The Little French English Improvement Project

little french person trying to improve her english, little french english person trying to improve herself, french english person trying to improve a little bit… and blogging along the way. (Now in Deutschland)

Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Oooh look! Grammar…

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 20, 2011

Like oh-so-many people, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship thing going on with grammar, and german grammar in particular. I mentioned a few days ago that Mark Twain called it the “awful language”, partly because of its strange and mind-boggling syntax. I still haven’t read the rest of his essay, but I like to imagine it like a metaphorical summary execution, each rule being dragged out of the dark recesses of a grammar book, into the light, exposed to everyone’s view and shot down. Aaaah, if only someone could do that with Russian genitives…

looking for the local tribes in the German library

But I’m missing the point really, because although I could kill a prepositional verb right now, as well as the person who turned up with the idea of declensions, in fact I really love grammar. I love observing it, and as with most things pertaining to language, I think it’s a wonderful invention. I personally am definitely not a grammarian: I don’t like putting labels on things and saying : “This is the way this should be” or “that should happen in such and such a way because that’s the way it is and otherwise it would be wrong”, just in the same way that I hate it when people put their pre-conceived set ideas on my and label me as “nice”, “boring”, “french”… Some people go through languages with a magnifying glass, a butterfly net and a pair of tweezers, ready to catch a grammar rule, pin it down onto a page and pull it apart under the microscope. I’m much more of an explorer: I travel through the world of languages with my backpack and a safari hat, taking a few notes, and trying to get used to the strange customs of the native compound-adjective tribes. And the populations of these heathen lands are both fierce and shy. I had to circle around the declension village about ten times before I could even get close, and even today some of the little guys won’t come out of their hiding place.

I honestly do get a little thrill of joy when I find out something in the way a language works which cries out loud: I am somehow related to such and such another language. I get pangs of recognition, sometimes, in Russian or German, and I go: but that’s just how it works in English, or I wonder if that’s related to the way they say that in spanish… I get all flustered and most people think I’m crazy, but I just love it. In fact, I’ve long since figured out that’s the only way to understand a language.  By observing it in situ. All those guys with their butterfly nets and their glass boxes haven’t understood a thing, and this is probably why there are so many display cases hopelessly labelled: Exceptions

So basically I love grammar, I just don’t like studying it. Am I a linguist then or am I not?


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Aaaaahhh. Books!

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on November 16, 2010

I don’t know if I have mentioned it yet, but I have a little part-time job at the German Department University Library. Officially it’s only five hours a week, but I like to do a couple of unpaid extra hours every now and again: five hours a week is really not enough for people to find, borrow and read all they want.

But I also have a secret reason to spend as much time as possible in this library. Do you want me to tell you what this secret is? Well never mind if you don’t, here it comes: I luuuurve books. I just adore them. Ever since I was a child I have loved reading. When I was in collège (between 11 and 15 years old) I would borrow a couple of books first thing in the morning, even before lessons started and read them during break-times. Even during lessons; while other pupils were sneakily showing off their new mobile phones and quietly texting to each other across the classroom, I was hiding a novel behind my desk and every time someone got interrogated by the teacher or photocopies were being passed around, I would quickly read a couple of pages. Then, in the evening, I would bounce out of my classroom and run to the library to hand back the books from that same morning and borrow more to keep me going until the following day. Basically, I was mad. When I left the school, the librarian gave me my file. It still lies somewhere in my room, a list of all the books I borrowed during those four years. Impressive, if I do say so myself…

Book! Photo by PoPville flickr user BrennaLM

I have changed a little since then, and I like to think that nowadays my life does not revolve exclusively around books and words, but who am I kidding? I study languages, have a job in a library, and the first thing I do whenever I move somewhere is decide where the bookshelf is going to be and how it will be organised. And although I have other passions, like singing, cooking, karate, travelling…, I very quickly search for books that are relevant to the subject. When I first started karate, I bought Le karaté pratique by Roland Habersetzer; I regularly write down all the songs I know in a notebook and then spend evenings pouring over it going through them all in my head, and the first item on my Christmas wish list is a vintage first edition of the Larousse Gastronomique (1938), the same one which features in Red Dragon, and Julie and Julia. Did I say I had changed? Maybe not after all.

And I do not know whether my love of books led me to loving words and paper, or whether my love of paper and words combined to make me love books. It’s the whole egg and hen cycle, I personally haven’t a clue which came first, and it doesn’t really matter anyway. It just means that when I see a box in the German library which says “To give away”, my heart jumps to my throat and my hands start trembling with excitement. And when I see one of the books to give away is a German atlas from 1933, I can’t help it. It doesn’t matter if I never open it ever again and it just sits on a shelf until I move to someplace else and pack it away in a cardboard box, it is definitely going to my personal library. And the fact someone has been using it as a flower press makes it all the more interesting. I wonder when those flowers were picked. Could it have been under the Nazi rule, during the second world war? In Germany, in Paris, somewhere entirely different (there are scribbles in polish on a bookmark)…? And it has the smell. You know what I am talking about. That smell, the smell of old books… I once heard on a television programme (my friends and family will know I am talking about QI of course) that the mould in books is in fact hallucinogenic in high amounts. Well this is my drug.

Mind you, I get a similar effect when I smell a brand new book fresh from the press, too! GOing into a bookshop and coming out with shiny new books has something exhilarating too. Just today a leaflet arrived, addressed to the “Librarian” of the German department, advertising the publications of Routledge Language Learning Reference Books 2010 and I just had to add a few more items to my Christmas wish list (which is growing daily). How can you resist when you see titles like: The Routledge Concise Compendium of the World’s Languages, with “provision of IPA symbol grids arranged by articulatory feature and by alphabetic resemblance to facilitate use of the new phonology sections”, and “classification by genetic relationship of all languages covered (111)”. How can you resist that? Another tempting item was The Routledge Handbook of Scripts and Alphabets, with its “enhanced introduction discussing the basic principles and strategies utilised by world writing systems. Phwoaarrr… And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I closed the leaflet and spotted on the back an advert for the second edition of the Atlas of the World’s Languages! £450.00 though. I might have to wait until the third or fourth edition comes out… But one day, one day I will have those books. In my future house there will be an entire room devoted to reading, with comfy chairs and a thick carpet (maybe a fireplace too), and so many books! I can’t wait!

PS: nothing to do with the rest of the article, but I thought I would share this gem of an anecdote with someone. This morning as I was buying my customary Tuesday Ham and Brie sandwich from the Boulangerie, a man burst in and said:

“Que Dieu vous donne la vue, et du poil au cul! “(May god bless you with good eyesight and a***hair). Food for thought.

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