Friday, September 30, 2005

What is not found in textbooks

It's been a tiring trip but also a valuable experience in terms of learning Kyrgyz. I wrote about the importance of exposure to the language, and I got plenty of that during this week.

Last night as I read a text in my Kyrgyz textbook I was surprised by the ease with which I could pronounce the words. Although I did not get much speaking practice, I now feel much more confident about my pronunciation. All that just from listening to the native speakers.

I get the feeling that what you find in the textbooks is a language that is often very different from what is actually spoken. This is inevitable, of course, but sometimes the differences are too great.

When you are just starting to learn Kyrgyz, one of the first words you learn is "ооба" (meaning "yes"). However, it is rarely used. Most of the time the natives use a word that sounds like a nasal [ji:] to express agreement. "Анан" (which means "so") is heard a lot in conversations. Of course, none of this is found in the textbooks.

I also got an interesting kind of feedback on the Peace Corps textbook. One local lady told me about a Peace Corps volunteer who came to their village. "We use Russian words here and there when we speak Kyrgyz," the lady said. "But this girl [the volunteer] spoke pure Kyrgyz. For example, we would say 'конфета' [Russian for 'candy'], but she used 'момпосуй'."

While the lady who told me this story was impressed by the volunteer's mastery of the Kyrgyz language, she also made it clear that this "pure language", as she called it, sounded strange to a native speaker's ear.

"Момпосуй", a word borrowed from the Russian "монпансье" (which was in turn borrowed from the French "Montpensier") seems to have fallen out of use. "Конфет" (cf. the Russian "конфета") is used widely instead. This is true for many words. So following what is written in the textbooks can, in fact, make you sound rather weird. The only way to avoid this is to get as much exposure to the language (as it is actually spoken) as possible.


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