where the writers are
Americans

Once, in my Welsh class, several years ago, we were given a grammatical exercise to practice negative verb forms. We had to translate sentences beginning with "I will never"  or "we will never" into Welsh. "Welwn ni byth mohonyn nhw eto" =  "We'll never see them again." There were students from several countries and nationalities - mostly English or English-speaking Welsh, but also from France, Germany, Sweden, etc.  There were two Americans - me and someone from Massachussets. 

We were given homework to do and when we returned the next day, everyone had done the exercise as given except the two Americans. The teacher was very puzzled by the papers we returned for marking.  We had both (unknown to each other) changed the English sentences on the worksheet before translating them into Welsh.

When asked why, both of us said, simultaneously and in almost identical terms:  "I can't say these negative things out loud!" We had both changed "I will never be rich" to "I will never be poor;" "I will never succeed" to "I will never fail;" "I will never be able to..." to "I will never give up..." And so on.

All the Europeans thought this was a bad thing since we didn't follow the rules. The English didn't comment but looked out the window disdainfully and the Welsh students thought it was fascinating and followed us around after class asking questions. I found this extremely interesting.

Comments
12 Comment count
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Now I understand

Now I understand why the USA is the richest and strongest country in the wordl!
The Welsh course says it loudly.In fact,all is a matter of how we finish this: "I will never..."stuff.

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Very interesting.

Extremely!

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Abdelwahab, thank you so

Abdelwahab, thank you so much for this post. It seemed such a small thing, really, but it was, to me, and to my fellow American, symbolic of a much larger thing. Words are everything. "When a man takes an oath, Meg, he's holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then- he needn't hope to find himself again." (Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons) This wasn't an oath of course. But it was, for us, heresy.

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Yes

Hell and heavens lie under  one's tongue.At the beginning there's the verb.You are right when you say that words are not just words.

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"Hell and Heaven(s) lie

"Hell and Heaven(s) lie under one's tongue."  This is an exquisite aphorism. Thanks for this. This little vignette from Welsh class certainly stirred up a little (civilised) storm on my Facebook page. You are welcome to have a look. Merci de vos commentaires.  Je les apprécie.

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Tout le plaisir est pour moi.

Tout le plaisir est pour moi.

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Hello Sue!

Yes, I thought it was pretty interesting, the way it all happened!

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The American Dream

Harrison,

What a revelatory post on cultural attitudes!  Can you say the American Dream?Obviously you can.  I am reminded of Bloody Mary's folk wisdom in the musical South Pacific:  "If you don't have a dream, how ya' gonna have a dream come true?"

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Culture and language

Very interesting.

I recall that when I lived in the Philippines I got annoyed with a Filipino friend for constantly using the passive voice in English - he was mentally translating form Tagalog, which uses the passive as a gentle non-threatening norm.

The Bolognese sauce for dinner was burned and he admitted the foul deed as directly as he was able.

"I was the one who burned the sauce."

I had to presume that there were unendicted co-conspirators involved in the back story to the burning who had some sort of executive privelege: King Harold, perhaps.

 

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Interesting!

I didn't know that about the passive voice. That would be difficult incorporate as a speech pattern. "The store was went/gone to by me" ... ? Co- conspirators with executive privilege - funny!  :) But I think it was King Alfred who burnt the cakes, wasn't it? Thanks for this glimpse into a different linguistic world. ~ H

 

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PS

Looking forward to your book set in Arthur's Britain. Just back from five years in Wales, that cycle, some of which appears in my PhD dissertation ("thesis" in British universities) is part of my psyche now.

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American dream or cultural

American dream or cultural attitudes? I think they merge here, but if I were going to categorise this incident, I'd say cultural programming (not a pejorative term and in any case universal - or very nearly so). We just grew up, most of us, in America, not to accept defeat or defeating attitudes. Having taught students from all over the world, for many years, with so many different cultural backgrounds, I shouldn't have been surprised by this incident, but I was. Perhaps not surprised but struck by the depth of our collective disposition - so ingrained as to prevent us doing a simple homework assignment.

There is a negative side to this positivity. I've written another post (for AOL but it is on the Red Room) called "Don't Follow Your Dream" which is a slightly misleading title. It advocates working toward goals instead of expecting that you can have what you want simply because you want it.

Thanks for your comments, Brenden. I appreciate them. ~ H