Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Language class, sixties' style

Having got no further with German than a scraped O level pass, I decided, when I was working on Merseyside, to take evening classes at Liverpool Tech, starting in the beginners' class. The first lesson, we were given
a basic structure:
X (noun) is Y (adjective)

with nouns like mein Vater, mein Bruder, meine Mutter, mein Freund, meine Lehrerin (teacher) and adjectives like jung, alt, arm (poor), reich, and some harder ones like traurig (sad), zufrieden (happy) and ehrlich ((honest).
We each then produced our little sentence. I think mine was Mein Freund ist traurig or something equally anodyne, as were everyone else's, until someone came up with Mein Onkel ist reich and unehrlich. I admired him enormously for having the wit to produce a gem like that out of an unpromising list of words.
Language classes tend to produce utterances which, to paraphrase Henry Widdowson, have "signification but no meaning", ie, they don't communicate or describe anything REAL. But the fellow with the crooked uncle had come very close. Judging by the outburst of laughter in the room, it certainly communicated something real to the rest of us.

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