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Language Log

Friday, Jul. 07, 2006 - 7:37 a.m.

So yesterday I had to set up snacks for the pre-talk refreshments for this special lecture by this visiting scholar from Senegal...theplan afterwards was to go meet the other institute linguists at a local pub. I was looking forward to beer.

Anyway, the talk was the most awkward thing-- apparently the man doesn't speak much English, so it was conducted in French, with a couple of our instructors translating. [long explanation in French] [English] [long explanation in French] [English]. I don't speak French. It can't have been much better for those who did, because then they had to listen to a redundant translation. And the man was quite long winded. It got to be 9pm and he was showing no signs of slowing. And the gist of the whole thing was, "Hey, look at this set of traditional poems I found! Cool, huh?"

So anyway, went afterward to meet the linguists, and no one was there. One of the instructors (indeed, the speaker's translator) who had been at the talk joined me, and we sat around for a few more minutes...no one appeared. So I gave him a ride home and he invited me in for some Senegalese tea (green tea, boiled on the stove in one little metal teapot, and poured into another metal teapot with sugar in it; the result is as sweet as the sweetest Southern tea, only very strong and green and hot and served in a small glass instead of iced).

But then his housemate was there, a visiting scholar from Senegal, who didn't speak much English. Okay. I think he may have been the guy who just gave the talk, but his demeanor was very different, and his English seemed worse. So I'm not sure if it was the same guy, and I wasn't sure how to converse with him.

He was a Pulaar speaker, who was very disappointed that I spoke Swahili and not a good language, like Pulaar. Also, he said, Wolof was too easy. Pulaar, he said, was the most difficult language in Africa. "What do you think makes it so difficult?", I asked. "He thought a moment. "The grammar." he answered.


Also, he thought it must be related to Bamana since there were a lot of Bamana loanwords.

So, that was as far as the linguistics of the evening went. I tried to leave after the first glass of tea, but my host had already begun preparing a second and insisted that I stay for it. But then they sort of stopped talking to me and just talked to each other in French, or Wolof, or whatever. I drank the second glass faster.

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