s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: Life lessons

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Life lessons

I used to work for a company that converted card catalogs to online library databases. Once I was sitting at work when a neighbor of mine ran into a bunch of Russian cards. Since he didn't speak Russian, he couldn't search for the matching records. (In fact, he couldn't even have matched up the words, since the cards were printed in Cyrillic, but online Russian library records are typically transliterated.) Since there were only a handful of Russian cards, I leaned over and helped him match up the records.

Another coworker overheard us talking and delightedly said to me: "Ты говоришь?*"

I paused. "Я не сказала бы что я хорошо говорю, но нимношка, да.†"

He looked at me blankly. "Oh, I don't know what you said."

"Wait, don't you speak Russian?" I replied.

"Uh, no, not really. I can just say a few phrases."


Am I the only one who thinks you shouldn't go around saying "Ты говоришь?" (or "Parlez-vous français" or "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?") if you can't, you know,
understand the response?

*Do you speak [Russian]?
†I wouldn't say that I speak well, but a little, yes.


At July 10, 2008 6:25 PM, Blogger Whistler said...

Well, you replied in a fairly complicated sentence. What is that, subjunctive? I agree though, it's odd to ask someone if they speak a language in a language they don't understand. Also, does this card catalog company still exist, and are they hiring?

At July 10, 2008 6:40 PM, Blogger Katya said...

Well, you replied in a fairly complicated sentence.

I'd expect him to get the general gist, at least. ("Ты говоришь?" may actually have been the extent of his knowledge, which means that you're in trouble as soon as it's your turn to speak again.)

What is that, subjunctive?

Conditional, actually. (Although some languages call the conditional the subjunctive, which is weird. So it might depend on where you're coming from.)

At July 11, 2008 12:49 PM, Blogger Whistler said...

Oh, that makes sense. Learning about Latin subjunctive early on has pretty much ruined my intuitive understanding of it.

At July 11, 2008 2:56 PM, Blogger Confuzzled said...

No, you aren't the only person who feels that way. They only get off (and not easily) if someone taught them the phrase as a joke or something . . .

At July 12, 2008 12:50 AM, Blogger eleka nahmen said...

I love that story. It made me laugh.

At August 09, 2008 9:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Game, set, match. Hee!


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