I think about this a lot, since my inability to understand any conversation that includes words that are not numbers is a serious impediment to my overall satisfaction in life.
Monday, I stop thinking and act. I am starting intensive Turkish classes, five days a week, four hours a day for a month. I predict this will end badly, as my five previous forays into language study have. But "wishful thinking" is my middle name.
Turkish is hard because its grammar has no relation to Latin languages. But at least I am not starting from scratch. When faced with the insurmountable grammatical obstacles presented by Russian, I lamented the year I spent studying Azeri in Baku. That Azeri is going to come in quite handy now. As we are fond of saying, Azeri is basically Turkish with half as many words. "Cracker Turkish," if you will.
It's hilarious to see the look on Turks' faces when you tell them you lived in Azerbaijan. Sometimes, they simply cannot contain their amusement at the thought. It's like telling an American you spent a year learning English in Harlan County, Kentucky.
Last night at a party, an actual Turk confirmed the veracity of a Turkish/Azeri language anecdote I have used as cocktail chatter for years, always prefaced with the caveat that it's "probably apocryphal." It's always satisfying to find out a rumor you spread turns out to be true.
Here goes: The pilot of Turkish Airlines plane full of Azeris announces he is preparing to land the plane. The passengers panic. Why? Because the verb in Azeri for "to land" is the same as "to crash." I crack up every time I tell this. I'm not sure if it's funnier or not now that I know it's true.
I can pinpoint the exact minute that Russian sapped my will to live. Vexed with some horrible twist of grammatical logic, I implored Yelena, my fifty-something, chain-smoking, university-level linguist teacher, to make it make sense to me.
"Carpetblogger," she said, pushing her huge, round glasses down her nose. "English is for conveying information. Russian," she said with intense Slavic pride, "is for conveying philosophy."