This is the first chapter where language really becomes an issue. I think a large portion of this conflict came from my own experiences with language. I was a linguistics undergrad in college, and I speak English, German, Slovak and some American Sign Language. My first real bout with wrestling with a foreign language came when I moved to Germany for two years. I’d had plenty of German in high school–four years–so I had thought I wouldn’t have much trouble handling the language. I quickly learned that there was a big difference between book knowledge and the actual application of it. The first place I lived was a little town named Schwarzenberg, where the locals speak a dialect of German called Erzgebergisch. First of all: dialect? German has dialects? I’d never thought of that before. It was a foreign language, so everyone spoke it the same way my German teach did. Right? Wrong. Even other Germans made fun of Erzgebergisch, saying it was unintelligible. You can imagine what it was like for me.
Those first few months were very difficult. I remember one time I was sitting in a meeting with Germans and one other American, and they were all rattling on left and right, all of it completely going over my head. When you don’t understand what people are saying, you start to pay more attention to other clues you might pick up, like facial expressions, intonation, voice volume–that kind of thing. These Germans were talking so loudly they were almost yelling, they were gesturing wildly with their fingers and hands, and they all seemed to be interrupting each other. I leaned over to the American and asked, “What are they all so upset about?”
He stared at me in confusion. “They’re not upset,” he said. “They’re just talking.”
I hadn’t thought that the expressions, intonation and voice volume would be foreign, too. It was. So I can really understand where Buttersby was coming from once she’s faced with this daunting situation. At the same time, I think it’s a really important step for her. She was so full of herself at the beginning of the book that something had to happen to her to bring her down, or else I wouldn’t have wanted to keep writing about her. This was the perfect device. The fact that Meander can pick it up so easily only makes it worse for her.
Anyway–that’s about all I have for you for this week’s chapter. Till next week!