Tobias Haglund in conversation with Adam West

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”Sit down, my good friend, sit down.” Adam gave Tobias a stout. “There you go. Something imperial to take your mind off of things.”

“Thank you, kind sir. My mind has been racing, that’s for sure.” Tobias took a big enough sip for it to be called a chug, but he did it in such a gentlemanlike way it remained a sip. “Mind if I share with you what burdens me?”

“I’m all… wait -” Adam chugged a stout and slumped down. “Ears.”

“I’m a Swede, as you know, and therefore when I write English, prone to make mistakes. Some are because it’s a second language and some are genuine mistakes. Let’s start with the latter. Take for instance the word mistake. In Swedish a miss is always spelled with two S. Even when writing mistakes-”

“I’m sensing a pun here…”

“…but would I not commit the greatest mistake of all by missspelling miss and take as misstake.”

“Since we’re speaking I can’t confirm if you said mistake with two S’s there or not.”

“Yes I did. And also misspelling with three S’s.”

“Oh dear.” Adam broke open a porter. “Well-”

“What the hell!? You just cracked the head of a hotel carrier. A porter!”

“No-no. Although they, a porter and a porter, may appear similar on paper…” Adam majestically leaned back in his chair, as a king on his throne of language. “I’ve never seen you misspell either mistake or misspell. Doesn’t your word processor take care of those?”

“It would if I actually misspelled them, but they aren’t what bother my mind. I’m just easing you in.”

“Ah! Dipping my linguistic toes one at a time…” Adam swallowed the whole porter. “Continue.”

“Look. What I’m about to say now-”

“Is this an approaching insult perhaps? Think about your target audience. If the target audience doesn’t understand, they will not agree with you. And if you’re not seeking agreement but ventilation, make it funny enough to be bearable.”

“Bearable? Another porter reference. Strange. Yes I’ll try to be funny. Firstly, let’s blame the French. As you know the Swedish language, along with other Germanic languages can create longer words.”

“Yes. I’ve seen your Swedish words. Some are endlessly long.” Adam considered opening a bottle of mead for a second, but chose a stout. “And you know how I don’t like words like endlessly, especially when followed by long or something redundant, like this time I almost said endlessly eternal which-”

“Adam! I know this is a duo performance. I know we’re in this conversation together, but right now you’re playing your solo way too early, thus stealing the spotlight and changing the topic.”

“Ah sorry. I thought we were playing the Minimalist Rhapsody, but we were still on the Ballad of Linguistics.”

“That’s right. But going back, yes we have the possibility of endless words. Rarely do they become much longer than most of the English words, since it’s all about communication. If the person reading the word has to go back and re-read the word, the writer has failed in some sense. However, the possibilities, Adam! The possibilities it opens.”

“Beyond my wildest dreams?”

“Indeed. Doesn’t your mouth water when you hear; rhythm control and the shortening and lengthening of phrases? Mine sure does.” Tobias took a second sip and the stout was finished. ”Another small problem I have, has to do with – and now it becomes complicated, because there isn’t an English word for it – parting words instead of writing them together.”

“That didn’t make any sense and you know it! I see it as a declaration of war and I’m thinking about recalling our ambassador.”

“Yes. I could sense that reaction. France also reacted the same way.”

Adam’s mouth did the equal to that of his fist clenching. “… not only did you insult parting of words, but you also compared me to a Frenchman.”

“The custom of parting words and not being able to lengthening words surely come from the French. I’ll give you an example; greeting cards.”

Adam held out his hand. They stared at each other for a few sips of stout. “Oh… how disappointing. I thought you were about to give me an example of a greeting card.”

“I’m sorry… But greeting cards are two words in the English language and only one word in German, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish-”

“Closing embassies throughout Europe as we speak.”

“Okay you get it. But greeting cards could also mean that a person is about to greet cards, to say welcome to a deck of cards.” Tobias reached for his stout. “Actually if a Swede wrote the word parted, as two words; greeting cards, it would be the literal meaning; to say hello to a deck of cards.”

“I see. Yes, a little confusing maybe, but given the context it should be reasonable to assume a greeting card is a card of welcome… which I would only give to France. So this then, this is what bothered your mind?”

“This is the puddle at the top of the mountain, forming a river, flowing to a waterfall which creates a tsunami.”

“Linguistically dramatic.” Adam succeeded to a bottle of mead. “Is there anything good then about the language of Shakespeare? I know you like Poe. Do the translations do him justice?”

“No they don’t. Phonetically the English language is great. But the problem I have with the English language is not that of parting or lengthening words, which would be a huge problem if I wrote lyrical content. No, it’s the problem of not being a native speaker. ‘What sounds best?’ – is a question I often ask myself. I read and listen to English everyday – such is the dominance of the English and American culture – yet we often end up in discussions about my choice of words. An Englishman wouldn’t say that. That doesn’t sound right. I can’t seem to get it right without your help. What sounds best is, it would seem, impossible for me to know. Also, if I was a native speaker I might have a bigger vocabulary. I want control over a rich and varied language, which I’m sure a language which gave the same word to an orange as the colour orange – the equivalent of naming chocolate brown – has. However, I don’t. I want my vocabulary to be a well. A well I could tap into at any time to pour out any thought I could possibly have.”

“And now?”

“My well is leaking and out comes mud.”

“Muddy Waters… I knew we your similes would end us up at an obscure blues reference.” Adam scratched his chin, as if it wasn’t clean shaven. He then tried to decide if clean shaven would be parted or not in the Swedish language. Probably not. Or it would be a demand to clean somebody called Shaven. “…Best to grow a beard.”

“What?”

“Nothing. I don’t speak a second language. Our conversation is all in your second language and would be impossible for me to partake in would it be your first language; Swedish. I don’t know any other languages. Such is the curse of a dominating language. My culture – to use the tsunami analogy – drowns us both in the English language.”

“Oh, but you must understand me correctly. I love the English language.”

“Like a man standing in the bottom of an ocean loves water?”

“No. That’s a horrible image. No but I love English like a child trying to ride a stallion…” Tobias considered his options ending the metaphor. Something to tie the whole piece together. “…a child riding a stallion somewhere waterlogged… and in France.”

Tobias Haglund

Header Photo by Hubbard, Tom, 1931-, Photographer (NARA record: 8464449) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

8 thoughts on “Tobias Haglund in conversation with Adam West

    • Little of the conversation actually took place. I think the exact number is zero. But I’m glad you enjoyed it. A little fun side thing. ATVB my friend
      Tobias

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    • Aaah… you probably liked the true parts best, didn’t you? Thanks for the comment, Nik.
      ATVB my friend
      Tobbe

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  1. Hi Tobias, this was real fun to read, especially to me, a non-native speaker whose mother tongue belongs to a totally different language group. I’ve been learning English half of my conscious life, and the more I get to know, the less confident I feel about my knowledge of it. Wondering if this paradox has any explanation. Was smiling reading your dialogue with Adam – an enjoyable and, to me, sort of educational read. All the very best my friend. Victor

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m very glad you commented on this. I was actually hoping you’d read it, since, as you say, Russian is a completely different language group. I learned English at a young age, as most Swedes do, which means I, just as most people learn their native tongues, didn’t learn the grammatical rules first and then the language. When I studied German I realised how much closer German is to Swedish. But I also realised that although most Swedes know English, they have very little understanding of the rules. On that note I can echo what you said. I wrote my thesis in Finance in Am. English, by then I was sure I knew English so well I only made mistakes native speakers also made. But now, being in the presence of the good folks of LS, I know I can never be at their level. Every piece I send in is full of mistakes. I think: “Oh, this phrase is kind of cool. How would I say it in English? Yes it kind of works.” but all I hear from them: “No. Just no! No one would ever say that.” It’s a hopeless battle it seems. I’m starting Dutch in the autumn/fall. My girlfriend is from Belgium and speaks five-six languages, so the least I can try to do is learn one of her native languages, is my thinking. But as you know, I’m not very courageous. German, English, Dutch and Swedish all belong to the Germanic languages. You, on the other hand, have your hands full with a language far from your native. I applaud you.
      ATVB my friend
      Tobias

      Like

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