I am still studying my Spanish every day on Duolingo. I’d studied Latin for a while, but it didn’t go very far. I also took up Hindi because I think the way the writing looks is pretty.
Hindi has been rewarding for me. Not because I can speak it because no, no, no I can’t. I tried some of it on some faculty from India I work with. They couldn’t understand a word. I know because they are very polite and respectful to old people and if they could’ve possibly understood me they would have. But I said, “Raj lurka heh,” which means “Raj is a boy,” and they looked like springer spaniels who’d been told Maxwell’s equations. Utter incomprehension.
On one hand, Hindi is an Indo-European language. This means it is part of the same family of languages that Spanish, French, Latin, Greek, and English belong to. As a consequence there are some grammatical similarities you can hold on to. On the other hand, there is virtually no vocabulary in common. Nada, null, zilch.
The word order is different. In English we typically will use subject-verb-object (SVO) order: Raj eats bananas. In Hindi, it is typically subject-object-verb (SOV): Raj bananas eats.
Hindi has been rewarding for me because I’ve been able to move from utter incomprehension to knowing a little. It’s like trying to climb a wall that seems to be made out of glass but is really made out of ice. At first my fingernails slide off, but then my nails finally dig in.
Talking about having something is handled differently. In English we say, “I have tea.” In Spanish it is, “Tengo tea.” “Tengo” is “I have.” We handle ownership with a verb dedicated to it. In Hindi, this is different. You are taught to say, “Meyrey pas chai heh.” This more or less literally comes out as “Near me tea is.”
This made a bell go off in my brain. It reminded me of something from years ago.
Twenty years ago this month, I was on a Rotary group study exchange in Russia. For four months before going, my group mates and I studied Russian. Russian, like Hindi, has a different writing system. It’s not as alien as Hindi, but it was alien enough for us GSE team members.
In Russian, when you have tea you say, “oo menya yist chai,” which comes over literally as “With me there is tea.” This is to say, Russian doesn’t do ownership with a verb either. It makes prepositions do the work. (In Hindi, it is post positions, which are prepositions on the other side.) I want you also to notice that they use “chai” for tea in both Russian and Hindi.
Anyway, this made me want to take up Russian again. So I have.
It has been a real trip down memory lane. I’ve been surprised at the things I remember, the things I’ve forgotten, and the things I’ve forgotten that have come back so easily that I mustn’t have really forgotten.
I’ve remembered Russia. I’ve remembered my GSE Team. I’ve remembered road trips across the vast Siberian plains and steam baths with folks who were darned near naked.
It’s been work, but it’s been worth it.
See you around. Adios. Namaste. Do svidanya.
Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like” the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook.