Saturday, March 1, 2014

Fitting into the Local Language, or New words! New words!

I'm just back from three weeks in the frozen north (Iqaluit on Baffin Island and Rankin Inlet on the northwest corner of Hudson's Bay). Being up there reminded how important it is to develop a feeling for the "local language," especially if you want to talk about your reader's immediate environment and have some measure of credibility. After all, if you can't speak the "local lingo" how much can you know about the local conditions?

As I spent time in these communities, I started picking up the terms and inserting them into my speech. As an example, I was staying at the Frobisher Inn...but no one calls it that: It's "the Frob;" the land mass I was on for the first two weeks is "Baffin," not "Baffin Island;"  the place where I spent my third week is "Rankin" not "Rankin Inlet." If, for instance, you have a gathering where people just come to talk to each other then you're coming "to have a chat around."

Of course, if you're only in a location for a short period of time, you won't become fully fluent in "the vocab" (as English as Second Language teachers describe it). As a result, you'll drop clunkers: use words incorrectly and use non-local words when there's a local word that you don't know (yet). In order to get permission and forgiveness (i.e. to defuse reactions resulting from your misuse of the local lingo) you need to mention that you're only just starting to learn the local vocabulary. Again, this goes to credibility: It shows that you're interested in the local environment, that you're actively getting familiar with it, and that you recognize that it's a rich environment that a short term guest (like you) isn't going to pick up in a few weeks.

One last term that one of the people I was working with shared with me: In Prince Edward Island (where she was born and grew up) people may wave to you today...but yesterday they "wove to you." Cool.

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