Saturday, 10 September 2016

The Friday Night Language Soak

The answer to yesterday's pop quiz was odcisniętymi. It means "imprinted". It falls in the sentence  "Są tablice z odcisniętym rękami słynnych polskich aktorów i reżyserów," i.e. "There are tablets with the handprints (imprinted hands) of famous Polish actors and directors."  Odcisniętymi was the hardest word to remember and pronounce, so I tried the picture method, with mixed results.

ODD + Cheech + knee + Ent + Timmy is as close as I could get to it. However, by focusing on the photos, I get the spelling wrong and keep leaving out the knee.

I discovered myself tongue-tied when I tried to pronounce the fatal odcisniętymi to Poles last night. We were in the Polish veterans' hall, which was rapidly filling with Poles of all ages, waiting for a controversial Polish journalist to give us a speech. My friend was there with her boyfriend, and he wanted to know what I found most difficult in Polish. To give an example, I tried to trot out odcisniętymi, and as my friend had just told him how well I spoke Polish, it was embarrassing.

Oh gosh, it was hot in there. It was very humid outside, and so very humid inside and my dress stuck to me and I was terrified someone--the speaker, for example--would ask me a question. I had already been asked questions in the hallway and naturally got the answer wrong the first time. I could answer "Dzień dobry" (Hello!) perfectly, but when asked if the meeting was upstairs, I said "Nie znam na pewno." ("I don't have acquaintance for sure.")

"Ahhhh....nie rozumiem," ("I don't understand") said the woman who actually had a right to be there.

"Nie wiem na pewno," ("I don't know for certain.") I corrected myself, and rushed up the stairs as much to escape as to find out.

I was very, very, very, very, very relieved when my friend turned up; I was irrationally concerned that I might be mistaken for a spy or a hostile journalist or someone who ought not to have a seat as she was unlikely to understand much anyway. (Personally I estimated that I might understand 30%.) She introduced me to her boyfriend, I explained about odcisniętymi, and then I played Polish vocabulary games on my tablet until the speaker was introduced.

Well, I think I did better than 30%. The speaker had a clear, expressive voice, and if I didn't hear a word (as a word, not a noise) it was because I had never heard it before. Taken individually, I understood most of them. The problem was that he spoke at a normal (i.e. rapid) pace, so I usually didn't have enough time to put them together. I most definitely got such emphasis words and phrases as "However", "and so", and "Please, ladies-and-gentlemen".

I also got what the speech was about. There was a whole hour about the Polish constitution, how it could be changed, and how one defines democracy. There was about twenty minutes on what was holding back the Polish economy. Then there were about ten minutes on either insurance (ubezpieczenie) or security (bezpieczeństwo). Then there were questions.

Two hours of solid Polish, people. And no word of a lie, my attention did not flag once for the first hour, for I was in the second row, and I didn't want the lecturer to know I couldn't understand what he was saying. I thought it might put him off his game: he didn't use any notes. He just talked off the top of his head for an hour and a half and then for most of the half hour of the question period I was still there. (Half an hour in, I was done. Done like Polish Christmas Eve dinner when the first star appears.) The questions seemed a bit aggressive, so I'm glad I left when I did.

I might have been mistaken for a keen student of Polish political science, for I took several notes. These notes, however, were merely jottings to anchor my attention and reassure myself that I did actually know the outlines of what was going on. There was a lot about monarchy versus republic, the Russian Empire, Baron de Montesquieu, democracy ("Nie prawda, że democracja jest najlepsza...." --"It is not true that democracy is the best...")... Oh gosh, then there was a bit about how the Cardinals elect the Pope and how the Pope appoints bishops as an example of an alternate state.

There was also some stuff about the European Union, which is headed by Donald Tusk, and the Sejm (Polish parliament) and bringing the Sejm to heel ("co do nogi!"), and something about the UK, and a lot about France, and (I think) a call to return to a proportional system of government. There was a mention of Bonapartism, whatever that is, and a slight on Lech Wałęsa, I'm pretty sure. There was an awful lot on "wyborcza", which I see is not just a newspaper but another Polish word for "election". And when a question seemed to worry about Poland's reputation for intolerance, there was a lot about Gramschi, homosexuals and the normalization of what is actually not normal.

And that's it. I will have to ask my friend to fill in the very large gaps; I am sure she is wondering how much I understood. Two hours, people.

It was not at all like watching a foreign film, for not only to foreign films have subtitles, the kind of foreign films you can buy at your local store tend to be visual. It was more like listening to a Polish homily, except with much better delivery than usual and no mention of love.

This is a stage of language-learning to which I am a stranger. As a teenager learning Italian I was taken to a play by Dario Fo, and as soon as I discovered how hard it was to understand, I went into a dream and waited it out. When I finally got a work ethic, I listened to advanced Italian conversation tapes, but those I could play (and do play) over and over again.

I have sat through relatively short French, Italian and Polish sermons, and I am working on sitting through whole Polish films (without subtitles), but that has been the extent of it. Listening will all my strength to a foreign language lecture on politics was a completely new experience, and it was certainly interesting to see that I could so much more quickly comprehend such words as dlaczego (why), dlatego (because), no... bo  (well, because), jednak (however), natychmiast (immediately) than most nouns and verbs.

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