baby talk

Bitte, bitte! Want!
In any language, it's cake
To communicate.

In case hearing Deutsch spoken on buses and in lunchlines and seeing it printed on signs isn't enough, I have been exposed to the extreme pleasure of hearing Deutsch baby talk. Mathieu and I walked past a mother and her son, and he was bouncing impatiently, "Bitte, bitte, bitte!" I think that most readers will easily parse this as, "Please, please, please!", but even if you didn't know what the Deutsch means, it wouldn't be so tough to discern. Context clues are becoming my best friend here in Deutschland. I don't know a lot of the language, but I've dabbled in enough romance languages that it's not awful to read or hear, as long as I can parse the words apart and see the speaker.

I've been thinking a lot about language since I started working at the UKP (Ubiquitous Knowledge Processing) Lab at TUD (Technische Universität Darmstadt). Probably this is good, since it's what my project involves. :) My task is to parse through books, papers, articles, whatever and pick out the terms that would be important enough to be included as index entries in the back of the book. Culling that sort of information sounds trivial, but computers sometimes have a tough time with semantics. Anyway, if you have any suggestions on things that might make a term index-worthy, don't hesitate to comment.

I feel like I'm going to stumble out of the summer with my language skills severely stunted, though. I'm the only native English speaker in the UKP (I proofed a paper recently based on this qualification :P), and hearing Mathieu's dubious grammar and Titi's non-American accent are warping my tongue for the... well, maybe not worse, but certainly different. It's also a bit harder to flex my vocabulaic muscles (use of that non-word in this sentence strikes me as particularly ironic) when I have to explain a lot of the nonstandard terms that I use. It's hard to explain differences in the senses of words... I'm trying to think of a suitable example, but coming up blank at the moment. :-/ Chatting with my native-English-speaking friends isn't always a booster, either; chatspeak is notoriously bereft of grammatical correctness, and the strange semi-English ("have a day. preferably good.") that Evan and I speak in is exceptionally impoverished thereof.

So you probably should avoid mocking me for poor grammar after this summer ends. When one travels between countries that speak the same language but can't understand each other (Swiss German, Austrian German, and High German are pretty vastly different, apparently), without a bubble of one's own, well-constructed language, it seems reasonable. Maybe I'll resurrect a rule or two during my trip to London this weekend.

Still, I'm having a blast. Life is well.


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