Tag Archives: language

Wat Sê Jy?

or “scusi?

Quora asked this question recently: “How do you know when you are fluent in a language?” here

I answered thus: My guess is usually you won’t really know. Native speakers are usually polite and will flatter you with a better assessment than is true. Maybe a better question to ask yourself is “When am I fluent enough?”

My guess? When you’re enjoying using it and not really thinking about it. I am fluent enough in Afrikaans and can happily hold any conversation with someone who only speaks that language. But even though I have spoken it since I was little, no native speaker would mistake me for a native Afrikaans speaker.

Confession: I laboured under the mistaken impression that I was completely fluent. No-one told me otherwise. Then at age fourteen I went to Namibia (South West Africa as it was) and visited third cousins I had never met before. Within two sentences one of them blurted out “Jis! Jy kan hoor jy’s ’n rooinek!” (Boy, You can hear you’re English-speaking!). And my bubble burst. I’m now amazed I was so deluded!

Another case in point: My 94-yr old Dad speaks “fluent Italian” which he learnt in Italy in WW2. I asked an Italian schoolfriend a few years ago “How well does the old man actually speak?” and he said “Really well. Really”. Somehow I think that’s politeness (two years in Italy seventy years ago when he was already 22yrs-old – ??). But I have no way of telling, so I’m happy to go with Claudio’s assessment! Thanks, figlio!

Another: I often get complimented for speaking good Zulu. This is definitely not true and is just polite people’s way of saying “Thank you for trying to speak isiZulu to me”.

 

Mosleyisms

Stan Mosley worked for the Woollen Mills in Harrismith back in the ‘fifties. Born in England, he had a colourful turn of phrase. Mom used to tell us of things he said over the years, but I forget them, so I’ve been trying to get her to remember them. Here are some:

  • A journey in a pickup along a rough road “We rattled along like a tin of sardines”.
  • Harsh justice: “The judge sentenced him to be hanged by the neck until death us do part”.
  • On the golf course: “The ball was rolling towards the pin, gathering memorandum”.

HS Golf course

  • The lights went out at the factory, so Stan phoned up Ben Priest in the municipality: “Mr Priest! Is there any lights?” To which Mr Priest answered “No, there isn’t none at present now”.
  • On Platberg: “On the mountain the only living thing we saw was a dead baboon”.