Dialogue, language, learning LO25284

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@gold.up.ac.za)
Date: 09/03/00

Replying to LO25274 --

Dear Organlearners,

Winfried Dressler <winfried.dressler@voith.de> writes:

>Dear Dr. Dash,
>although I don't expect to be of much help for you I
>sincerely wish to thank you for your contribution, which
>resonates in many colors for me.

Greatings Winfried,

I say "Hear, hear".

>I see an important difference between justification break-off
>and narrative break-off. A narrative starts 'Once apon a time',
>thus in the past a follows a time line, where it may or may
>not break off, depending (may be among others) on properties
>of the script (a more or less 'mature' or 'complex' script leading
>to longer or shorter narratives).

Perhaps the following about my mother tongue Afrikaans may interest you.
Its strong point is its three simple tenses -- past, present and future --
and with no conjugation between persons and their number! In other words,
"I, you he/she/it, we, you, they", get exactly the same verb without any
modifications. Additional tenses do exist in Afrikaans, but they are
somewhat akward to use for many Afrikaans speaking people. Why?

Afrikaans has two markers to indicate where in time the description
applies. The past marker is "toe". The translation of "toe" in English is
"then" and in German "zu", but I do not now whether they are used in
English or German as "time markers" too.

When we tell a story, it can begin with "Once upon a time, .....", in
which the rest "...." follows in the past tense, past perfect, etc.
Actually, language teachers try to encourage this tense scheme.

But the story can also begin with "Toe, ......." where the rest follows in
mainly the PRESENT tense. The "toe" tells the listener to displace
him/herself back in time. Should we need to refer to an earlier past in
the past, then we use simply the past tense! By bringing in further
refinements like the past perfect, we can easily do most intricate
temporal descriptions. It is also possible to bring in the future tense
and all its refinements.

Here is an example. "Toe [past] Red Riding Hood takes [present in past]
the basket and begins to walk to her grandmother. Along the road she meets
the big, bad wolf. He asks her: 'Who gave [earlier past to past] you the
basket?' She replies: 'My mother gave it to me. I am taking it to my
grandmother. She will love [future in the past] its contents.' Then the
wolf ......"

Woe to the person who does not look out for the "toe" (then) time marker
at the beginning. But for the person who uses the "toe" as que, it
becomes great fun to relive the past through the present tense!

The future marker is "so". The translation of "so" in English is "so" and
in German "so", but I do not know whether they are used in English or
German as "time markers" too.

Here is an example. "The prophet spoke [past]: 'So [future], walk [present
in future] with the ungodly and and lose [present in future] all your
love. You said [past of future] that you are [present in past] safe, but
eventually you will [future of future] die.' .....".

When I was a kid, most of the common people speaking Afrikaans used these
time markers for narratives. They were also used in story books (of which
the oldest were less than fourty years because Afrikaans became a written
language only after 1902. But at school our Afrikaans language teachers
for some or other reason which I then could not understand, tried all in
their power to stop us using these time markers.

Today I know why. Afrikaans was considered to be a backward language,
inferior to Dutch and English. Using only three simple tenses (past,
present and future) seemed to vindicate that it is a backward langauge.

We had a German person (who could also speak some Afrikaans) who taught
us elementary Latin. He used to claim that Latin is far superior to
Afrikaans because many of its tenses did not have counterparts in
Afrikaans. He usually gave us examples and then I thought "How the hell is
it possible that I understand those examples while I know nothing of
Latin?" Today I know that I understood his examples intuitively because of
my TACIT knowledge gained by the time markers "toe" and "so" in my own
mother tongue!

It is only when I had to study physics at university and had to solve
equations of motion involving time that my thoughts on these time markers
in my mother tongue began to take shape. The "toe" and "so" have their
counterpart in physics, usually symbolised by
called the reference point in time.

The past ten years there is a revival of the Afrikaans narrative on radio
and TV. The exquisite, yet intuitive, use of the "toe" and "so" as time
markers by the narrators is sheer delight for their audiences, although
they also cannot explain formally why.

Is it not tragic how we can destroy the most valuable assets we have just
to conform to what seems to be more respectable?

Here is a question. Can a written dialogue be the same as a spoken

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <amdelange@gold.up.ac.za> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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