Language By Osmosis

Posted July 31, 2017 2:58 am by Mrs McLean

I have a newish toy. Polish Pretend Son was going to sell his iPhone 4 on eBay, but hearing that I was in the market for a new phone, he gave it to me instead. Like all computer devices these days, I have to figure it out “intuitively”–although maybe in this case it’s because I don’t have the owner’s manual.

PPS was a model language learner in that when he heard an English word he didn’t understand at a party, he would fish this very phone out of some inner pocket (PPS was invariably dressed in multiple layers)  and look up the word in an electronic dictionary. Then he would snort “Hmph” or merely raise his eyebrows, and the phone would disappear again.

I wished for this magical bilingual phone many times while on trips to Poland, and now I have it, but the dictionary is gone. PPS took the chip out, and Vodaphone gave me another to replace it, so all PPS’s telephonic secrets are safe with PPS.

Naturally they include PPS’s extensive music collection, which was probably highly tasteful, if eclectic, as twenty-somethings seem to be very knowledgeable about music. Well, some twenty-somethings. When I was a twenty-something, I could listen to Weezer’s “Teenage Dirtbag” on repeat for hours.

But I also had eclectic tastes, and having heard an 883 song on my Conkini Italian tour bus in 1998, I hunted down an 883 CD called “Gli Anni“, and that became one of my favourite albums. And now that I am trying to take my Italian skills to the next level, I bought the electronic version for my new-to-me phone.

I was very proud of my technological prowess and bragged to my young Italian tutor that my first iTunes album was “Gli Anni.” Sadly, instead of feeling patriotic and flattered, my tutor groaned and giggled. I am not sure, but my little show-and-tell was possibly the equivalent of your Korean ESL student proudly exhibiting her Back Street Boys album.  Or maybe it is even worse and 883 is the Italian equivalent of some now very uncool 1960s band. Oh! Oh dear. I hope 883 isn’t the equivalent of the Monkees: how embarrassing.

My Italian tutor, by the way, is a young man of scrupulous honesty who never represses a smile when I trot out some linguistic archaism.

“That’s from the Nineties,” he chortles.

I’m from the Nineties,” I protest.

I forgive my tutor for making me feel old, however, for he is both good-tempered and strict and therefore effective. He quite won my heart by saying he couldn’t at first place my accent (in Italian, as I refused to speak to him in English for as long as possible), but thought the vowels sounded Polish.

My second Apple album is, unsurprisingly for long-term readers, Polish Popular Hits 1930-1940, Vol 1.  This is full of what Reader Julia would call “Polish Old People Music,” and I know some of the songs already from long study.  Polish Old People think these songs are the epitome of nostalgia  and, sad irony, since I first heard them in happier days, they fill me with nostalgia, too. A few more years of studying Polish, and I will be impulse-canning supermarket fruit and swapping homemade cold remedies with Polish Pretend Daughter.

I also have two songs of the Disco Polo variety, such that if I lost my phone and a young Polish hacker cracked the password, he would assume that I have very bad taste in music, which I probably do. But there’s a method in my music madness, and it’s trying to learn non-English the way most of the world learns English: hearing pop songs day in and day out.

My walks to the supermarket and the railway station are now enlivened by Max Pezzali telling me (in 1998) that he’ll be with me (“Io Ci Saro”) and Zula Pogorzelska explaining to a suitor (in 1931) that her material needs are few (“To Wystarczy Mi”). Neither album is quite the thing for my vigorous  rowing-machine sessions,  though, so I shall splash out and get entire albums of bad-taste Polish dance music.

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