Shevek (shevek) wrote,

Language is a funny thing. School teachers want you to think that there are rules, but really, when you're in the back of a bus station trying to buy fruit, there aren't. The rapid discussion we had alternated between Hebrew and French, something I usually have great difficulty doing, but it also made me think of some other phrases I've heard recently.

Up in Ma'alot, I heard the score in a match given as "eser-dva": Eser ("ten", Hebrew), and dva ("two", Russian). The families are from Belarussia, and I wonder whether smaller numbers were learned in Russian and larger ones in Hebrew, or the mixture was just chance.

The fruit seller wished someone "Bon Shabat": Bon ("good", French), Shabbat ("sabbath", Hebrew). The noun "Shabbat" is native to hebrew, so this is a more natural mixture for a conversation mostly in French, but he clearly enjoyed playing with languages during the conversation, and there were lots of mixed phrases.

I can give lots of Hebrew/English examples, but the most interesting observation was a small (3 years old?) child who asked in hebrew, "What is this?" and the answer given in English, but he clearly understood already that there were two languages in play, and knew which words belonged to which one. He, as many people do, chose to speak strictly in one language, while understanding both, and it's remarkably easy to get accustomed to conversations where each person speaks their preferred language. I do this sometimes, because it's simpler, but I do make an effort.

I think the phrase of the week was from the man in the local hardware shop, who said in a mock-anguished tone, halfway through a conversation which had up to that point been in English, "If you speak hebrew, why do you make me break my jaw?" I think that was a wonderful expression to rediscover, and perfect for the situation. Now we also mix languages, and "white spirit" is apparently "benzine lavan": Benzine (chemical name) and lavan ("white", Hebrew).

I could be wrong, I haven't opened the can yet, but it "vanish if I open" and "k'tsat c'mo shemen", both of which sound like white spirit.
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