|Jinny has been very ill and is currently undergoing rehabilitation in a Bangor facility so she will not be writing her article for awhile. She is making excellent progress and hopes to be able to return to writing her column in the near future... Adele.
Among my three children, Chuck is the only one who inherited a gift for languages. Having an ear for languages is a funny thing, you either have it or you don't, and if you don't, learning foreign languages can be difficult and frustrating. When I was in the Army they trained me to speak Russian eight hours a day, five days a week, for 48 weeks. It was brutal. For some people, it was impossible. Russian is a phonetic language and despite the fact that you have to learn a whole new alphabet, not terribly difficult technically, but the accent is, (if you'll excuse the pun), a bear. 'R's are rolled in Russian, but not like in Spanish or Italian; it's a whole different kind of tongue thing. In order to get the right sounds, you have to do things with your lips that is totally alien in English. So not only do you have to learn a bunch of new sounding letters, you have to learn how to contort your tongue, lips, and teeth in order to actually speak them.
There was a girl in my class who was from Texas who had the biggest blue eyes I have ever seen and flaming red hair. Her name, (and I'm not kidding here), was Ginger Ale Hale. Ginger was not a stupid person, but she had a Texas accent straight out of The Last Picture Show. She had no problem with the technical aspects of the language, but her attempts at mastering the accent were beyond awful. It was so bad that it was actually hysterically funny, and it took all our self-control not to laugh outright every time she attempted to say something in Russian. Every time she opened her mouth we would all look down at our books because we knew that any eye contact would be our undoing. No one wanted to insult, offend, or hurt poor Ginger's feelings, but hearing Russian spoken with a Texas accent was so outrageously funny that it required a herculean effort not to fall off your chair laughing. Ginger eventually got herself transferred out of the training; in her defense, she knew better than anyone that she would never be able to master the accent, and we missed her when she was gone, and not just for the entertainment factor that left with her.
My three brothers and I were pretty facile with languages and excellent with accents. When we were teenagers we used to regularly play cards on Saturday nights and we would take turns choosing an accent that everyone had to use for the entire evening. So, if you were to say, “I'll see your five and raise you ten,” or “go fish,” you had to do it in the accent of the evening. And it wasn't enough to just use an accent, you had to be amusing while doing it. We were all pretty witty, but two of my brothers number among some of the funniest people I have ever known in my entire life, and they can be funny enough to actually make me cry. Our friends would often play with us, and although they were not required to use the accent of choice, they loved being there. Before too long, we had people who showed up just to sit around and listen to us while we played. We were a regular side-show; the poor man's Marx brothers every Saturday night. We had a wonderful time and laughed a lot. The card game became kind of a side line.
My two oldest children, while not terribly talented with languages, were nevertheless quite good at accents. We continued the tradition of playing cards with a chosen accent when they were teenagers. We had a great time and drew an audience, just like the old days. Chuck has a divine ear for languages and a remarkable ability to mimic accents. He listens carefully to accents and likes to practice them until he gets them right. On occasion he will spend an entire day sounding like a British Calvary Officer, a French cheese maker, a wise guy from Brooklyn, or an IT help desk guy from the Punjab. I will often find myself slipping into whatever accent he is practicing that day. It can be a little disconcerting for anyone who might walk in on us having a conversation.
Chuck, who starts high school next year, has signed up to take Latin. He has been fascinated by Latin since he was pretty young, and has spent a lot of time online looking up Latin phrases and terms. Latin is technically a very complex and difficult language and Chuck is not exactly a nose to the grindstone kind of student, so I naturally have some concerns. I felt it incumbent upon myself as his parent to point out that Latin is pretty difficult, particularly in verb conjugations, and requires a lot of studying and undoubtedly a lot of homework. Chuck hates homework. He told me that he would do whatever it took to learn it. Color me surprised. I'd feel better however, if I had any confidence that he knew just how difficult it was likely to be.
“OK,” I said, “I hope you know what you're getting into.”
“I do,” he assured me. “And by the way, what does a Latin accent sound like?”
“No one knows, it's a dead language.” I told him.
“In that case,” he shrugged, “I'll just have to invent one.”
I can only hope that his Latin teacher has a good sense of humor. I wonder if he plays cards?