The Sights and Sounds of Language

My housemate, Catherine, may just be the woman I wish I was.  She is French, very smart, very beautiful, very funny and very very expressive!  I have to laugh whenever I speak with her because she can be talking about a class, quoting a philosopher, or describing a piece of toast and she always uses sound as a way of expressing herself.

 

[Terry] Bonjour! (Said with a very bad French accent.)

{Catherine} Aaaaggggggghhhhhh! La pluie!  Blah! (Tongue protruding, spitting.)

 

[Terry] Aaah,!  Are you watching TV on your computer?  I am on Facebook!  LOL1

{Catherine} No, no, no, phew, (Head shaking) I am watching Foucault give a lecture!

 

[Terry] Can you believe that woman? (Hand and arm held high, I am part Italian after all!)

{Catherine} (Both hands and arms held up!) AAHHHPPPP! (Blowing air and vibrating lips) Crazy, I tell you, crazeeeee! (Arms now folded with determination.)

 

I think when you are not speaking in your native tongue, you overly gesticulate to make up for what you lack in vocabulary.  Everyone here in Amsterdam speaks English.  I didn’t notice just how much English was spoken here until I witnessed two foreigners, one Qatari, one French, speak English, which was apparently the only language they knew in common.  When this happens there is not only lots of movement, but there are visual descriptions.

For example, today I walked into the kitchen where Catherine was giving notes to a graduate student on their thesis.  She was trying to tell the student that her paper had a lot of disconnected and weak arguments scattered within.  Here is what she said:

 

{Catherine} (to Dutch student, in English) It is like you have many many sandcastles.  One here (hands mimic small castle on the table) one here (same) one here (same) and here and here and here (lots of building with hands!)  In this way, one wave and (lips vibrating) “Brrruuuusssshhhhh” no more point!!!

(Dutch Student) <sigh>  (The Dutch are not as expressive.)

 

Catherine Geel

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