Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Language Lessons

Wedding photo of Jacob (sitting) and Pauline (standing) Diel on November 22, 1925.

Language is an amazing thing, isn't it? Experts tell us that language learning begins in the womb, before our first coo or da-da is ever uttered. For some of us, learning to talk gives our parents joy, even as they beg the good Lord to "shut that kid up for just one second, will ya?"

I've been thinking lately how the language of people I love affects me even now as an adult, even though they are long gone from my life. I'm a native speaker of Amercian English, but thanks to my Grandma Diel---born in a German village near the Caspian Sea in Russia before the assassination of the czar---my everyday speech is peppered with several "low-German" words and phrases. In fact, certain words of Grandma's are so ingrained in me that my brain calls them up as the default setting, rather than their English counterparts. When I want to discuss things like cleaning spilled milk, ufeshlumba comes readily to mind. Or if I want to give directions to Mr. Johnson's house, I say that his house is easy to spot because it sits shraeks on the corner. These words are part of my DNA, and I love it when I see them seeping in to my kids' speech.

If your vocabulary could use a little freshening up, by all means, feel free to borrow from my grandma. Below are some of my favorites, creative spelling and pronunciation guide included.

  • ufeshlumba (OO-fesh-loemba)---literally, an "up-wipe rag"; great for cleaning up all kinds of liquid messes.

  • shraeks (shrakes)---this is what you say to describe anything off kilter; you position the lid shraeks on the pot so the steam can escape as the water boils.

  • bahzoof---the modern German equivalent would be pass auf (take care or look out), but Grandma pronounced it bah-ZOOF and always wagged her finger at you as she said it. Her meaning was clear: "You better watch out or......" (fill in the blank).

  • Haase kniddle---pronounced HA-zuh kuh-NID-dle; Haase, meaning rabbit, and kniddle, meaning, well...excrement; used (usually while giggling) to describe the shape of poo in the diaper of a grandchild experiencing constipation.

  • weisskopf---pronounced VICE-kopf; literally, "white head"; used to describe any person with lightning-blond hair. Marilyn Monroe was a weisskopf.

So there you have it: my trip down memory lane and how a little girl growing up along the Volga River in 1912 still leaves her mark in the life of a 45-year-old woman in 2010 America.

What about you? Do you have any language lessons you'd like to share with the class?