I think the year was 2006, and we were in the ‘pearl of the Aegean’, the city of Izmir. T and I travelled and stayed in the city for two-weeks every month for over a year.
When there, we stayed with our friends and coworkers. They lived in an area of Izmir called Balçova, a place noted for its hot springs. In this area the thermal water is so abundant that they use thermal hot water to heat the homes and apartment buildings.
This, I found to be magnificent, free heating and free hot water. At the same time I found this to be quite terrifying that the conditions to heat the water were so close, so very, unnaturally near; in fact, just under our feet. Still, one advantage of staying there was the ability to visit the thermal springs. It was a real treat to indulge and relax in the natural hot water.
Izmir, was in ancient times known as Smyrna. It was then a thoroughly cosmopolitan city. It still is today whilst at the same time is also a typical Turkish city. And so it was not surprising that many signs in the hot springs were bi-lingual, Turkish and English.
Once, as I was passing through the lobby, my eyes fell on a rather large notice. Typically, the English drew me. I read that “parents are liable from their children”. I must admit this tickled my funny bone. I snickered to myself over the obvious error. My assumption being it was supposed to be ‘for’ in ‘for their children’ but had been misspelt as ‘from’. No doubt the sign writer did not know English and so this error silently passed by.
Feeling smug, I then turned my attention to the original Turkish. I confess, reading the Turkish surprised me. The Turkish states that “Veliler çocuklardan sorumlu”. Let me explain. Turkish is a suffix based language. This means suffixes are added on to words, and so, if we translate this literally it is: “parents children-from responsible [are]”.
This straight away brought two things to my attention. The first is the method which shows the relationship in the Turkish language and according to Turkish syntax is using the suffix ‘den/dan’. This we typically translate into English as ‘from’. The dilemma isn’t Turkish but our translation of the suffix which is most often, but crucially, not always accurately rendered as ‘from’. Another thing that stuck me was I would constantly translate wrongly as I would eschew ‘from’ and consistently use ‘for’. The Turkish for ‘for’ is ‘için’ which is not a suffix but a separate word.
Oph! I completed the rapid descent from smugness to chagrin. One moment I felt superior, and the next embarrassment. I again realised that my Turkish is full of English-inspired errors. I was reminded my Turkish reflects English forms and English syntax. These I subconsciously wield to create my own, personal form of Turkish.
I giggled when I read the English. That was wrong. If, in like fashion, Turks chuckled at my linguistic faux pas, they would be justified. But there is a problem.
We have lived amongst Turks for thirty-five plus years. In that time I’ve never witnessed or overheard them mocking, laughing, ridiculing or making fun of foreigners’ verbal blunders. I have heard of many foreigners’ gaffes. Some of which are funny – er, am I doing the same thing again? But, I’ve never heard them from the Turks.
It seems making a mockery of someones struggles in a second language is more the forte of foreigners. I have found the Turks to be genuinely gracious. Turks strive to understand what the foreigner is trying to communicate. Full stop. They do not take the mickey, nor take pleasure at the expense of the foreigner. Here the foreigner can take a lesson from the Turks.
Oh, as for the grammar lesson… it is only this year I’m applying it to my Turkish. In guess I’m a slow learner.