Wednesday, December 2, 2009

On Indistinct Sounds

If you ever suddenly find yourself dropped in the middle of a language that you did not even know existed two months previously you will quickly prefect the art of always being able to say something that means just about nothing. When being talked to in a language that you completely don’t understand you get very good very quickly at making just the right kind of indistinct sound to fit the conversational moment. Your arsenal quickly moves beyond the ‘uh’ ‘huh’ and ‘um’s that you used to be able to rely upon. Suddenly you have added ‘hmm’ ‘mm’ ‘mma’ ‘iea’ ‘Ha’ ‘heh’ and of course the nasal snort: ‘!’. More then that you are now able to place them in exactly the right spot to give the impression you are following the conversation. For instance if someone says something like, ‘blah blah blah blah blahblahblah BLAH!’ you know, as if by instinct, that a good solid ‘!’ will let everyone know what you think of that. Saving you the need of trying to respond in a language you can barely manage to a comment you didn’t understand in the first place.
Of course you have to watch out for the tricksters. Those sarcastic few whose manner of speech places their questions in propinquity with mere comments.  They keep you on your toes because they say things like ‘blah blah blahblah’ and it is not until after you drop an, ‘mm’ and receive an odd look, that you realize they were asking you a direct question. Now you just appear like you weren’t paying them any attention at all. Oh those tricksters, well at least you seem pensive…

1 comment:

  1. This is most absolutely true and applies to many foreign languages. In Micronesia my replies usually consisted of either, "really?!" or "yeah." They really worked for most all conversations. The trick I found, was when I asked someone a question but then had no idea what the answer was. Eventually I would just smile, thank them and head on with by business.