16 October 2006

Wheat, wit

This weekend I have been gently contested regarding my assertion that English speakers don't gape stupidly when non-native-speakers mispronounce words.

In conversation about the apartment we hope to move into, M was quoting the Catalan saying, "No diguis blat fins que sigui al sac i ben lligat." (Don't call it wheat until it's in the bag, and tied tight.)

I had momentarily forgotten what "blat" means, and asked. The answer: "wit." My brain did a "try to compute" exercise in which either I had somehow misunderstood the words "sac" and "lligat," or in which being witty had something to do with the rest of the sentence.

During the futile whirring of my brain's gears, he kept repeating "wit," until finally, with unwonted exaggeration, I said, "OHHHH, you mean WHEEEEAT!"

This is when the Catalans present accused me of prejudice when it comes to complaining about French vowels.

I feebly argued back: no, the sounds are quite obviously different! Stretch your mouth out when you say "eee," don't you see? (Accompanied by clownish stretching of my own lips.) Wit, wheat, what, wait...shouldn't it be obvious?

Of course, what is obvious is that a French speaker would be doing the same. "Don't you see? Isn't it obvious? "oeui" is soooo different from "ouae", you just have to make your mouth do this (accompanied by francophone facial expressions)."

I still stand by my earlier comments. I do think there is something rather tricky about French pronunciation.

And in any case, I learned the Catalan equivalent to "Don't count your chickens before they hatch," and taught my companions the English saying. Then, even better, I found out that there's no literal equivalent in Catalan to the word "hatch," and amused the others with this new addition to their English vocabulary. They will now be able to say--wittily, not wheatily--that they have hatched an idea, especially if their brain-gears are working better than mine.

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