrainian "tsibulya", perhaps Romanian "ceapă" (which, itself, is related to Spanish, of course).

Because of Yiddish's birthplace in southern Germany, there are instances of a few words coming in from French ("lenen" -> "lire") or Italian ("farfel" -> "farfalle"), but they are few in number, and they would be nothing so common as "onion".

I would be fascinated to hear which words your grandmother's vocabulary appeared to be Ladino. If they were, indeed, Ladino-based, I wonder where she picked them up. Surely not Lithuania!

Apr 19, 2010, 5:04pm

Anyone learning a new language should try Byki 4 Express. I just started using it and I learned some new words already!:>

Apr 14, 2012, 10:25am

In linguistics, there is a term called code-switching in which speakers use more than one language in their conversation, comprenez-vous? Their is a Wikipedia article on this at: .

May 25, 2012, 12:12pm

Yep, it happens to me all the time, because some notions are sometimes best expressed in another language/other words.

May 27, 2012, 5:05am

And it is particularly true between French and Occitan, as Occitan comprises at least 470,000 words (French = between 140,000 and 270,000 words) - there is a greater grammatical flexibility in Occitan that you cannot find in French and you tend to develop a patois (dialect) with a majority of Occitan slang, French being a minority (despite its official, national, language status).