Slang in a Second Language

I’d like to say I’m fluent in Spanish. I guess it depends on how you define fluent. I can make myself understood. I can usually understand. I couldn’t explain the inner workings of a jet engine to you, but I couldn’t do that in English, either. I’m missing a lot of specialized vocabulary. I would struggle with legal jargon, for example. Over the years, I have gotten lazy and relied on Google Translate a bit more than I probably should. But, yeah, I can read books and watch movies and chit chat, for the most part.

But one thing I have always studiously avoided was learning slang. First of all, there are a lot of Spanish speaking countries out there, and each has its own slang. Second, slang, by it’s very definition, is time sensitive, and there’s nothing cheesier than someone using slang that’s outmoded, Daddy-o. I have no access to that cultural calendar that seems so instinctual in one’s first language, at least if you’re in with the in crowd.

Also, a lot of slang is based on cultural references that I’m not privy to. And slang often has its place in certain groups, but not in others. For example, there are things you’d say to your friends that you’d never say to grandma. Determining the appropriate audience for slang is a challenge in English. I doubt I’d be able to cope in a second language.

So my advice to anyone learning a second language is to avoid slang at all costs. It’s just too risky. You could offend someone without intending to. You may want to look cool, but you have an even better chance of looking like a fool. It never hurts to proceed with caution.

dictionary-slang
I bet this was out of date even before it got published.

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The Church of the Random Word Generator

Here’s why I take exception to the implication that any multi-language translation of an ancient text is the exact and perfect word of its author: Have you ever used Google Translate? Seriously, most old texts that are still studied today have been through so many idioms that the very idea that they bear even a passing resemblance to the original intent is laughable, at best. And even if you go to the original documents, in some notable cases, they were written 40 years or more after the events in question took place. Could you accurately describe something that happened 40 years ago? I couldn’t.

In addition, ancient scripts were written in the context of the times, and now we’re attempting to interpret these messages through our modern lens. That’s like dropping a modern teenager into the year 1530 and expecting that kid to fit right in. Whatever, as they say. Good luck with that.

Now, you also have to realize that many of the texts that came down to us came without spaces between words, or even vowels and punctuation, and you can see where the finished version that we currently rely on is a little sketchy in terms of accuracy and original intent. So maybe those words were separated rather, um, randomly.

I’m not bashing your religion. I’m just saying that rigidity is not the way to go. Add common sense into the mix. Throw in a dash of critical thinking. Remember that historical context is everything. Then you can be as spiritual as you want. Amen.

But thinking about all those translations and all the loss of integrity that has crept in over the years as various people added, deleted, and changed things, has made me think of my old friend, the Random Word Generator. What if religious texts got so altered over time that the words seemed random, and we were forced to interpret that mess?

I decided to do a little thought experiment. I pulled up a fairly standard version of The Lord’s Prayer (which is the only religious thing I know by heart), and I determined that it was 71 words long. Then I asked the Random Word Generator to spit out 71 words. Whoa, Nelly. That makes for one strange religion.

For added fun, I broke up our random words as if they were the Lord’s Prayer, giving it the same word count in the stanzas, and the same punctuation as this English version, and wound up with this:

The Lord’s Prayer (as per the Random Word Generator)

Record Pause, bronze stuff pottery shoot,

route drown attitude Photocopy,

compose write hallway,

curriculum bold cultivate racism,

worm harass death rotate staff crown protest.

Ice campaign elect snack adult conservation strict.

Roll traffic self inside license,

age convince limit crosswalk

witch wrong jump master.

Charm building treat electron mirror winner,

glare recession gold competence wrestle.

Eat concentration grain hurt bang,

wing ensure miracle, pool hen train,

Museum victory carry pity. President.

If I tried hard enough, I’m sure I could find some great advice in there. It might even alter the way I live my life. There does seem to be a certain level of violence implied as well. (That’s something that most world religions can’t seem to avoid.) It also shows hints of politics, a little bit of economic socialism, and it has me thinking that maybe children shouldn’t be able to get drivers’ licenses at the tender age of sixteen.

Hmm…

Heiroglyphics

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