Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Alphabet Soup

All I want to do is figure out how to say "thank you."  In Tukish.

If it takes my brain as long to learn "thank you" as it did to learn "merhaba," I'll be able to adequately issue that sentiment as I board Turkish Airlines upon my departure from this country in three weeks.

It seems rather unfair that our group was subjected to a one hour lesson in the Turkish language on Wednesday morning.  After all, we had just spent fourteen hours of Tuesday extracting ourselves from Athens, which was on the very brink of riots as our bus rolled past Syntagma Square at 8:00 a.m.  The plan was to leave the hotel early, before the scheduled 9 a.m. - noon strike by civil servants.  The staff at the Fulbright office had spent most of Monday changing all of our flight plans--to take the 1:30 p.m. flight to Istanbul instead of the 10:30 a.m. flight.  With luck we'd make our 4:00 connection to Ankara.  Ha!   We fianlly checked into our hotel at 10:00 p.m.

But Turkish lessons remained on the schudule for Wednesday morning, so that's what we did.

Our instructor was Umut Ata.  He was very "student centric" with his approach.  "What do you want to learn how to say?" he asked.  Finally someone added "thank you" to the list.

We started with "yes" and "no," which are pretty easy.  But so is nodding your head, so why bother?  We moved on to "good morning" (the word for which I thought meant "good night" for most of our session).

At this point someone asked a question about the Turkish alphabet.  So we embarked upon a 15 minute recitaton of the alphabet.  Which naturally morphed into a 15 minute discussion of the vowels...phrases were tossed about like "bass vowels" and "round vowels"; double sets of vowels were charted on the board in the front of the room, and somehow the discussion turned to suffixes to indicate plurals and something called "vowel harmony," which seem to go hand in hand.  My brain was starting to hurt.

Thirty minutes had passed, and I still didn't have the word for "thank you."

But I learned how to say pencil.  I have the word for pencil in my notes...long before the word "thank you" appears.  I think I could even say "I am a pencil" using proper Turkish grammar.  Personal pronouns became the discussion's next trajectory.  That's  because someone at the table thought it might augment understanding if we connect this new language to something we already know, like pronouns.  If my notes are correct, the concept of the pronoun is not conveyed by a separate word but by adding various suffixes to the base words.

And I can say "good bye."  That's "gule gule." (Of course, I'm not actually spelling that correctly, because I'm not computer savvy enough to know how to access a keyboard that allows me to put those two dots over the "u" which is how the word is spelled.)  Gule gule is actually easy to remember too: think of the actor Rober Goulet.  Then say his last name twice. You got it!  Some of my fellow Fulbrighters are sure to depart from a conversation with a Turk with a hearty "Robert Goulet Goulet!"  Perhaps we are not a smart as we are made out to be.

As I review my notes, I finally see the word for "thank you" on the third of the four pages of notes that I took.  "Tesekkurlar."  But add a mark under the "s" and dots over the "u."  There.  Now, I dare you to pronounce it.
Today I have one more one-hour Turkish lesson.  As I see it, I can approach my lesson in one of two ways.  I can sit in the back, try to be invisible and not risk the embarassment of mangling this language in front of my colleagues.  Or, I can say to myself I really don't have anything to lose, so why not give it a try and have some fun.  What the heck!  I'll try the latter!

Until next time,

Robert Goulet Goulet!

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