Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Language Lessons

The other day I had a true Eliza Doolittle experience. I had thought that I had outgrown such situations. But life has still a lot to teach me - and this was one of the lessons it had deemed essential for me to repeat.

A Dane made it his business to correct my Danish. Under normal circumstances it is his business to correct other people's Danish. It is part of his profession. It's his turf - and as long as a language is alive there will always be something that is not quite as it ought to be or was a couple of years ago and he will not be out of work. But I had not come to him for linguistic advice - and I did not pay him for it either. Just in case you should wonder.

Among Danes you can find quite a few who have a tendency to belittle foreingers' Danish skills. Language and identity are closely related in their minds. It is - as Philip probably would remark - part of the brain washing they are exposed to from early childhood, the songs about the beauty of their mothertongue being an indication that there may be some truth in such an assumption.

Anyway, the Dane who talked to me pointed out that many of the Danes who corrected foreigners were men. He did so with a certain amount of puzzlement. And then objected to my usage of the word kedelig as a synonym for sad.

His expertise lies in phonetics therefore I could not help but think of "Pygmalion" - and the fact that men quite often think it their right to correct women's language as a way of moulding them.

It is a matter of power. Over other individuals, over the public domain, over intellectual resources. And whether or not one's impressed by it.

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