As we continued to work at our language studies, we found that a culture is carried by the language and religion of the land. Turkish has lots of Islamic greetings “Selam Aleykum” (peace be to you), and “Rab sana iyilik versin” (may the Lord give you goodness). Many of these are straight from Arabic.
One of my favorite examples of how the language carries the culture is this word: anlatabildimmi? Meaning, “Was I able to explain myself?” In English, after explaining something, we say, “Did you understand?” The onus is on the listener; if he didn’t understand, it’s his fault.
Here this is reversed: : “Was I able to explain myself?” If the listener didn’t understand, it was the fault of the speaker This illustrates the face-saving, conflict-avoiding politeness of the culture.
We also learned that there is a proper response to every possible situation. Unfortunately, we have no equivalent for many of these in English.
Affiyet olsun: “I wish you a good appetite/meal.”
Gecmis olsun: “May the pain of it soon pass–said after any traumatic, difficult, painful, negative thing—good for saying to a sick person, someone who’s had an accident, a loss or even had his picture taken.
Kolay gelsin: “may it go easily.” A nice greeting to give someone you see who is working. Could be a street sweeper, or a construction worker, or a fruit seller or clerk. There’s nothing in English like it.
Basiniz sag olsun: “may your head stay healthy.” Said to someone whose relative has died. In English we have nothing with such strength to say in this situation. We say, “I’m sorry” or “My condolences.” But these are like offering a wet noodle. This in our new language, however, has some “umph” to it.
The culture here also contains many proverbs that are used extensively and express the culture’s face-saving tradition. One time when I parked my car on the street, a fellow offered to wash it for me while I was gone, but wanted me to pay him up front.
I smiled and said, “He who has burned his tongue on hot milk blows on his yogurt before eating it.” The equivalent in English is, “Once burned, twice learned.”
The fellow smiled back and left. I had let him know that he was a crook, but in a polite and indirect way which didn’t dishonor him. Very acceptable.
This society is an ordered one where people know and use the proper responses which are designed to keep conflict at a minimum. This gives a sense of security, prevents misunderstandings and keeps relationships in place.
Our society is much more free-wheeling, with far fewer forms of expected responses. Often we don’t know what to say and that causes insecurity as we struggle to give a response.
For example, if a reporter sticks a microphone in the face of the average American and asks a question, often you get a laugh, or “ah, um, well…” before a fumbling answer comes out.
If, however, a reporter interviews someone here, be it a child, an old person, educated or simple, the person starts speaking right away; he immediately knows what kind of answer he is expected to give.
So, here we were, dropped into a new culture and language, slowly making our way through uncharted territory. My approach to the unpleasant and difficult task of learning grammar was to practice language patterns until they became automatic.
So I would practice declining verbs: “I went, you went, he went, we went, you went, they went.” Then I moved to short sentences, and after memorizing one, tried switching out words to make new ones: “I went to the school.” became “I went to the store.” And then, “I went to my friend.”
In the beginning I got tangled up trying to make long sentences, but Barbara wisely pointed out that long sentences are simply a series of short ones strung together. She encouraged me to stick with short ones to get it right and later combine them to make longer sentences. As usual, she was correct, and this approach helped me greatly.
Then the point came where I could no longer understand the explanations of grammar, even if they were given in English (grammar had never been a strong point for me). Here the Lord gave me the idea of getting my language helper to make two or three useful sentences using this new grammar point. I would then memorize them, and begin to use them in every day interactions.
I called these my “pattern sentences” because they provided the template from which I could build other sentences. My work of memorizing and meditating on Scripture had given me the ability to do this memorization work more easily.
As time went on, I found that doing this memorizing not only seeded my mind with the grammar points I was targeting, but also with other new points that these sentences contained. I spontaneously started using them, too.
My new friends told me that I “talked like a book,” meaning correctly, but a bit stilted.
To increase my vocabulary, I tried to memorize thirty new words a day. I would write these words down on one side of a strip of paper, and the English meaning on the other. Then I would fold the paper down the middle, with the the new ones on one side, the English on the other and memorize them. Then I would look at just the new word and try to remember its meaning.
I used my travel time to do this memorization, going to and from work or while shopping, walking or riding on a bus. Once while walking to work, I was focusing on my vocabulary paper, when, for no discernible reason, I looked up and found myself right on the edge of a ten-foot deep hole dug in the sidewalk!
There was no railing and no warning, which was a common situation at that time. If I hadn’t looked up at that particular moment, my next step would have been into thin air. The Lord was not only helping me with language learning but protecting me in the process.
Another Jesus sighting. And many more came in the following days!
Picture: Barbara with one of her new friends