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Brad Fitzpatrick

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Language Digression [Dec. 14th, 2002|12:32 am]
Brad Fitzpatrick

Just now I was trying to use "safer" as an adverb and I was shocked how long it took me to figure it out. Saferly? Safierly? Saflyer? Ah... yes, duh... more safely.

So of course, another post about language! (bored yet?)

The night I arrived home from Germany I said, "I have hunger." I never thought I'd make an honest mistake like that outside of plain' ol' fucking around. It's weird how the patterns get in your head so easily.

Or how I think of certain words in German first. Best example is Untertasse. I learned it in high school from the plastic kitchen set the teacher used for teaching kitchen vocab, but I never really used saucers in real life and never really associated the English word saucer with Untertasse. I remember last year being out to lunch with a friend and I paused for a number of seconds mid-conversation to think of the English word for saucer, the German word wanting to come out instead.

I was reading more fairy tales the other day and I came across the word verwünscht. I knew wünschen (to wish) and I knew the sort of modifications the prefix ver- implies, and I knew the context of the story thus far, so it was easy to know the meaning of the word. But I couldn't think of the word in English. Somebody negatively wished somebody. A minute later... cursed.

The whole feeling of knowing things in different languages at different speeds just makes me think of all the pathways in the brain... like a big graph...

What's the shortest path from the image of a saucer to a word? There are linkages to images of old English farts having tea on the lawn, holding the Untertasse with their pinky extended, Oh, there's the word Untertasse repeated a dozen times a day for a week or so in high-school. And a few more edges away: the rarely used English word. A piece of information so barely connected to anything, at least for me. If you worked at a saucer store, you'd be different.

I read once that's how the brain works... unlike some arbitrary block device with a finite capacity, the retention of knowledge in a brain is based upon its reference count. That's why mnemonics work so well... just adds edges and keeps nodes from falling away. In my experience, that's totally true.

But I'm going nowhere and my music stopped.

From: ex_virtuous928
2002-12-14 12:41 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: chris
2002-12-14 01:02 am (UTC)
I spent a little over a week in Paris a few years ago. I had a couple of french phrasebooks I'd looked at to learn common words. What really struck me though, was that trying to think of how to say something in french, I would find myself unable to, but in the process I would recall how to say it in German (which I took a lot of in HS/College), and generally it was something I probably couldn't have thought of on demand if was actually trying to *speak* german.
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[User Picture]From: calliste
2002-12-14 01:02 am (UTC)
By the way, verwünscht is more like haunted, while verflucht would be cursed, sort of. Sometimes you'll also see verwunschen. That is sort of unrelated to the rest of your post, because the other stuff in your post was probably more important, but I just got up and I'm still drunk and I'll prepare an awesome Frühstück now with Frühstückseiern in Eierbechern and stuff.

Oh, didn't I mention a song about Eierbecher the other day? I ran through the WHOLE internet to find it and here it is, finally. It's a children's song and "Traumzauberbaum" is not really the artist, but much rather the record it appeared on. The artist is a guy called Reinhard Lakomy, and the song is ABOUT EGG HOLDERS and ... oh, just ignore the talking after the song. I was too lazy to cut it off.
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[User Picture]From: muerte
2002-12-14 01:28 am (UTC)
Stephen King wrote a book called the Dead Zone where this guy is in a coma for a long ass time (10+ years or something weird). When he comes out of it he talks all about being unable to associate words with the images in his head.

Like he would see an umbrella, remember what it was for, how it was used, and what color his umbrella was but was unable to remember the word for it. Hence the "dead zone" concept. Same sorta idea.

You ever forget a word... Or a TV show title... or something you KNOW you know. You spend a while thinking and then it just pops in your head. Makes you wonder what your brain is doing. What sort of funky search algorithm is going on inside your head. What sort of index does the human brain have...

SELECT * FROM Memories WHERE Subject = 'Hot Goat Pr0n';

Somehow I doubt it works like that...
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[User Picture]From: chris
2002-12-14 03:36 am (UTC)
that sounds a lot like people who get that split-brain operation. like if they cover one eye, they can look at an orange, draw it, associate it with the right color, and generally "know" what it is, but not be able to correspond it to the letters that make up the word 'ORANGE'
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[User Picture]From: jadine
2002-12-14 09:53 am (UTC)
You know, we need more geeks explaining psychology.

That's why mnemonics work so well... just adds edges and keeps nodes from falling away.

Just try getting a psych professor to understand that sentence... yet it explains the concept so succinctly.
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[User Picture]From: jessicka
2002-12-14 11:00 am (UTC)
That happened to me when I came back from Belgium/France, where I'd spent the summer speaking only French. The one I had the most trouble with was, in English, saying "I am cold." In French you say "I have cold" instead, which seemed much more apt to me when trying to describe the feeling of being cold and not being able to warm up, like you have the cold inside of you and can't get rid of it. There was no suitable English translation. There were other, similar things I had trouble with, but that was the biggest. "I have hunger" makes sense in the same way, I probably would've said that too.
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[User Picture]From: blythe
2002-12-14 01:06 pm (UTC)
so your point is that you still don't know words? :P
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[User Picture]From: brad
2002-12-14 02:03 pm (UTC)
Bite me. :P
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[User Picture]From: blythe
2002-12-14 04:01 pm (UTC)
no thanks, i'll let someone else do that
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[User Picture]From: jillithian
2002-12-16 10:20 am (UTC)

BBC article about memory

A news article from the BBC about memory:
Brain scan "clues" to Memory Marvels
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[User Picture]From: tlanni
2002-12-18 10:43 pm (UTC)
hahah i have hunger
THAT is too funny
ive made mistakes like that too i lived in switzerland for a while
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