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Linguistic allergy

My young American friend Dan has been studying Vietnamese in Ha Noi for a month now. Once he complained to me: “That’s funny! I am not allergic to your nuoc mam fish brine and even to your mam tom shrimp paste, but the six tones of your language make me feel very uncomfortable. When I go to the market, the distinction in pronunciation between dưa (melon), dừa (coconut), and dứa (pipeapple) truly confuses me.”
 
To try to boost his morale I showed him this passage from a letter written by Le Hong Lan, a Vietnamese girl studying English in Canada:
 
“I have an allergy to English articles.. .Despite the fact that in English we don’t have to care about the “sex” of a noun, we do have to deal with something which is, in my opinion, far more abstract: “definiteness.”
 
Look, in French, when I learned “la table,” I knew for sure it would never be “le table.” But for the same “table” you are told to put an “a” before it when you first mention it because it is indefinite...
 
It took me several months to acquire the habit of putting the proper article before a noun, and then I thought I could have a rest.
 
Not yet. For some nouns (called uncountable) I had to remember that 1 could see the article “the” only when referring to specific cases: “The milk I have in the fridge is not fresh.” When referring to a general case, I could not put any article at all.
 
But I really came down with a bad case of allergy when I learned the articles that go with geographic locations."
 
French, the language of the country of Descartes, is not lacking in grammatical illogicalnesses. We are taught for example that for nouns, s is the ask of the plural and e that of the feminine gender. Why then is fois written with an s, lafoi written without an e, and le foie with an e? And who is going to tell me why chaise is feminine and fauteuil masculine?
 
I am not going to blame the Germans for their lack of grammatic logic, because they are more or less metaphysicians. Nonetheless, how can anyone drive home to me that all maidens are a-sexual (das Frauelein), or that trousers (a man’s garment) is feminine (die Hose).
 
The six tones of the Vietnamese language are no less illogical, I admit. But at least they have the excuse of bringing some musicality to words.
 
Learn more about Vietnamese with 18 day Vietnam itinerary
 
 
 
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Update : 06-07-2017

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