7

Bye, Bei, Bye

Now that I finally have a moment…

Here’s another pet peeve of mine.

The sentence “we stayed by my grandparents’ last night” is something that a Jewish person might say.

It is also horribly grammatically incorrect. I never actually noticed it until a few years ago when my dad pointed it out, but if you think about it, it makes sense.

By means via, as in “by train”, alongside, as in “pass by a house” or “sit by a window,” or indicates a creator, as in “a painting by Picasso”. It does not mean over, at, or with.

“But why do you call out Jewish people, Jacob?”

Because they’re the only ones whom I’ve heard use it that way. I used it myself until my dad corrected me.

Actually, it has a linguistic meaning. In German, the word bei means “with,” therefore making its usage in the aforementioned sentence about staying with grandparents grammatically correct. For some reason, this word kind over traveled over and became a false cognate in English speech.

For some reason, though, it irks me more and more each time I hear someone use it incorrectly. I don’t know why it does, but it is grammatically incorrect. One time, I tried to correct someone, and was greeted with a blank stare, so it is not something that I try terribly hard to change about others’ speech patterns.

But don’t start saying it now.

That, or singing the Maude theme song in public, or else Lady Godiva will be freedom riding through your brain for the rest of the day.

2

Pie: The Universal Language

Today, I woke up and met Lumeng across the street at Bassett Street Brunch Club, only to find out that it was over an hour for a table. We were hungry, so we got in my car and drove out to the Hubbard Avenue Diner in Middleton. The wait there was also 40 minutes, but we got two seats at the counter within seconds because we are hungry graduate students and we do not care.

After brunch, we shared two pieces of pie, a French silk and a sweet potato pecan. I asked Lumeng how to say pie in Chinese, since she’s in my Chinese Drama class and is from Beijing.

Her answer?

“Pie.”

Some things everyone understands.

0

Klallam Me Maybe

Those who say you can’t take it with you when you go obviously never met Hazel Sampson.

Three days ago, Hazel Sampson passed away in Port Angeles, Washington at age 103. This is not a surprising occurrence, given that the number of 103-year-olds that are still hanging around is relatively small. However, Sampson’s death is the end of an era. She was the last native speaker of Klallam.

klallammemaybe

 

I hadn’t heard of the Klallam language before today, nor the Klallam people. As it turns out, they are related to the Salish and their territory straddles the borders of the USA and Canada, with communities on Vancouver Island in British Columbia and the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Like many other Native American languages, Klallam was thought of as inferior to English and survived the government’s attempts at elimination. The 1990s Native American Language Act helped the Klallam cause, gaining the interest of scholars such as University of North Texas professor Timothy Montler, who operates a compelling website for the language. According to Sampson’s obituary, written by Jonathan Kaminsky, the majority of Klallam people today do not speak their language, although due to the dying-out of speakers (Sampson, of course, being the last), has been added to the curriculum at Port Angeles High School.

Language loss is a problem, even in the 21st century. People are beginning to embrace cultures whose members are dying out and trying to recapture days gone by, when the British, French, Americans, et. al., were trying to impress their own culture and drive out anything else. Fragments and even whole books of some languages without native speakers still exist, but it’s not enough to make up for centuries of forced linguistic genocide. I wouldn’t be surprised if several languages die out each year – or each month, for that matter – and Hazel Sampson’s story is no different. Back in 2008, a similar story emerged with the death of Marie Smith Jones of Alaska ending the line of native speakers of Eyak, an indigenous Alaskan language. Even though Eyak is still spoken and taught, it is officially on the list of dead languages – a club in which Klallam is now the newest member.

Just like peoples and cultures die out, I suppose that languages have lives too. Klallam has served its purpose, and now is a language of the heavens, along with millions of others. However much we may have of it, we’ll never have a native speaker, someone who learned it first, before any another language; someone who can compose love songs and secrets; someone to think and to dream in it.

Rest in peace, Hazel Sampson, and rest in peace, Klallam. Or, as Hazel might say,

húy̕ kʷi nəsčáʔčaʔ

(Goodbye, my friend.)

Works Cited

Kaminsky, Jonathan. “Last native speaker of Klallam language dies in Washington state.” Reuters.com. 6 Feb 2014. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/07/us-usa-klallam-death-idUSBREA1605W20140207&gt;.

2

For Shiran, Who May or May Not Have Any Friends

Because my life is pretty much all work and no sleep right now, it’s time for a story.

Here’s another one from the Israel collection.

It was October 2009, and I’d been in Israel for a few months. During that time, my Hebrew improved somewhat and I also joined a small gym on Emek Refaim. I found out after several weeks though that another gym in town, Body and Soul, in Talpiot, was offering some more discounted memberships, albeit being a little further. I expressed interest, as well as some other people in the program, and someone submitted our names and phone numbers to the gym. A few days later, I get a call from an unknown number. I pick up the phone and I hear this.

“Hi. This is Shiran. Would you like to be my friend?”

Huh?

Um…I guess so? I don’t really know how to answer when someone introduces themselves like that to me on the phone. Here’s how the next part of the convo went.

ME: Huh?

SHIRAN: Hi, my name is Shiran, would you like to be my friend?

ME: Um…sure, yeah…do you have any other friends?

SHIRAN: No.

ME: (in a kind of sad voice) Awww…

SHIRAN: So?

ME: Are you sure you don’t have any friends?

SHIRAN: Yes. No. I don’t know.

ME: (silence) …I’m so sorry. That’s really sad. I’ll be your friend, but…how did you get this number?

SHIRAN: I am calling from Body and Soul Gym. Would you like to be a friend of the gym?

ME: (ding!) Ohhhhh, you mean a member of the gym?

SHIRAN: I don’t know.

ME: Ohhh, dear, that’s something very different.

SHIRAN: What?

ME: (in Hebrew) Is Hebrew better? I speak Hebrew.

SHIRAN: (In Hebrew) Yes. Would you like to be khaver kheder kosher (חבר חדר כושר)?

ME: (in Hebrew) Ohhhh, now I get it. Yes, I would, thank you.

Here’s the deal: In Hebrew, the word khaver (חבר) means “friend.” That day, I also learned that it means “member.” Same thing in Hebrew; two quite different concepts in English. Shiran must have been either very new or particularly unsuccessful with English-speaking clients, because one would think that someone would have pointed that out to her.

The conversation continued on as normal (as normal as one can get) in Hebrew. After I’d given her all my info for her records, I returned to the beginning of the conversation, and explained in Hebrew as best I could what I thought she had asked me in the beginning and why I was confused. And that I felt sad when she told me that she had no friends, and I laughed. She laughed along with me, saying in English:

SHIRAN: Oh, oh, yes, now I know. Okay.

ME: But you’re okay, right?

SHIRAN: Yes, I am fine.

ME: But you have friends, right?

SHIRAN: No.

(short pause)

I mean, yes.

ME: Um, are you sure about that?

SHIRAN: Yes, I think so.

ME: Okay, well, if you ever want to talk, just give me a call, okay?

SHIRAN: Sure. Yes. Okay. Bye.

ME: Bye.

And that’s how I joined a gym and met possibly the loneliest girl in the world (who, afterwards, I unfortunately never had the pleasure of meeting) all in the same day.

Or the most confused.

Either way, Shiran, this one’s just for you.

Oh, and if anyone is ever in the general vicinity of Jerusalem and can make a quick trip into Talpiot (just take the 22/22a from Central Bus Station to Bak’a and walk downhill until you hit Talpiot, or take the line to Givat Pat and walk uphill), stop by the Body and Soul Gym on Hamusachim 5, top floor, find Shiran and give her a hug, because she may or may not have made any new friends in the past four years.