Grateful 35

Punctuation, public speaking, and the use of the English language are three topics that will get me on my soap box any day of the week. This weekend, in Valtice, I saw something that would put a lot of English-speaking expats to shame, myself included. As I struggle to master the basics of conversational Hungarian, these seven competitors gave speeches in a second language – (for some it may even have been a third or fourth language). And we’re not talking elementary here, dear Watson. Far from it, in fact. They spoke on topics ranging from how our garbage is a mirror of ourselves, to the importance of motivation when it comes to leadership, to a future where kids might wonder where the little star Twinkle Twinkle has disappeared to.  They reminded us not to think of ourselves as failures but to show those those have labelled us as such how wrong they are. They challenged us not to listen to our inner naysayer but instead to give full volume to our positive inner voice. They urged us to break the rules – to be different. And they showed us how one moment of carelessness can change the lives of many.

While the pedant in me quivered a little at the sometimes less-than-perfect construct of the language, I was impressed with both the confidence and the competence of these speakers. While I might take issue with semantics that tell me what I should do rather than show me why I might consider doing it, I was humbled by their ability to communicate with such passion. While I loathe the narrow constricts of an international judging system that rewards a formulaic approach to public speaking restricted to inspiration and motivation, I was pleasantly surprised by the intelligent and sophisticated use of humour.

I make myself understood in Hungarian by miming – miming punctuated by short phrases and lone words; this stage of seven made themselves understood by using complete sentences – fluidly, fluently, and frequently faultlessly.  I pat myself on the back if I can get through a two-minute phone call with my társasház; this stage of seven spoke from 5 to 7 minutes with pride, purpose, and conviction. I spend too much time bemoaning the faltering standards of today’s English language amongst its native speakers; perhaps I should spend more time recognising the huge strides being made by non-native speakers instead. Their colourful contributions in terms of their creative and innovative use of English would enrich the basic vocabulary used by many who speak it as a mother tongue.

In a week that was fraught with fear, frustration, and feelings of fragility, I am grateful to all seven speakers for reminding me of the beauty of the language I love and inspiring me to try a little harder with my Hungarian.

[Note: Post Grateful 52 explains the Grateful concept]

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9 Responses

  1. I think you are on dangerous ground when you feel that ‘their colourful contributions in terms of their creative and innovative use of English would enrich the basic vocabularly used by many who speak it as a mother tongue’. There will always be interaction between languages, loan words (‘words borrowed which there is no intention of returning’) will move across in both directions to cover new cultural borrowings etc., but creativity and innovation from alien sources should be watched very circumspectly. Consider the French attitude to Franglais. Do not mistake pollution for enrichment.

    1. Pollution or enrichment? A step-child referring to themselves as an ‘attached file’. Or someone referring to inevitability by saying ‘that was in an envelope somewhere’. Or speaking of the necessity to make your own choices and describing decisions as ‘your doughnut’.

      Mary Murphy

  2. I heard a few times a mother-tongue English person saying “that word (term) doesn’t exist in English”, but they perfectly understood what was the meaning, and accepted that meaning. BTW, are “google” or “googling” or “skyping” English words?

  3. What you quote are not examples of enrichment/pollution from non-native sources. That is home-made slang, quite a different matter. Words having ephemeral meanings forced upon them.

      1. Colourfulness is all very well, but comprehensibility is paramount. Language, after all, is communication. It must not be left to the hearer/reader to decide what you mean. Mistakes made by foreigners may be amusing, but should not be taken seriously.

        1. I think we may be talking at cross purposes here Bernard – I am the first in line to correct or to qualify or indeed to double-check an intended meaning. What I’m applauding is the effort made by non-native speakers to get it right – and in the process, the gems they come up with. Contrast this with native-English speakers who make little effort to expand their vocabulary or indeed use what they have more creatively. Or indeed, correctly. I’ve had six separate instances of ‘lead’ for ‘led’ this week – and it’s only Monday 🙂

          Mary Murphy

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