The Big Trans Woman FAQ (or what you should ideally read before you ask me stupid questions)

Today’s topic is less polyglot, but if you want you can shoot me an email at joannamartinevanschaik(at)gmail(dot)com and help me translate it. The good thing is that I’ll usually be able to tell you whether you screwed up somewhere. The bad news is that it will cost you two hours of your time for a cause we all need to worry about, but none of us are actually on the barricades fighting for enough.

So, here goes: the questions you can now look up the answers to here, without having to harass me about it in public and show off your ignorance!

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This blog: what it is and what it does. And what it does not do.

This is a blog. Everyone has a blog now, even I used to have a blog (way back in the day) but considering I never updated that thing, I’ve decided to turn over a new leaf (electronically speaking). So, you may ask, what am I going to blog about? Because everyone has already written about something, so my particular insights are not going to keep my readership tuned to my every post, waiting with drool dripping from their open jaws to read whatever (dare I say ”very intelligent”? Or is that too much honour?) thing I have come up with to rant about. So the answer is; I’ll just write what is on my mind, and you’re going to read whatever is on my mind here, okay? (You could stop here, but you would be missing out on a life’s worth of amusement. And that’s not just because of the inevitable typos). Läs mer

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Five Things I Learned from a 30-minute Bulgarian iTalki Session

Yeah, in English this time. Deal with it, guys.

Today, on a whim, I wanted to practice speaking some of my weaker languages (the FSM knows they need the practice, some of my weaker languages are just laughably poor) and I found a teacher on iTalki who was available for a thirty-minute instant tutoring session who spoke Bulgarian. (She also taught Russian, but I get enough practice speaking to the parents of five-year-old brats everyday, I don’t need to study that). Bulgarian is an extremely interesting case for me because I:

  1. Don’t have a huge background in it; I have studied some of the basics, but by far not all of them, and I couldn’t tell you any of the verb conjugations if my life depended on it.
  2. I can understand it fairly well in the written form because I speak Russian and to a lesser extent Czech. Some of the words used are all-Balkan words and may be the same as in Romanian (which I know very well) or Greek (which I’m middle-of-the-road at).
  3. Its grammatical structure completely deviates from all the other Slavic ones, favouring an onslaught of verbal forms over the millions of noun declensions present in Russian and Czech.
  4. I don’t know many Bulgarians (I think I have met two), so understanding the context in which words are said is a nightmare. But I could potentially extrapolate.

I haven’t spoken this language in over a year, and I haven’t practiced it at all much before. So I spent those thirteen dollars, bought myself that 30-minute instant tutoring lesson on iTalki and went for it, all guns blazing, having no idea whether I could actually handle myself in Bulgarian. Here are five things I’ve learned from this conversation:

  1. It’s very easy to do a Tarzan impression of a Slavic language once you know one or two of the others. When I last studied Bulgarian, I hadn’t really improved my Czech to its current level yet, but I already spoke Russian, and that was enough even back then. With this current conversation and some obvious improvisational tactics, you can get the idea across – but not necessarily in a very precise manner. Bulgarian is easier in that you don’t have to worry about case endings, so you can clip them off of nouns with ease. Verbs are harder to imitate, but as long as you stick to one or two simple tenses you can work around that too. Gender works more or less the same way, and the endings are familiar, so that’s easy. And I knew some of the words that aren’t the same in Bulgarian, and used this to great effect – it was very easy for my teacher to understand me, although I improvised with Czech or Russian words here and there (primarily Russian as it’s closer due to the massive amount of loanwords). All in all, that makes comprehension quite possible – with a bit of good will, you can go very far…
  2. But you will not sound very eloquent. It’s very easy to do a broken impression of Bulgarian with a reasonably heavy accent (in my case some Russian/Czech/Dutch mixture, probably), but you’ll never sound good and you won’t be very correct while speaking. Bulgarian is a distinct language, and to get Bulgarian right you need to spend time on the aspects that make Bulgarian what it is (the lack of cases, the articles, the multitude of verb tenses). The pronunciation is fairly boring by Slavic standards so if you’re good at Slavic languages already learning to understand spoken Bulgarian when it’s not rapid or slangy is easy enough. But you need to get all those nuances exactly right in order to sound like a fluent speaker. Ok, thirty minutes is not enough time to pull that off – and you could probably shortcut a lot of the simple stuff. But the devil is in the details, and to know a language well, details count.
  3. You can bring back dead knowledge quite quickly if you just give your brain some time to recoup. I haven’t spoken Bulgarian for over a year and even then when I did that was a pithy amount. I did much better this time round, despite not having spoken for a long time, because I simply forced myself to carry a conversation instead of insisting on grammar this time. (It was spontaneous, so no time to prepare). And it turned out that after ten minutes, lost vocab and rusty structures were coming back to my brain in no time at all. Even though that didn’t make me a fluent speaker, at least it meant I could keep on jabbering away without having to resort to Russian or even worse, English.
  4. …but your brain will lose focus after a while. Speaking Bulgarian for a long time when you have to focus on every word the other person is saying really drains your mind and body. My energy was sapped after half an hour, and I had to switch to Russian at the end to not keep my mind from dying. Doesn’t Russian drain you equally, you ask? No, because my brain is very comfortable with Russian by now as it’s one of my main foreign languages and the one I’ve used the most by far. Speaking Russian is easy as pie, and I don’t get interference in Russian from other languages at all after six years of hard work. But Bulgarian does drain my energy reserves, and I really need to recoup after a while. I can’t handle more than the basics of Bulgarian, and while that is an achievement in itself, stepping off the gas is totally okay.
  5. Doing Tarzan improvisation sessions really fuels your ability to work with context. One reason people are impressed by polyglots is because they’re able to switch so fast between languages without screwing up much if at all. The reason polyglots don’t get so much interference (although even polyglots do!) is because they’ve played this game before and they’re good at it now; their brain has compartmentalized the different languages and knows when it’s speaking one and when the other. It’s even better when you grow up bilingual like I did, because then that skill becomes very engrained in your being and it feels very natural to do so (I never addressed my parents in English as a child despite us living in Canada, for example.) This ability to use context then improves your ability to grasp unknown words and link them, and to make sense of the aural chaos that is a foreign language. If you think you’re going to get interference all the time – forget it! Practice and level improvements get rid of interference altogether, and for that patience and practice are the key concepts you need to grasp.

I am not sure I am going to continue much with Bulgarian if at all after this session, maybe I will, maybe I won’t (I do have materials on the shelf if ever I wanted to, but it has no priority right now.) But what matters is that the experience was valuable, and that I could learn something from it – even if Bulgarian will never make the list of ”fluent languages”, whatever that means by now. And even my ability to Tarzan my way through Bulgarian may save my butt one unexpected day. And then I’ll always remember that even the little amount of time I spent practicing was invaluable in the end, because it taught me just enough to do what I had to do. Ultimately, that utilitarian use trumps everything else for me, so I can be satisfied with my effort, even though my standards are high.

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Деловая колбаса

Ну, Светлана Александровна. Вам хотелось написать о Советском Союзе. Итак… ваши герои (или… антигерои? Трагические герои?), они почти всегда жалеют о коммунизме. Ну, не о коммунизме, а о том, что у них зависти не было – бедность вокруг была у всех, а не только у самых героев. Да, некоторые ходят на тусовки, некоторые сами стали миллионерами, некоторые из-за взяток стали менеджерами или бизнесменами и едят черную икру с золотых тарелок. Покупают сто видов колбасы в супермаркете, а ваши герои сидят с картошкой. Пьют чай. Кто не будет завидовать новых русских!

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Stai nel cervello (e nemmeno so chi sei)

Questo giorno e uno di emozioni (di quelle ho molte), di modi da esprimersi (di quelli ho pochi), e di desideri (quelli arrivano e vanno come gli pare). C’è un giorno quando non ho il voglio di vedere a nessuno, nemmeno i miei genitori o il mio fratello. Stava andando dall’ospedale per farmi spiegare come funziona la crioconservazione (dato ché non sarò fertile dopo l’inizio del trattamento ormonale). Infatti, avere bambini non mi sembra troppo importante adesso – non ho fidanzata e nemmeno sono in grado di sostenere la vita di qualsiasi bambino – fare i conti per permettermi fare la spesa già sembra una difficoltà appena sostenibile.

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nice stache

To je snob. Alespoň já to myslím.

Já si  vzpomínám, že  nám nedali ve škole číst všechno, co máji v knihovnách. V hodinách učitelé mají vždycky nějaké vysoké normy, které musejí být naplněny, aby ty knihy byly obsaženy ve školních seznamech. Kdo nebyl nucen číst Shakespeara, i když to nemá vztah s moderní společností? Proč nečteme Crichtona a Clancy, proč jsme vynuceni číst takové velké spisovatele, i když to není vůbec jednoduché anebo nutné?

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La voix d’une génération

Il fallait que j’écrive un article ici sur la mort de Chester Bennington de Linkin Park. Non parce que je suis une fan super-massive de son musique, ni parce que j’aimerais rendre hommage à quelqu’un que je n’ai jamais eu le plaisir de connaître. Ce n’est pas cela qui me concerne ici, mais plutôt le fait que son groupe de rap-rockeurs américains a constitué la bande-son de notre jeunesse. Je dis notre parce que parmi ceux qui sont nées pendant les années 80 et le début des années 90, presque tous connaissent ces morceaux et un grand nombre d’entre nous a été soulagé par ses chansons.

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Satanic Invocation

From the depths of Hades,
Raise the skeletons of Hell!
From the catacombs of fire,
Let them run free! Let them run wild!
Draw the marrow from the tombs,
and let skulls drink from the wombs!

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