Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

A Gesture of German

The Beatles sang in German. Did you know that? I knew they’d spent time playing in Hamburg before their fame spread globally, but it hadn’t occurred to me that they would have recorded in German until this morning when RNZ National played I Wanna Hold Your Hand in that language.

I studied German briefly in the 5th form as my sixth School Certificate subject. In those days it was offered along with French and Latin, but there was no option for Māori, Japanese or Mandarin. I still like the sound of the language, but these days my knowledge is limited to being able to count to twelve. I always used to say Gesundheit when someone sneezed, but this century I’ve learned to say Tihei mauri ora instead.

In 1956 we hosted a Hungarian refugee who had a smattering of German, but no English. My brother had a similar smattering from his scientific studies, and with the help of a German dictionary they were able to communicate on a very basic level.

Hearing The Beatles this morning reminded me of other German songs from the 1960s, Elvis sang Wooden Heart, and Lolita sang Seeman (Sailor)

Languages we don’t hear much
are German, Norwegian, and Dutch

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Which War?

Writing to an older cousin I mentioned the war, confident that he would know I was referring to World War II. For us Baby Boomers born soon after the end of that war it will always be The War. It’s the war our parents were familiar with. My mother-in-law in particular spoke often of her experiences in London during the Blitz. My generation grew up during the Korean War and the Vietnam War, but those never gained the same resonance or the same wholehearted support.

David Hill wrote an essay this week pointing out that Armistice Day, marked at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month was about celebrating peace, whereas Anzac Day can appear to be more about glorifying war. Armistice Day is unknown to many of a younger generation in Aotearoa. A couple of years ago I was making a medical appointment and the date set was 11 November. I remarked to the young receptionist that that would be Armistice Day. She replied that the date was her birthday, but she’d never heard of Armistice Day.

In news reports, especially from Britain the war in Ukraine is becoming The War. At this morning’s Auckland Dawn Service the Ukraine flag flew over the War Memorial Museum at the request of the R.S.A. For many in Aotearoa there is more feeling of connection with this conflict than with past ones in Asian countries, and there is fear as to how it may escalate. Will this be the defining war of the future?

We wonder if war in Ukraine
will involve all the world again

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A seasonal delight at this time of year is the opportunity to scrunch through piles of dead leaves. Scrunch is a special word which describes the noise produced by hard things being pressed together. To make that noise the leaves must be dry, and our recent lack of rain is useful here. The leaves must also be curly, they won’t have that crunchy sound if they are flat on the ground.

Last week I enjoyed scrunching my way past Victoria Square:

Autumn leaves by Victoria Square

Today I’ve been scrunching along Bealey Avenue.

Autumn leaves on Bealey Avenue

Where have you been scrunching lately?

It’s satisfying when you scrunch
to hear those crisp dry leaves go crunch

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Silly Signs

I freely admit to being a perfectionist when it comes to grammar and spelling (although I did miss one mistake when proofreading this month’s community newsletter).

At the local pharmacy I was appalled to see this sign with a misplaced apostrophe.

Apostrophe astray

I imagine thousands have been printed and are hanging in pharmacies all over Aotearoa in front of impressionable young kiwi’s (sic).

Another sign that caught my eye was this notice advising the shop was closed.

Short staffed?

I wonder whether tall staff ever cause shops to be closed?

Then, in the supermarket I saw a sign which I consider to be in poor taste.

Easter admonishment

We are currently experiencing a pandemic, war in Ukrainian, and a climate crisis, plus this city has had earthquakes and a massacre. I wonder what else we’re supposed to prepare for this Easter?

An error tends to undermine
the message written on the sign

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Spurious Sign

A new sign caught my eye on the Phantom Billboards at the corner of Kilmore and Barbadoes Streets. From a distance (or from a passing car) it looks like a vertical garden.

Close inspection quickly confirmed that the greenery is plastic and false. The boards on either side advertise Deep Spring canned drinks with the slogan “Drink in the real”. If the garden between is supposed to support this slogan it is surely an oxymoron. Some marketing person has made a mistake here. What do you think?

If this drink is meant to be real
their illustration’s wrong, I feel

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Tribute to Tennyson

Who is the first artist you can remember engaging with? This is a question we were asked in our writing class. I remember an old 78 record of Doris Day singing The Black Hills of Dakota which I loved, but the artist I chose to write about was Alfred, Lord Tennyson. His The Lady of Shalott has been a lifelong favourite, and I love his rhythm and rhymes. We later had an L.P. record of Richard Burton reading Tennyson’s poetry which introduced me to The Lotus-eaters and others.

Some years ago I was browsing at Shand’s Emporium in Hereford Street. They had a box of books in front of the shop and I found a short illustrated biography of Tennyson, published in 1909, which I bought for five dollars.

Biography of Tennyson

Today is exactly sixteen years since my mother died. During her last hours I sat and read Tennyson’s poetry to her, knowing that she loved it too, and being aware that hearing is the last of the senses to fail.

I liked to think his rhythmic word
could be the last one that she heard

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A Good Chap

If you’re being a good chap you can be counted on to do the right thing. Chap is a British term which applies to a man or boy. A woman may possibly be a chapess or chapette. This is different to the American term guy which can be applied to any gender.

Chap is a shortened form of chapman, an Anglo-Saxon term for a merchant, which is the ancestor of our word cheap, i.e. a bargain. Chapwoman referred to a female pedlar or dealer.

I’m interested in the word because I’m currently producing a chapbook, which was originally a small pamphlet of tales, ballads, etc, which was carried from place to place and offered for sale by a chapman.

My chapbook will be close to forty A5 pages, divided into seven chapters. The word chapter derives from the Latin caput (head).

There are also chaps, stout protective leggings worn by cowboys, and this word comes from Spanish. I wonder whether some chapmen may have worn chaps?

Cowboy in chaps

Myself I can’t be a good chap
my gender is the handicap

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A vicambulist is someone who walks around in the streets. That’s definitely me, although I’d prefer not to be called a street-walker as that word has other connotations.

Today as I walked around I met a group of workers who were replacing the traffic light pole at the north-east corner of the Barbadoes/Kilmore Street intersection. It became bent when hit by a vehicle.

Replacing the pole

A night-foundered vicambulist is a street-walker (with or without other connotations) who has got lost in the darkness. This is definitely not me, as if I walk at night I stick to streets I know well. Are you a vicambulist too?

A call for help must needs be sounded
if someone walking is night-foundered

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At an introductory session for my Te Reo course I was asked to fill in a form and give three reasons why I wanted to do the course.  I hadn’t thought a great deal about this beforehand (I’m a reflective learner) and put down things like wanting to understand what was being said at meetings and on radio and TV.  Lately I’ve been more carefully considering my reasons, particularly as my commitments for the next couple of months have increased, and I’m less confident of being able to give sufficient time to study.

My desire to learn Te Reo is partly because of my commitment to Te Tiriti and partly because of my desire for a more inclusive society where my values are shared.  On several past occasions I’ve been part of making a treaty-based decision to transfer a small amount of power from Pakeha to Maori, which has always given me a good feeling, as well as building my relationship with Maori.  For some years I regularly attended monthly meetings of Te Runaka ki Otautahi o Kai Tahu, and loved the process, energy and ‘wellcomeness’/manaakitanga of these meetings – so different to the way much Pakeha business is conducted.  I’m aware that Te Tiriti is the basis for government in this country.

I’ve done some study, mainly experiential, of Maori Tikanga, and I’m drawn to the fact that their world view is communal rather than individual.  I also love that their spirituality is based on nature and a balance between feminine and masculine.  This is in line with my own spirituality and has a familiar security for me.  I sometimes find the Maori links with Christianity uncomfortable, but this applies in the Pakeha world as well!

I see learning Te Reo as a personal way of helping to integrate society in Aotearoa.  All my voluntary work is based around supporting communities, especially my local geographic community, and I welcome the chance to help bring about a society that reflects my values.  My recent small action for abortion law reform was another such opportunity.

It’s been good to reflect on my reasons for choosing to study Te Reo, and this reflection makes me more motivated to succeed.

Te Reo opens up a door
and I’m encouraged to learn more


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Prime Poems

Poetry I learned in Primary School has stayed with me all my life: Gems such as Mr Horace Caterpillar, Joshua the Jaguar, and Bad King John.  Of course they all rhymed!  I’m surprised I have almost no memory of any poems learned at Secondary School in the early 1960s.  I can’t even remember the names of my English teachers.  Perhaps none of them was ever my form teacher?  I remember teachers of other subjects – Mrs Laidlaw for Maths, Miss Cooper for French, Miss Scott for Latin, but English is a blank.  Did any of my readers go to Epsom Girls’ Grammar School and remember English teachers’ names?

I remember one French poem Il pleure dans mon coeur . . . and have memories of singing O Divina Clementina (My Darling Clementine) in Latin, but English poetry has faded completely.  If I stretch into the depths of memory I can imagine Ozymandias, The charge of the Light Brigade, and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but it’s a long stretch.  I’m certain we never learned any New Zealand poetry.  Shakespeare was dissected and discussed, along with G B Shaw, and I’m sure we read Man Alone by John Mulgan, but it wasn’t until after I’d left school that I discovered Janet Frame and Jane Mander.

English was my best subject (84% in School Certificate), strange that its memory has dimmed, especially as I now call myself a writer.  Certainly I was not inspired to go on and read poetry, and for many years the only poetry books on my shelf were English Poetry for the Young, published 1904, which had been my mother’s text when she was in Standard 6 at Normal School (1923), and the English Poetry volume of The Outline of Knowledge, published in 1924, which has my father’s name inscribed – the only one of his books I possess.  It’s no wonder my poetry tastes tend to the older formats, and I love rhyme.

Parental poetry books

Nowadays I enjoy creating and sharing poetry, and lament the apparent gaps in my education.

Scant memory of my English class
although I got a decent pass


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