Saturday, December 15, 2007

"Cah-na-bal" in Brazil

Getting back to the Language theme, after a brief White Christmas interlude . . .

I've told you about our Japanese exchange student, Takashi. While he was living with us, he became friends with another high school exchange student, Victor, from Brazil. Of course, Victor didn't speak Japanese, and Takashi didn't speak Portuguese, so their only common language was English. Both of them did admirably well in conversational English, but their accents and pronunciations often confused those of us who were native-born English speakers. The confusion was, of course, compounded when the two of them were talking together, neither of them using their native language.

As spring approached, and Takashi and Victor's friendship grew stronger, Victor spent a lot of time at our house after school and on weekends. One day I was in the kitchen, fixing dinner, and Takashi and Victor were sitting at the kitchen bar, having an afternoon snack.

"Some day I want to see Cah-na-bal in Brazil" said Takashi. "Have you seen Cah-na-bal?"

"No! We don't have Cah-na-bal in Brazil!" Victor said, indignantly.

"Yes, you do! I saw, in magazines," said Takashi.

"Well . . . maybe . . . long time ago. Or maybe in the jungle we might have Cah-na-bal," said Victor. But we don't have Cah-na-bal in cities! Not now!"

To that, Takashi snapped back, very assuredly, "Yes, I'm sure . . . Cah-na-bal is in Rio."

"Wait just a minute," I interrupted, realizing there was a serious break-down in communication, somewhere. "Takashi, tell me about Cah-na-bal."

"You know, Mom, there is dancing and parades and music and . . . "

I wrote the word, "Carnival" on a piece of paper. Takashi nodded, and I passed the paper to Victor, who laughed out loud. He took the pencil and wrote "Cannibal" on the same piece of paper. "They eat people!" he said, pointing at his word and still laughing. It took Takashi a few seconds to look up "cannibal" in his well-used pocket dictionary, before he, too, joined in the hilarity of the miscommunication.

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