It happens when you least expect it and it happens more frequently as your language repertoire widens. You are somewhere in-between fluency and mediocrity in your language studies and then you say something incredibly sensible and unexpectedly meaningless. Knowing one language gives you a set of sounds that one can use to describe the world around them. Knowing two languages gives that person a whole new set of sounds, expressions, and ways of possible description. Knowing three or more? Well, that’s when the real fun begins.
Conjugating in Spanish is relatively straightforward. Like most languages, by-and-large there are rules, these rules are applied to verbs to specify who is doing the action and at what time or whether it is conditional, etc. The Spanish word for “to listen” or “to hear” is “escuchar”. It is conjugated in the following manner:
Where the first word in each column is the way the verb is conjugated when the speaker is referring to themselves; second, you; third, he/she; fourth, we; fifth, we; sixth, they. In this way, verbs are conjugated regularly.
Now for Japanese. In Japanese, verbs are not separated by who did the action, much like in English:
- I hear/listen
- You hear/listen
- He hears/listens (in Japanese, this too would be “hear/listen”)
- We hear/listen
- They hear/listen
- 私は聴く(watashi wa kiku)
Last week though, the line in my head that separates Spanish from Japanese blurred and some very unique and wonderful mixing and swirling happened. While speaking in Spanish with my friends, I suddenly conjugated the Japanese word for “to hear” (“kiku”) the way a Spanish verb would be conjugated! In other words, this happened:
Half a second and several blank stares later, I realized what had been done. You see, Spanish and Japanese are remarkably similar in interesting ways. All it took was this little spark and suddenly new words were being created out of the air, blooming like popcorn:
- to drink → 飲む（nomu) → yo nomo, yo nomaba, yo nomé, yo nomaré
- to run → 走る (hashiru) → yo hashiro, tu hashires, el hashiru…
- to eat → 食べる (taberu) → yo taberé, tu taberás, él taberá, nosotros taberemos…
- to dance → 踊る (odoru) → yo odoro, tu odoras, él odora, nosotros odoramos….
- to laugh → 笑う (warau) → yo waro, yo waraba, yo waré, yo wararé
And so on until there are no more verbs. Naturally there are curious coincidences. As an example, the Japanese word for “to stay” as in, “stay the night at a hotel” is 泊まる (tomaru) which, when conjugated Spanish-style, turns into drinking. Which is just as well because you may need a drink to even begin to understand someone who is attempting this kind of linguistic alchemy on you.
Iké con mi amigo para caer una camisa. Tení sed entonces tomamos en un café para nomar un té.
I went (行く→iku) with my friend to buy (買う→kau)a shirt. I was thirsty so we stopped (止まる→tomaru)at a cafe to drink (飲む→nomu)some tea.
Speakers of multiple languages, has this ever happened to you? What other languages are easily meshed into the grammatical rules of other languages?