My Encounter with an Arabic Speaking Squirrel
Missions life is never dull.
A few days ago, a squirrel called me old. In Arabic.
Debbie and I are taking a class together at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics (GIAL). This class teaches us techniques to learn another language without a textbook or a teacher. Instead, we learn from a native speaker, called a “language consultant.”
The class is very practical. We use the techniques on a living language. Debbie and I had a choice of five languages. My first pick was Mandarin Chinese, but the instructors wouldn’t let us have that, because I’ve already studied the language in the past. I also listed Japanese and Modern Hebrew as my choices.
We got Arabic.
In our first session, our consultant pointed to a toy pig and told us the Arabic word for it. She made the pig walk and told us in Arabic, “A pig walks.”
It turns out the words that you say things to a man in Arabic are different than you use to say things to a woman. So our consultant, an Egyptian woman, used a black squirrel puppet to use words addressed a male. She then used the squirrel puppet to tell us how to ask an older person, “What is your name?”
The squirrel then turned to me and asked me my name, using the form of address for an older person.
I couldn’t keep a straight face. I was staring down a squirrel who had just implied I’m aged, and who was waiting for me to tell him, in Arabic, what my name was. I said, “That squirrel just called me ‘old’.”
Photo: George Hodan, public domain.