03 February, 2010

İngilizce, part 2

"I love my language," Corrado said, giving a little sigh of satisfaction. Another Italian student had just left, and now he was marooned at a lunch table with three Americans and a Swede.

"Nobody learns English because it's beautiful," i reflected aloud. "There are two reasons to know English - either you grow up speaking it, or you want access to global economic opportunity." It's true; people learn other languages for aesthetic reasons. Not English.

English might be the most confusing language in the world. (Or that might be Hebrew, with its ten classes of verbs, each conjugated differently, each dependent on the gender and number of the subject.) All those irregular verbs; prefixes, suffixes. Turkish is pretty easy by comparison; i can't imagine learning English as a second language late in life.

Yet, i am reminded later the same day in Intro to Screenwriting, English holds a beauty all its own. "Behold," Ms. Appleton said, pausing in the middle of a text - "is such a wonderful word. Behold." Ms. Appleton has forbidden us to use her first name, Geneviéve, both because none of us could pronounce it correctly and, she said, because we would seem like her grandfather if we could. She looked around the classroom, trying to assess whether or not the class grasped the whole meaning, the subtle fullness of the term. Behold. English, i thought in that moment, can be a rich language as well - though it is rare to observe that richness in daily conversation. The other thing i thought in that moment is - i can't imagine what it's like to pursue your entire college education in your second or third language.

In the noncredit Turkish course which met today for the first time, there are seven students. One from France, one from Djibouti, and the rest American. Three of those are visiting instructors, who have come to Bilkent to teach. It's entertaining to watch them - smart people, academics, but completely out of their element as they guess at pronunciation or stab at the names of fruits and vegetables as the instructor shows them flash cards.

After meeting a friend for çay downtown, i stood at the Tunus bus stop, snow falling as it had all afternoon. I was curious about a sign - something to do with Haiti; i could understand a few of the Turkish words but not enough to decipher the message. So finally i turned to a young man next to me.

"İngilizce biliyorsen mu?"
"What?" he said.
"Oh, i was asking 'do you speak English'."
"Of course," he said, laughing.

Turns out he lives one floor above me in yurt 72.