Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Lessons in SOL

Today I went to the first class of my language courses' Year 2. Which language? Well, the Second Official Language ('SOL' henceforth) of course: the Outpost government offers us them for free.

We went there (a primary school), sat down (tiny chairs, knees against desks) and were introduced to our new teacher. Then some of my fellow students announced that the whole enterprise of learning SOL was becoming an uphill struggle for them and that they felt they would have to repeat Year 1, during which we learned: the alphabet, the months, the numbers (in all their infinity), the plural, the equivalents of the verbs 'to be' and 'to have' and nominal cases. WhaDever.

Subsequently, our teacher asked us if we have anything to ask her, as she had already been interrogated on a number of topics by the previous group. I expected polite silence here, primarily because of the subtle but quite telling mentioning of the word 'interrogate' on the teacher's behalf. I am still not aware of Outpost realities, apparently. After a brisk salvo of well-aimed questions we knew the teacher's age, how she learned SOL, how many years she's been speaking SOL, her publications on TSOLSOL ('Teaching SOL to Speakers of Other Languages') and that she does not hold a university degree on SOL. After that, without any ado, a lady in her sixties announced that now she will repeat Year 1, after all. And she left. Nice? Veeeery nice.

Some thirty minutes later, the teacher asked us if we know the numbers in SOL. Suddenly, some students, middle-aged and senior citizens alike, burst out into loudly reciting the mantra of (small) natural numbers to themselves, in a fit of quasi-autistic frenzy comparable to the Rainman reciting phone books. Hence, the teacher decided to get each one of us to recite just five numbers in order to contain the crisis. My turn came, I recited fifty-one to fifty-five. At this moment, a woman in perm suddenly exclaims: "I know you! You are the Turk, er, the X-ologist. I did not recognise you before, but now I heard your voice, I do." She initially thought I was a 'turcologist', although she did eventually get my professional specialisation ('X-ologist') right. And, yes, she knows me: we were in the same group during Year 1.

More drills followed. The teacher asks if we know a noun ending in a consonant in SOL, so that we try our hands on the 'to be' equivalent. I proposed 'butcher', she found it 'macabre' (a vegan, maybe, surely the only one in the Outpost). Smart Man in Early Forties proposes 'man'. She writes 'I am a man' in FOL (First Official Language of the Outpost) on the whiteboard for us to translate into SOL and then turns to us saying 'I hope nobody here mistakes me for one'. Immediately, Smart Man in Early Forties exclaims "Noooo, no way, my mother!" (in Outpost, 'my mother' = 'baby') and proceeds to intently stare at her buttocks (she had in the meanwhile turned back towards the whiteboard). What will have happened by the third class is anyone's guess.

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