Sunday, January 31, 2010

Be All This as It May

I had some people over for a get-together last night, and conversation turned to studying romance languages. This topic tends to come up eventually in my apartment, since there are index cards with Spanish vocabulary words taped to household objects all over the place. I put them up sometime last semester because I decided it was more fun than actually studying for one of the exams. By now I barely notice them, so I forget they're even there until people come over. I should probably take them down, but partly I'm lazy and partly I'm worried that if I stop subliminally teaching myself then I'll forget how to say things like "light switch" and "houseplant" in Spanish. Now that I'm auditing second-semester Spanish, what I really need is index cards identifying various verbs in the preterite and the imperfect, but it's very difficult to tape index cards to verbs, especially when they're in a past tense.

Anyway, one of my friends is an Italian instructor at the university, and we were comparing how quickly each language curriculum got to the subjunctive. (Italian beat us to it, although we did learn travel vocabulary before they did.) A more general exchange on the subjunctive:
ANNIE: Well, the subjunctive pretty much blows no matter what language you're speaking.
JACK: Really? But I don't know what we would do without it.

I thought this was a fairly droll and subtle line, even if instead just floating wittily into the conversation it made everyone groan and brought conversation to a grinding halt. But I did some further research this morning, and that's not the subjunctive! Turns out I'd confused the future subjunctive with the conditional. Party foul! So now I'm frightened about learning the subjunctive in Spanish, since its analogues in English are more difficult to understand than I thought. Good thing I'm not some kind of professional grammarian.

My favorite English subjunctive is the archaic-sounding present one, detectable in "Suffice it to say," "Truth be told," and "I / Except you'enthrall mee, never shall be free, / Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee."

If there weren't all these fucking linguistic modalities, we'd have an easier time of everything. Reading Wikipedia about irrealis moods really drives home the benefit of learning a language before the age of five. Also, what the hell am I doing with my weekend all of a sudden?

Also at the party: Connecticut wines! Connecticut does have some wineries, although I'm told that they tend to import their grapes from Long Island. Connecticut wines are like most of everything else in Connecticut: totally fine to live with, but not very interesting.


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