Sleepless Linguistic Blues

March 2, 2018
Confidence: unlikely

I’ve been experiencing a lot of sleeplessness recently. I’m learning Lithuanian right now, and instead of sleeping, my brain seems determined to chew the language over and over again. Sleeplessness comes somewhat frequently to me, and it’s generally triggered by having something my mind really wants to work out.

Sometimes it’s caused by learning cool new math, or in relation to somebody new sleeping beside me. Less often than I’d like, on a particularly productive day the wires will get crossed and I’ll find my sleep-deprived brain trying to work out the eigenvectors of this woman in my bed.

There’s an implied urgency of knowing some of the language of the country you’re about to move to, and it’s this that has been keeping me awake. My mind is thrashing around, trying to grapple with genitives and locatives, and generating random scenarios to see if I navigate my way through it.

It sort of feels like a sudoku puzzle on steroids. For example, I realize my cellphone doesn’t work in Europe, so I’m going to need to buy a new one. But I don’t know where to buy one. OK, I’ll have to ask someone.

The words “kur” (where), “parduotuvė” (shop) and “telefonas” (telephone) seem like they’d be useful in getting directions to the place. But these things are both nouns, and stringing them together as-is would result in something along the lines of “where is the shop the phone?” Someone patient might understand, but you certainly wouldn’t be making it easy for them.

OK, so, let’s think about it. The “sporto klubas” is a “sports club” (which I assume means “gym”). The “-o” suffix on “sporto” sounds like the genitive case of a noun that ends in “-as”, and among other things, the genitive can indicate ownership. Maybe that makes sense, the gym is the club owned by a sport? If this is indeed a reasonable line of argument, asking where the phone store might then be “kur telefono parduotuvė?”

Good start. Assuming I can understand the directions received, I’ll make it to the phone store. I want to buy a flip phone, so, how can we make that happen? Well, “norėti” is the infinitive “to want”, and it conjugates as “noriu” in the first person present. For reasons I don’t understand, “norėti” also takes a genitive argument, so “noriu telefono” is a good starting point. Unfortunately, this probably doesn’t tell the guy at the phone store anything he doesn’t already know.

I don’t know the word “flip”, nor whether or not that translates literally across the language barrier. So instead maybe I could say “simple phone” or “basic phone” or “old phone”. But I don’t know any of those words! Maybe I could get away with something more roundabout.

What I do know is the numbers (all the way up to twenty! wow!). Perhaps I could say something along the lines of “if an iPhone is a 10, I want a 1.” iPhone is likely to survive the translation barrier, but maybe I should say Android because I don’t want them to think I want the iPhone 10.

It goes on like this endlessly and circuitously. It’s nothing but mental masturbation as far as I can tell, because in reality they’ll have phones I can point to and ask “kiek pinigai?” (how much money?).

But if we’re being really really honest with ourselves, not even that is necessary, because everyone speaks English anyway.

I’m going to go back to bed now.