Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Pete and Repeat...

So as mother of bilingual children, I find myself thinking in terms of what things sound like to someone who isn't patently mono-lingual. I guess I am bilingual. I say "I guess" because I don't feel like it. I don't feel completely 'at home' in French. I function well in the language, and most of my students understand me (those that don't get the benefit of nice power-point back-up presentations for my classes). My dh doesn't speak French well, and sees no point in it being part of the scientific elite.
So last week I was folding laundry and chatting with my nearly 7 year-old daughter. We were telling jokes, being silly... the sort of fun that used to send me into paroxysms of giggles when I was pregnant, for no apparent reason, other than the giddy anticipation of having a daughter.
I told her the "Pete and repeat" joke. "Pete and Repeat went over the bridge. Who went second?" To which my wonderful straight-girl daughter said, "Repeat", which I dutifully did.
She thought it was hysterical. Hooray for old dumb jokes! But then as I was driving her blissfully crazy I was thinking ahead to myself, "How does this sound in French? Can she tell this to her French friends?" And at once I knew the answer, in French it is an even better joke to a 7 year-old.
So I primed her, "You going to tell your friends at school?" and she started to think about how she would translate it, and burst out laughing. So I will share it with those of you who are not able to think in both languages: If you translate the joke, the word "Repeat" works... the French use the same word, the infinitive of which is 'repeter'; the goofy part is "Pete" which does not have a French equivalent. So you can say "Pete" but pronounce in "pet" (which would rhyme with 'repete'... so far so good) yet this is where it gets a bit dicey. "Pete", pronounced 'pet', in French is "fart"... ah, to be 7 years old again!
So she thought it was funny, but in the end it is a dopey private joke, pretty much just for her and me. Poor dh didn't 'get' it.
Then there are the words that mean something else in our language, or the names that mean something... there is a doctor at the psychiatric unit in the hospital where I teach, who is called "Dr. Gentile"... well... so much there! In English I would be thinking religion. In French, his name means "nice". How perfect for a doctor who works with children! "Dr. Nice will see you now!"
I live in this private world, where things mean one thing in one language, another in my maternal tongue, and then when they get translated between the two can mean something completely different. And my daughter's mastery of both languages isn't without moments of startle, like last night when she said, "Well, normally, it doesn't work that way" when she was describing something. In English we would have said "actually" but if she said "actuellement" in French it wouldn't mean the right thing (ie 'basically'), it would mean "right now"... sigh. So I explained it to her, but I realized that it was only the beginning of hearing more and more Franglish, and perhaps a slight division between her and me in communication.
I guess the wild goofy intimacy of our "Pete and repeat" joke, and others like it, will counter-balance the fact that she won't speak perfect American like myself.